How Hard is the New CCNA?
| certifications | cisco - David Zomaya

How Hard is the New CCNA?

Last year, Cisco went big and changed up most of its certification program — especially at the CCNA level. There’s now one CCNA cert to rule them all, rather than individual ones tied to speciality areas like security and the cloud.

Now that we’re well past the February 24, 2020 release date for the new CCNA certification, we can evaluate the new CCNA. What did these changes do to the CCNA certs? Is the new CCNA harder or easier than the old CCNA?

Understanding What’s New

Prior to February 24, you could pick one of the following paths for your CCNA:

  • CCNA Cloud
  • CCNA Collaboration
  • CCNA Data Center
  • CCNA Industrial
  • CCNA Routing and Switching
  • CCNA Service Provider
  • CCNA Wireless

This option required at least two exams to get certified, and in some cases, more. And if something changed while you were working on your CCNA, it wasn’t always as simple as changing the path you were taking. With the new CCNA, you’re only required to take one exam to get certified.  Specializing comes later, so this gives you more flexibility if you’re new to Cisco certs.

How Hard is the New CCNA?

Of course, pass rates will tell the story a year or so from now, but we can make some inferences today. In general, the new CCNA is shaping up to be harder than the old CCNA.

The changes require that you have a wider knowledge base. Previously, you could ease your way into CCNA Routing & Switching by starting off with a CCENT (retired Feb 24, 2020) to get you into the CCNA Routing & Switching. This also helped ease you into other CCNA paths down the road. That’s no longer possible, which can add to the difficulty of earning the new CCNA.

With the new CCNA, you don’t lose focus areas, they’ve just been replaced by Specialist certifications (more on that later). But you are going into an exam that covers more networking fundamentals. This requires a wider view, and understanding of the material.  That’s not to say the old CCNA certs didn’t cover basics, but the new CCNA dives in a little further. As a result, the exam can be more challenging than the previous CCNA.

The difficulty stems from the fact that the new CCNA covers modern network fundamentals end-to-end. That, in and of itself, is a lot of ground to cover. Programmability and automation in particular can be challenging for newer networking pros. While DevOps and automation seem to be the norm now, mixing programming into networking certs is a new concept. This can add an additional layer of difficulty for cert takers who are comfortable with basic networking, but new to automation.

How the Changes Benefit You

Before this change, it had been a long time since Cisco made large-scale changes to their certification program. During this time, the requirements for IT professionals have changed. Associate-level expertise doesn’t really demand for any sort of concentration in any one area. Typically, someone looking to hire a person with a CCNA will want that person to have a basic understanding of Cisco applications — and be able to mold that person into what is best for that organization. This provides a clear progression path as you keep advancing in your career.

When the time comes that you’re ready to take the next step, you’ll be able to pick up a Cisco specialization that will help you shape your career to fit the needs of your organization.  This also gives you a lot more flexibility than you previously had. If your career takes you down a different path, you can easily shift your focus to that area. The change maps out a clear path of progression that will likely increase success rates for those going the CCNA route. All of this is eventually setting you up nicely for something like a CCNP in the area you decide to focus on.

With so many changes to what is required for someone to get into IT, It’s natural that organizations will start looking for those who have these new required skills.

Looking at the 200-301 CCNA

As mentioned before, the new CCNA will now only require you to take one exam, the 200-301 CCNA.  While there are no formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that you have at least the following  experience:

  • One or more years of experience implementing and administering Cisco solutions
  • Knowledge of basic IP addressing
  • A good understanding of network fundamentals

So, while you could just jump right into the exam, it’s not a good idea to go into this without at least preparing.  If you’re already putting in the training investment, you might as well get the most out of it.

The 200-301 exam is 120-minutes long and covers a wide range of topics. It expects you to understand the IT fundamentals that are required for the latest job requirements in an IT career. You’ll be expected to understand security and automation and programmability.  You should expect to cover the following topics:

  • Network fundamentals
  • Network access
  • IP connectivity
  • IP services
  • Security fundamentals
  • Automation and programmability

This exam is essentially a consolidation of all the associate level certifications. It’s meant to validate your knowledge of today’s fundamental networking skills. Once you pass the exam, your new CCNA will remain valid for three years before you need to recertify.

Specialist Certifications at a Glance

Once you’ve got the basics down and are CCNA-certified, you’ll be able to explore Specialist certifications to focus in your area. These certs take the place of the previous CCNA paths. Earning Cisco Specialist certifications will enhance your networking knowledge in whatever area is most relevant to you.

The benefit here is that every Specialist cert you receive, you’ll be able to display your badge for that cert.  Specialist certifications also act as stepping stones for a CCNP if you decide to go in that direction. Cisco Specialist certs are valid for two years before needing to recertify.

Final Thoughts

The new CCNA overall is a little harder than the previous one. It is asking new IT professionals to display a wider set of skills. The good news is it’s preparing you for real world expectations. By obtaining this cert, you  show that you have the skills required to work with today’s networks.  And with Cisco being as respected as it is, getting the current CCNA will give you the edge when trying to land that job you’re looking for.

The requirements for an associate-level IT professional are changing. Having a basic understanding of all areas are expected at this point. The changes to the CCNA are meant to prepare you for what is expected from you at this level, while making it easier to improve skills that are relevant to your success.

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