Your First Steps After CCNA R&S
You just earned your Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching certification. Congrats! Cisco certification is safe as a bet as any when it comes to IT certification. Now that you’ve got a strong networking foundation established, you might be wondering what next?
Do you already have a job that requires or values a CCNA R&S? Does your current (or prospective employers) maintain a Cisco-centric infrastructure? Or do they favor a best-in-class, multi-vendor architecture? And what about your own interests?
Cisco has a broad set of certification paths, which all can lead to fulfilling and rewarding career opportunities. There are numerous options for your next steps after earning your CCNA R&S. So, let’s take a look at some of them.
Keep on the Networking Path
Under the Cisco networking umbrella, Certified Network Associate (CCNA) level is an optimal starting point. From here, you can further validate your Cisco networking credentials by going to the next higher step — the Certified Network Professional (CCNP) R&S.
With Cisco’s prominent position in enterprise and government IT networks, experienced CCNPs are in high demand. A March 2019 search of Indeed.com/ for jobs requiring CCNP certification found nearly 8,000 vacancies paying $90,000 or more. The CCNP R&S is itself a prerequisite to the next step certification: CCIE Routing and Switching, aimed at expert-level engineers.
The CCNA and CCNP certs are for professionals involved in the implementation and administration of Cisco networks. If your interest is in the design aspects of networking, then you should be looking at the Certified Design path.
This path starts with the Certified Design Associate (CCDA), and leads to the Certified Design Professional (CCDP) and Certified Design Expert (CCDE) certifications. It’s good to know that your CCNA R&S is an approved prerequisite that allows you to take the CCDA certification exam — but only after you’ve done some studying.
Diversify Your Cisco Skill Set
Routing and switching is the basis on which Cisco layers a range of incremental functional capabilities. You can choose to become certified in one or more of Cloud, Collaboration, Cyber Ops, Data Center, Industrial, Security, Service Provider, or Wireless. While you should pursue track(s) that interest you, also keep in mind the needs of your organization. You want to develop skills that are in demand as well.
For example, if your company provides Cisco-based cloud services to external or internal customers, you might consider the CCNA Cloud and/or CCNA Service Provider certs. If you work for a manufacturing or industrial company and are engaged with factory-floor or laboratory networks, the CCNA Industrial is a certain choice.
Given the industry-wide concern about cyber-attacks, then CCNA Security might be your choice. Along similar lines, if you work for the US Federal Government, the CCNA Cyber Ops is approved as a baseline certification for a position as a CSSP Analyst, or CCSP Incident Responder. The CCNA Security cert is likewise an approved baseline cert for government Levels I and II Information Assurance Technician (IAT) jobs.
As you might expect, each of these Cisco certification tracks assumes a baseline knowledge and experience in the underlying Cisco routing and switching infrastructure. And with your CCNA R&S, you will have already checked-off a prerequisite certification!
For most of these tracks, once you’ve acquired the Associate-level certification, you have the option of pursuing the related higher level professional (CCNP) and then expert-level (CCIE) certifications.
Branch out from the Cisco Realm
As we said before, you can’t go wrong with a Cisco CCNA R&S certification. It provides a terrific foundation of general networking principles that are relevant to any vendor’s networking technology. Depending on your particular situation or your organization’s technology mix, you might want to look at other vendor certifications.
For example, if you want (or have been asked) to administer your organization’s Microsoft Windows Server networks, then you could pursue a Microsoft MCSA: Windows Server 2016 cert. While there are no prerequisites, your CCNA R&S assures that you will have much of the recommended experience.
If your organization uses Juniper products for its data center networks, then Juniper certification is a good option to pursue. Your CCNA R&S puts you in a good place to begin with the entry-level Certified Associate (JNCIA-Junos) cert, which is a prerequisite for certification as a Juniper Enterprise Routing and Switching Specialist (JNCIS-ENT).
Of course, many of these certification options can be complementary. For example, we’ve previously discussed how the CCNA Data Center cert can be paired with other vendor certs such as VMware’s VCP – Network Virtualization, Amazon’s AWS Certified Solutions Architect, and Microsoft’s MCSA: Cloud Platform.
In large shops, you may be constrained to specialize in one vendor’s systems. In a small shop, however, you’ll probably need to be a jack-of-all-trades and handle a little of everything. You might need to know everything from networking to IT security to virtualization to cloud computing.
If that’s the case, CCNA R&S is a good starting point. But you’d do well to look at additional vendor-neutral certs. You can’t go wrong with one or more of CompTIA’s CompTIA A+, Cloud Essentials, Linux, Cloud+, or Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+) certifications.
Follow Your Passion
Remember, before you plunge too far down the IT cert path, figure out what sparks YOUR interest. What are you passionate about? Where do you see yourself in five, 10, or 15 years? Why focus on networking, if you really are interested in security? Would a cert in project management be a better step toward getting that team leader position, if management is what you aspire to be in?
While money and prestige are nice, you need to be happy and engaged in what you do. It’s no fun doing something you don’t like, day in and day out for years. You are the only person who has really got your best interests at heart — and that’s okay. Just make sure that you weigh the pros and cons of any certification you are considering.
Earning the Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching certification opens a lot of doors. You obviously could stay the course and work your way up the Cisco networking ladder. You could change things up a bit and pursue a CCNA in an area like cloud, security, or collaboration. Or perhaps, armed with a solid routing and switching foundation, you could go beyond the Cisco-sphere.
Ultimately, it’s all about what interests you. To be successful in IT, you have to be a life-long learner. It’s a lot easier to learn something when you’re passionate about it, so make deliberate choices after you earn that CCNA R&S. The good news is that early in your career, you have a lot of exciting options. Plus, there’s a lot of demand across the board for talented, directed IT pros.