Technology / Networking

The Certification Path to Senior Network Security Engineer

by Team Nuggets
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Published on August 22, 2022

The world needs more cybersecurity experts. Unfortunately, we're suffering a severe deficit of qualified individuals willing to fight in the front lines of the digital world. Being a network security engineer isn't for everyone, though.

Only individuals with an insatiable curiosity with a drive to compete do well. If that describes you, keep reading. This article will discuss the certification path you must take to survive long enough to become a senior network security engineer.

The Certification Path to Senior Network Security Engineer

Becoming a senior network security engineer doesn't happen overnight. Advanced network security requires patience — and a lot of learning and experimentation. We wish there were an easy network security engineer certification path, but the IT industry is diverse. Because of that, there are certification paths that you will want to investigate from a few different organizations.

Though you might be tempted to skim this article, we encourage you to read it from top to bottom. It's specifically written to create a network security engineer certification path from the entry-level position to becoming a certified senior network security engineer.

First, Start With CompTIA

Your first stop on the certification path to senior security engineer is with CompTIA. CompTIA is an independent IT industry certification body. Because they are independent, their certifications are written to test practical knowledge and network theory. Therefore, studying for CompTIA certs is an excellent way to learn the foundations of networking and network security.

First and foremost, start with the Network+ certification. The Network+ cert isn't a cybersecurity certification. Instead, it's a certification designed to test engineers' understanding of building and managing networks. You can't secure a system until you understand it. That's why we recommend starting with the Network+ cert.

After earning the CompTIA Network+ cert, start studying for the Security+ certification. The Security+ certification is CompTIA's network security engineer cert. The Security+ certification is considered a foundational certification in the IT security sector.

As stated above, the CompTIA certifications are focused on practice and theory outside the realm of vendor-specific equipment or applications. Therefore, studying the fundamental principles tested in the CompTIA Security+ cert will give you a firm foundation of knowledge for the rest of your network security engineering career.

Then, Focus on Cisco Technologies

After completing foundational certifications, it's time to earn more advanced network security certs. There are many different certifications to choose from, but it's probably best to study for the Cisco CCNA.

The Cisco CCNA is another network security certification considered a foundational certification in the InfoSec and IT communities. The CCNA cert is recommended because of how well-known it is.

One of the issues with IT certifications is that HR and other organizational entities might not fully understand them. A hiring IT manager will recognize one network security certification from another, but IT hiring managers typically aren't the first people you speak with. HR vets candidates before handing off resumes to IT managers.

To be clear, there are plenty of other similar certifications, but the Cisco CCNA is widely recognized. Even HR folks know what the Cisco CCNA is. This is why the Cisco CCNA is the next network security certification on the list.

The Cisco CCNA certification will take the foundational knowledge you learned from earning the Security+ certification and apply that knowledge to real-world networking equipment and infrastructure.

Of course, the CCNA does teach a lot of foundational information, but that information is taught through configuration and application. Likewise, what you learn by studying for the Cisco CCNA can also be transferred to networking equipment produced by other vendors.

Finally, Pursue ISACA Certification

The last certification you need to earn to become a senior network security engineer is the ISACA CISM certification. ISACA is an organization that handles nothing but advanced IT topics and cyber security. ISACA has various certifications you can earn, but the CISM security certification is designed explicitly for network engineers.

Make no mistake, the ISACA certifications are demanding. You will need to study for these certs. So don't assume that you will easily pass the CISM test without studying.

This is why ISACA certifications are so widely respected in the IT industry. ISACA tests are tough to pass by just working through a weekend crash course. It's a good bet that if a network security engineer holds the CISM certification, they spend a lot of time studying and practicing their trade.

Other Certs for Your Senior Network Security Adventure

We're not done yet, though it's safe to stop here if you would like. Aiming to earn the Security+, the Cisco CCNA, and the CISM certifications are great career boosters. We picked these three specific certifications because they offer a well-rounded network security engineer learning path. These three certifications complement each other, too. Likewise, they are recognized by IT managers and HR reps alike. After all, if you are going to spend a lot of time improving your skills, you might as well do it in a way that will make it easier to advance your career.

With that said, there are a lot of other certifications that you can earn. Keep your career path in mind. The additional certifications you study for will depend on that.

For instance, if you have goals of becoming a network manager, a CIO, or another type of upper-level management position, you might be interested in the CISSP certification. The CISSP cert is an advanced certification coveted by the IT industry. It not only tests for advanced network security skills, but it also verifies work history too. Therefore, to hold the CISSP certification, you must maintain verifiable employment in the IT industry. It's that serious.

On the other hand, if you have aspirations of pivoting to cloud security, you might want to look into the CompTIA Cloud+ certification along with the Network+ certification. The Cloud+ certificate is another foundational cert that tests for basic knowledge of cloud network security free from vendor-influenced content.

That's not to say that vendor-specific certifications aren't worthwhile. For instance, AWS is the largest cloud provider in the world. AWS also offers the AWS Certified Security cert. That certification proves that you know how to lock down AWS resources. Microsoft also offers the Azure Security Engineer Associate certification for Azure, similar to the AWS Certified Security certification.

Our final examples are the Fortinet and Palo Alto certifications. Fortinet is one of the largest IT security product vendors in the world. Palo Alto is nipping at their heels. So if your organization isn't running a Cisco firewall, there's a good chance that firewall comes from Fortinet or Palo Alto instead. Both companies are working hard on helping businesses integrate and work with hybrid cloud deployments, too. Knowing how to operate and manage Fortinet and Palo Alto equipment is valuable as a network security engineer.

Final Thoughts

Those few extra recommendations should be more than enough to keep you busy for the foreseeable future. If those recommendations don't sound like they fit your career path, CBT Nuggets has tons of network security engineer-focused certification courses and skill set primers. It's easy to find those courses, too.


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