Is the CCNP Collaboration Worth It?
If you spend any time looking into Cisco certifications, you know there’s a slightly overwhelming number of options. You have the different tiers to start with: Associate, Professional, Expert, and Architect. These of course map with the different acronyms we know and love: CCNA, CCNP, and so on.
But where it gets tricky is within each tier there are different concentrations you can choose from based on what you want to learn and how you might want to shape your career. The Associate level isn’t terribly difficult to decipher, but the Expert level is where the certs really start getting more specific. And we think this is entirely appropriate on Cisco’s part. Just about every IT pro’s career is going to start more general and move into more specialization. So, a cert track that also becomes more focused makes sense.
It’s in this context where we find the CCNP Collaboration certification. A fairly specialized area, the cert covers Cisco’s suite of collaboration technologies. What does that mean exactly, phones and chat apps? Well, that’s part of it, but it gets a whole lot deeper, this is a CCNP-level cert after all, let’s check it out.
What is CCNP Collaboration?
It might be helpful to start with a review of Cisco’s suite of collaboration products and solutions, just to get on their same page with what Cisco might be throwing at us. A quick look at their list of collaboration solutions shows a range of products: Webex in a variety of flavors, IP phones and Unified Communications Manager (the Cisco phone system), Contact Center (a combination of traditional call centers with more modern customer contact methods like chat and social media), and various cloud versions of all these solutions.
After 2020 especially, a greater acceptance of remote work will continue to push new demands from collaborative solutions — both within companies and between businesses and their customers.
Buying Zoom licenses for your team? Not too hard. Architecting/administering/troubleshooting a multi-continent contact center, integrated with your IdP and CMS, supporting the enterprise’s need for thousands of users, carrying the communications to thousands more clients and customers? That might be a bit harder, it might be time to get certified.
The Core Exam: 350-801 CLCOR
Like all the CCNP certs, earning the CCNP Collaboration requires passing two proctored exams: a core exam that everyone takes and your choice of one concentration exam from a list.
The core exam is 350-801CLCOR. This test validates knowledge of implementing core collaboration technologies. Basically, it tests you on a wide and medium depth understanding of the base technologies and concepts that all collaboration solutions are built on top of. The technologies range from network protocols like NTP and LDAP to how a SIP call goes down from start to finish to call routing to a comprehensive look at QoS. In a nutshell, what does it take under the hood to make real time communication happen from across buildings to across continents.
There are other conceptual side trails you’ll cover as well. These include slightly mundane things like licensing models, call codecs, troubleshooting, and Cisco’s collaboration applications. This last point in particular is a pattern we see with every Cisco certification: here’s the technological knowledge you need to know, now here’s Cisco’s solutions and how to implement them. We’re not blaming Cisco, it is their test after all, but they’ve never been shy about using the popularity of their certs to push their way of solving a problem. And if you’re the expert, you’re going to recommend your company use the solutions you know, which will be Cisco.
Take a look through the exam topics. A trend starts to emerge. Like how the OSI model works through each layer of the network stack, this exam works through each layer of the real time communications stack. We’re not trying to say they match exactly layer to layer, but conceptually there is a gradual building up of layers, from the basic protocols to using those to start a SIP call to gateways moving those calls across WANs to QoS keeping the whole thing smooth end to end to the application the user interacts with. It’s pretty deep, for just a voice call or video chat.
4 Concentration Exams: CCNP Collaboration
After passing the core exam, you have to choose one of four concentration exams to tackle. They each focus on a slightly different area of collaboration technologies.
300-810 CLICA is all about collaborative applications from Cisco Unity Connection and Express for call handling and messaging to Unified IM and Presence for, well, IM and presence awareness. It also covers the SAML and SSO implementations that they all need for a secure enterprise.
The next exam option is 300-815 CLACCM, which covers call control and mobility implementation. This translates to how calls get into your phone system, routed to the right destination, and all the other fancy bells and whistles between those two endpoints like hunt groups and call queues. This is definitely a test reserved for someone managing highly complex VoIP setups.
The third exam option, 300-820 CLCEI, is about collaboration cloud and edge solutions. A little harder to pin down, this test covers integrating onsite and cloud based collaboration solutions.
Finally there is 300-835 CLAUTO, which is a more developer-centric study of automation and programmability of Cisco’s collaboration solutions. There’s lots of talk around APIs on this exam and using them to programmatically interact with the whole collab suite, particularly using Python.
How Much Does the CCNP Collaboration Cost?
The CCNP Collaboration Core exam (350-801 CLCOR) costs $400 and each of the concentration exams cost $300. The total cost to earn the CCNP Collaboration is at least $700.
Who Should Earn CCNP Collaboration?
It should be clear by now that this is a cert that’s a little more niche than most. It is a CCNP though after all, we’re past the most general CCENT and CCNA tiers.
As far as what companies would want someone to hold this cert, it's complicated. Smaller companies are more likely to turn to SaaS solutions for their collaboration needs — using Slack, Microsoft Teams, and any of the myriad of hosted VoIP phone systems available on the market.
Big enterprises, though, may still want to keep these systems in house. Hosted systems in the cloud aren’t always the most desirable for everyone, be it because of privacy concerns, total dependence on another vendor, licensing cost for thousands or tens of thousands of employees. These big enterprises are where having CCNP Collaboration cert will help you out.
If you do decide to pursue the CCNP Collaboration, what kind of experience should you have under your belt already? Obviously lots of practical network experience. The objectives of the core test clearly are going to build on a foundation of networking experience. One interesting note though is that the cert has no formal prerequisites, not even a CCNA, though we imagine the type of person at this point in their career already carries it.
Cisco does make one recommendation: “CCNP candidates often…have three to five years of experience implementing collaboration solutions.” So this is not a cert for rookies, or even experienced network engineers wanting to move into collaboration. The expectation is that you are already somewhat into the collaboration field and want to certify your skills.
Consider that getting the cert to break into collab technologies might not be the best career move. An enterprise company looking to hire someone to run their global phone system doesn’t want a candidate who is certified but without years of experience. A move from a collaboration job to a better collaboration though? Bring it on!
What CCNP Collaboration Jobs Are There?
The best way to survey what kind of jobs require a CCNP Collaboration is simply to Google “CCNP Collaboration jobs.” Let’s summarize some of the positions you might find.
Cisco Voice Engineer is one that you will see a lot, and this makes a lot of sense, it’s a position that specializes in the niche of running BIIIIG enterprise phone systems. Expect to see companies looking for candidates with lots of experience with SIP, gateways, and Cisco Unified Communications Manager. Conveniently enough, these are all areas the CCNP Collaboration cert cover, especially if you go with the 300-810 CLICA concentration exam. You might see the same job with other titles like UC Engineer or Network Engineer – Collaboration.
Another possibility is a more generalist position within the niche of collaboration technologies. Instead of focusing on just the voice aspect, these positions want someone with experience in any and all collab solutions to manage their entire suite. Look for titles like UC Engineer, Network Engineer – Collaboration, or Infrastructure Engineer
Is the CCNP Collaboration Worth It?
The CCNP Collaboration is kind of a niche cert as we’ve seen. This brings us back to our starting question, is it worth it? To someone with a good bit of networking experience and time around Cisco’s collaboration solutions, definitely. Usually larger enterprise companies are going to go all in with a vendor’s solutions and stick with them a long time, and for collab especially Cisco is a top if not THE top runner when it comes to voice, video conferencing, and other collab tech.
If this is the area you want to specialize in and already have some chops, this cert can only hone those chops and give you more street cred to find that awesome new role.