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Cisco Certification Guide: Overview And Career Paths

Cisco Certification Guide: Overview And Career Paths
By , Mary Kyle

Cisco offers one of the most popular certification programs in the IT industry, with credentials for entry-level, intermediate, specialist, and expert IT pros. Read on to find out about Cisco's certification program and its available designations.

Cisco Systems, Inc. specializes in networking and communications products and services. The company is probably best known for its business routing and switching products, which direct data, voice and video traffic across networks around the world. However, Cisco also offers storage networking, applications for unified communications, telepresence and collaboration (WebEx), and an array of services from simple product support to complete solutions for data centers and cloud management.

To ensure that IT professionals have the skills necessary to support Cisco products and solve customers' technology around. The Cisco Career Certification program begins at the entry level, then advances to associate, professional and expert levels, and (for some certifications) caps things off at the architect level.

Each level offers one or more credentials. Obtaining a credential usually involves passing one or more certification exams, delivered by Pearson VUE, and, for higher-level credentials, proving you have the right prerequisites. The higher the level of certification, the more credentials and prerequisites you need to meet its requirements.

Cisco Certification Program Overview

Certifications within Cisco's program include the following credentials:

  • Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)
  • Cisco Certified Technician (CCT)
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA)
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
  • Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP)
  • Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
  • Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE)
  • Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr)

There are many different certifications and paths you can take in Cisco's career program, although the two main paths are network operation and network design. A typical Cisco networking certification ladder begins with the entry-level CCENT credential, moves up to the CCNA, then to the CCNP, and culminates with the CCIE. If you're more design oriented, you could consider starting with the CCENT, moving up to the CCDA, then the Professional-level CCDP, followed by the CCDE, and finish the program by achieving the CCAr.

The Cisco Career Certification program also includes a number of specializations, which acknowledge a professional's skills in a specific Cisco technology, such as data center application services, voicemail and messaging or rich media. There are about 20 specializations to choose from across the following categories:

  • Business
  • Collaboration
  • Data Center (Unified Computing, Unified Fabric or FlexPod)
  • Network Programmability
  • Operating System Software
  • Security
  • Service Provider
  • Internet of Things (IoT)

Achieving a specialist credential generally requires passing one or two exams. Some credentials also require prerequisites.



Entry-, associate- and professional-level credentials are valid for 3 years, CCIE and specialist certifications are valid for 2 years and the CCAr is valid for 5 years. To keep certifications current, Cisco professionals need to recertify by passing a recertification exam or advancing to a higher level in Cisco's certification hierarchy.



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Cisco's Entry-Level Certs

Cisco has two entry-level credentials — the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) and the Cisco Certified Technician (CCT). No prerequisites are required to obtain either the CCENT or CCT credential, and candidates are required to pass a single exam for each credential.

A CCENT certified professional installs, maintains and troubleshoots small networks or a branch of an enterprise network, and implements basic network security. The CCENT credential is a prerequisite for associate-level credentials such as the CCNA and CCDA.

A CCT works onsite at customer locations, diagnosing issues and repairing or replacing network-related equipment. A CCT can choose one of several specialty tracks, which may include Data Center, Routing and Switching, or Telepresence.

CertificationExamsNumber of QuestionsTime to Complete
CCENT100-105 ICND145-5590 minutes
CCT Data Center010-151 DCTECH65-7590 minutes
CCT Routing & Switching640-692 RSTECH60-7090 minutes

Cisco's Associate-Level Certifications

Cisco's associate-level certifications include the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and the Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA). You must pass one or two certification exams to achieve a CCNA or CCDA credential, depending on the track you choose.

The CCNA recognizes basic skills in installing, supporting and troubleshooting wired and/or wireless networks. You can choose from several tracks, including Cloud, Collaboration, Cyber Ops, Data Center, Industrial, Routing and Switching, Security, Service Provider and Wireless. The CCNA is a prerequisite for the professional-level CCNP certification. Prerequisites for the CCNA vary depending on the solution track chosen as do the number of required exams. All solution tracks require either one or two exams.

Cisco created the CCDA to identify individuals who can design basic wired and wireless networks, and incorporate security and voice solutions. The CCDA is a prerequisite for the CCDP certification. To obtain the CCDA, candidates must possess either a valid CCENT, CCNA Routing and Switching, or any CCIE certification, and pass a single additional exam.

Certification
Exams
Number of Questions
Time to Complete
CCDA
210-451 CLDFND
55-65
75 minutes
CCNA Cloud
210-451 CLDFND
55-65
90 minutes
210-455 CLDADM
55-65
90 minutes
CCNA Collaboration
210-060 CICD
55-65
75 minutes
210-065 CIVND
55-65
75 minutes
CCNA Cyber Ops
210-250 SECFND
55-60
90 minutes
210-255 SECOPS
55-60
90 minutes
CCNA Data Center
200-150 DCICN
65-75
90 minutes
200-155 DCICT
65-75
90 minutes
CCNA Industrial
200-601 IMINS2
65-75
90 minutes
CCNA Routing and Switching
200-125 CCNA
55-60
90 minutes
OR
100-105 ICND1
45-55
90 minutes
200-105 ICND2
45-55
90 minutes
CCNA Security
210-260 IINS
60-70
90 minutes
CCNA Serivice Provider
640-875 SPNGN1
65-75
90 minutes
640-878 SPNGN2
65-75
90 minutes
CCNA Wireless
200-355 WIFUND
60-70
90 minutes

Cisco's Professional-Level Certifications

Cisco's professional-level credentials include two main programs: Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP). To obtain the CCDP, one must pass three certification exams and possess both the CCDA and CCNA Routing and Switching credentials or any Cisco CCIE certification.

All CCNP solution tracks, except Routing and Switching, require candidates to pass four exams; only three exams are required for the CCNP: Routing and Switching credential. Prerequisites for all CCNP solution tracks include either the lower-level CCNA credential or any CCIE credential. The CCNP: Service Provider credential also accepts the Cisco Certified Internet Professional (CCIP) credential as a prerequisite (which retired in 2012).

The CCNP credential recognizes professionals who plan, deploy and troubleshoot local networks and wide area networks. The CCNP tracks are the same as those for the CCNA, with the exception of Industrial and Cyber Ops, which are not offered in the CCNP. The CCNP is recommended for climbing the next step in the cert ladder — the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert.

The CCDP identifies proficiency in designing and deploying scalable networks and multilayer-switched networks. From the CCDP, you can move on to the Cisco Certified Design Expert.

Certification
Exams
Number of Questions
Time to Complete
CCDP
300-101 ROUTE
45-65
120 minutes
300-115 SWITCH
30-40
120 minutes
300-320 ARCH
60-70
75 minutes
CCNP Cloud
300-460 CLDINF
55-65
90 minutes
300-465 CLDDES
55-65
90 minutes
300-470 CLDAUT
55-65
90 minutes
300-475 CLDACI
55-65
90 minutes
CCNP Collaboration
300-070 CIPTV1
55-65
75 minutes
300-075 CIPTV2
50-60
75 minutes
300-080 CTCOLLAB
55-65
75 minutes
300-085 CAPPS
55-65
75 minutes
CCNP Data Center
642-999 DCUCI*
65-75
90 minutes
Or
300-175 DCUCI
60-70
90 minutes
642-997 DCUFI*
65-75
90 minutes
Or
300-165 DCII
60-70
90 minutes
And
642-998 DCUCD*
65-75
90 minutes
And
642-996 DCUFD*
65-75
90 minutes
Or
300-160 DCID
60-70
90 minutes
Or
642-035 DCUCT*
65-7590 minutes
And
642-980 DCUFT*
65-75
90 minutes
Or
300-180 DCIT
60-70
90 minutes
CCNP Routing and Switching
300-101 ROUTE
45-65
120 minutes
300-115 SWITCH
30-40
120 minutes
300-135 TSHOOT
15-25
120 minutes
CCNP Security
300-208 SISAS
55-65
90 minutes
300-206 SENSS
65-75
90 minutes
300-209 SIMOS
65-75
90 minutes
300-210 SITCS
65-75
90 minutes
CCNP Service Provider
642-883 SPROUTE
65-75
90 minutes
642-885 SPADVROUTE
65-75
90 minutes
642-887 SPCORE
65-75
90 minutes
642-889 SPEDGE
65-75
90 minutes
CCNP Wireless
300-360 WIDESIGN
60-7090 minutes
300-365 WIDEPLOY
60-7090 minutes
300-370 WITSHOOT
60-7090 minutes
300-375 WISECURE
60-7090 minutes

*Last day to test is July 3, 2017.

Cisco's Expert-Level Certifications

Cisco's expert-level credentials also includes two main certifications: the coveted Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) and the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE). There are no prerequisites for either certification, but you must pass a written exam and a rigorous practical exam for each of these credentials.

Beginning in July 2016, Cisco updated its expert-level exams to include an evolving technologies domain. This new domain targets cloud, network programmability and the Internet of Things (IoT), and it accounts for 10 percent of the total exam score. Cisco may change the topics included in this domain to reflect emerging technologies as they reach strong enough commercial interest, potential and presence to make them exam-worthy. The company describes this mechanism as a way to help "future-proof" its certifications, so that employers may assume that those who hold current credentials are also up to speed on important new networking technologies.

For many network-track professionals, achieving the CCIE is the highlight of their careers. A CCIE has expert technical skills and knowledge of Cisco network products and solutions in one of the CCIE technical tracks, which currently include Collaboration, Data Center, Routing and Switching, Security, Service Provider and Wireless.

The CCDE identifies experts who design infrastructure solutions for large enterprise environments, which include technological, operational, business and budget aspects of a project.

Cisco's Architect-Level Certifications

For persons seeking positions such as network architect or data center architect, a smart move is to acquire the Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) certification. The CCAr is like the PhD of the Cisco Career Certification program — the highest level of certification that Cisco offers. This credential validates the skills of a senior network infrastructure architect, someone who can plan and design IT infrastructures based on business strategies. Many people consider the CCAr the most difficult tech certification to achieve.

You must have CCDE certification, design a network solution for a given strategy and appear before a Cisco-appointed panel to defend that solution.

Related Jobs and Careers

Whether you're following a network operations or network design career path, Cisco certifications are uniquely positioned to assist IT professionals as they prepare to fulfill various Cisco-related career roles. Regardless of the chosen career path, job opportunities are plentiful for skilled Cisco professionals. A simple search for "Cisco professionals" on two popular job boards — SimplyHired and Indeed — yielded more than 18,000 and 20,000 job postings, respectively.

What kinds of jobs are available? Job opportunities vary by factors such as experience and whether you're focused on network operations or network design. While certainly not exhaustive, the following are some of the common job opportunities by certification focus area:

  • CCENT: Help desk or technician roles
  • CCT: Engineer (field, network, application support) or systems administrator
  • CCNA: Engineer (network, telecommunications), technician (network, network operations) or analyst (network, network operations center)
  • CCDA: Engineer (network, system, design, lead), analyst (interface), interface developer, or technical specialist
  • CCNP: Network administrator, engineer (support, network) or advanced technician, as well as senior-level roles
  • CCDP: Senior-level roles; senior network design engineer, senior analyst, cyber protection analyst or network designer
  • CCIE: Expert-level roles; network architect, engineer (lead, systems, network) or senior network administrator
  • CCDE: Expert-level roles; systems engineer, senior network engineer, network architect, network design engineer or IT infrastructure team lead
  • CCAr: Architect (lead, network, enterprise, voice data, and more)

Training and Resources

Cisco is dedicated to every candidate's success and maintains a list of available training and self-study resources such as e-learning, practice exams, learning labs, on each certification web page. The Cisco Learning Network offers all candidates a free basic membership that includes access to exam topics, live seminars, IT training videos, study groups, forums, study materials and much more. For as little as $11 a month, candidates may purchase a premium membership for access to additional training videos, hands-on learning labs and study sessions, to name a few benefits. Additional training materials are also available from Cisco Press.

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