Technology / Networking

Is the CWNE Worth It?

by Landon D. Foster
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Published on August 31, 2021

The Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE) is the pinnacle certification from the CWNP certification organization. It differs fairly significantly from the well-known CCIE, in that it's much more akin to a Physician's Board certification than it is a final exam in school. The CWNE is more structured for you to submit a packet for approval by the CWNE Board, a group of sitting CWNEs, than it is another explicit knowledge check. It is a numbered certification as most top-tier certs are, and you will upon approval be designated with a unique, permanent number just for you.

CWNE Criteria

The CWNE, as mentioned before, is more of a validation of you as a network engineer, so it doesn't have any objectives, as such. It requires that you submit a packet, which consists of the following:

  • Your work history through CV or resume. You must have three full years of enterprise grade WiFi specific experience. This is somewhat exclusive to being employed in some form in a network or RF engineering role. Volunteer experience will help your application, but does not count toward the experience requirement.

  • 3 essays. These are 500-1000 word essays that detail projects you have either led or directly contributed to- Keep in mind when writing them you need to demonstrate your deep understanding of wireless, but you're not teaching the board. They should be concise and technical, but not be overloaded with employer-specific jargon or terms. In my experience, the word requirement is constraining in that it is short, not that you'll struggle for enough length. Graphics are allowed, but should be directly relevant.

  • Certifications. You will need to earn CWNA, CWISA, CWAP,CWAP, CWSP and CWDP. These certifications represent the entire curriculum in WiFi, plus basic IoT knowledge. In general, they must be passed with the traditional 70% or higher marks, unless you want to become an instructor, in which case, they must be passed with an 80%.

  • One relevant outside certification. This can be a vendor cert (CCNx series suggested, or whatever vendor you work with most, or another networking cert such as COMPTIA's line of general certs like Net+ or Sec+.

  • At least one self published article. This can be a blog post that's more than six months old, a webinar, book or similar. CWNP also provides opportunities to publish should you need it.

Please note that it costs $500 (USD) to submit a packet.

Who Should Earn the CWNE?

It's recommended that test-takers have a minimum of three years experience with wireless networking technologies. However, most applicants shouldn't have any trouble meeting that mark if they are eligible for the CWNE exam. Let's take a look at several IT pros who could benefit from CWNE certification. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Network architects. This job title is usually a bit more broad than the following, but most often represents a highly experienced engineer who can plan, construct, and integrate a network with minimal help, as well as serve a supervisory role. The CWNE is an important piece of demonstrating the broad nature of your knowledge to any prospective employer. If you're seeking a high level position, you should have tangible evidence of your knowledge.

The CWNE and other numbered certs are an easy way to show an employer without having to dig through your project portfolio too deeply, or have your previous employer vouch for you. These days most employers will only verify dates of employment and title, for legal reasons. At this level, it's better to not put your prospective employer in any doubt, as any one factor may inch you ahead of other candidates.

Wireless SMEs. The wireless SME is in some cases the opposite of the architect. Your prospective employer is more interested in the depth of your knowledge than the breadth of it. The CWNE, being an expert-level cert, is already very deep, specifically into WiFi. It shows you thoroughly understand wireless, and should be able to field just about any interview question about the PHY or way that 802.11 works. Here having multiple vendor certs will aid you as well. Your publication requirement will serve nicely here too; A SME should be able to not only be hands on, but to relay the knowledge s/he has acquired to more junior employees in a simple and intelligible manner.

Wireless engineers. This one is the original target audience CWNP shoots for. Your bulk of wireless engineers simply seeking to be better will benefit from the entire process. You'll learn vastly more about the entire structure and function of 802.11 through the process than 90% of us could do studying on our own. The fact is that the 802.11 standard is very, very difficult to read as written and having a guide to help you learn it is just the catalyst that most of us need to understand at a deeper level. Remember that it's a journey that generally takes some time, and your learning will start broad (CWNA) with what it looks like from the outside and get more in depth (CWxP) where you'll learn what's going on in that "black box" of WiFi.

Is the CWNE Worth it to learn skills?

Yes, and no. The nuance here is that getting your CWNE will teach you a great deal about Wireless, RF and WiFi. However, it won't teach you anything directly but will facilitate your learning to a great degree. The CWNE is more about demonstrating that you've internalized these skills, put them to use, and are both willing and able to share that knowledge. A big cultural emphasis and the reasoning behind the publication requirement is that you should now be demonstrably "paying it forward" as a CWNE and prospective CWNE.

Is the CWNE worth it to validate skills?

Absolutely. CWNE represents not only mastery of the three domains of WiFi (Design, Analysis, and Security), but a singular dedication to furthering oneself beyond, generally, the requirements of one's specific role. Very few engineers will be actively engaged in all three domains at the same time, in the same role. CWNE is also rare — even rarer than the other popular expert certification, CCIE. There are just a few over 415 CWNEs worldwide at the time of writing, while there's nearly 40,000 CCIEs.

CWNE makes a statement about both your knowledge and work ethic in the same way that CCIE does. It's very uncommon for an employer these days to sponsor or pay you to get certs, much less an entire path, so this certification demonstrates you're dedicated to improvement and skilled enough to finish the journey.


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