Many cybersecurity and IT beginners ask about the differences between the CompTIA Network+ and Cisco CCNA, and often wonder if they should take the Network+ before taking the CCNA. In this article, I’ll explain which you should take first, and if you should even take both anyway.
Should you take Network+ before Cisco CCNA? Tester takers who plan on sitting for both the CompTIA Network+ and Cisco CCNA should sit for the Network+ first, as that exam is more general in nature and requires less preparation.
Let’s now jump in and talk about why you should take the Network+ before sitting for your CCNA certification exam.
1. The CompTIA Network+ Requires Less Knowledge Than CCNA
The Network+ and Cisco CCNA are certainly very similar exams, as they have a lot of overlapping content, however the CCNA requires test takers to understand and master more content in preparation for the exam.
For example, the CCNA does cover much of the same basic networking content that is on the CompTIA Network+, such as the OSI model and subnetting concepts, but the CCNA also requires strong knowledge of configuration of Cisco devices, which will require test takers to learn dozens of Cisco IOS commands and be able to apply them in a variety of scenarios.
This means that CCNA test takers will have to go beyond what is covered on the Network+ in order to have a chance at passing the CCNA.
2. The Network+ Has a Shorter Study Timeframe
I’ve taught the Cisco CCNA and CompTIA Network+ many times over the past five years, and preparation for teaching the classes is very similar. What is different about these two classes is the class length.
Most colleges will deliver the Network+ in a single 45 hour course, however the CCNA is always much longer, often covered in three separate 45 hour courses combined. This means that it takes a college instructor three times as long to cover the official content from Cisco than from CompTIA.
Of course you may be wondering what is contained in all of those extra course hours. The extra hours are almost exclusively added by the configuration and troubleshooting labs the are includes in the CCNA preparation, and these labs cover the use of the Cisco operating system, IOS.
Having a mastery of the IOS operating system is critical for anyone that intends to take the Cisco CCNA. You simply cannot pass the CCNA without knowing the IOS commands that are required on the exam, so plenty of experience is mandatory for CCNA test takers.
3. Performance-Based Questions are Easier on Network+ Than CCNA
One fear that many test takers have is successfully navigating through the performance based questions, or PBQs, that are included on most IT and cybersecurity exams.
One challenge of CompTIA Network+ PBQs is that many are multi-step questions, meaning that you’ll have to complete two or more tasks to get the answer correct. Many test takers have gotten these questions incorrect simply by not reading through the entire question, and thereby thinking they solved the question when in fact they still had more to do.
Even though the Network+ performance-based questions can be challenging, they tend to be easier than those on the CCNA, simply because the PBQs on the Network+ are more general in nature. The CompTIA Network+ is a vendor-neutral exam, which means that CompTIA is limited in specific commands that they can really ask. The result of this is that many of the Network+ PBQs end up being drag and drop instead of an actual configuration.
This is certainly not the case on the Cisco CCNA, which will require you to actually perform configuration and troubleshooting using commands. If you don’t know the commands, you are in effect dead in the water with no way to move forward, whereas on the Network+ you may have an option to guess if you don’t know how to proceed.
4. Experience is Mandatory on the CCNA
Because the CompTIA Network+ lacks much in the way of actual configuration tasks, it is possible, although not necessarily recommended, to pass the Network+ without much actual experience. In fact, I have known test takers who have passed the Network+ simply from book studying alone, with no actual lab or real world experience at all.
This is not the case for the CCNA. Passing the Cisco CCNA in this manner without actual lab or work experience would be nearly impossible.
5. Employers are Requiring the Network+ More Than Before
Recently I was working with a cybersecurity training program that would train up new cybersecurity professionals on the CompTIA A+ and Network+ and get them certified.
The interesting thing about this program was that it was connected to an employer that was guaranteeing an entry-level tech job to everyone that passed the certification through the program.
I asked if the employer was interested in the CCNA, and this particular employer was not, even though many certainly are. What was interesting to me was that this employer was 100% committed to hiring new people with no experience as long as they had earned the Network+.
With this example and others I have seen, the Network+ seems to be more recognizable and respected than it was several years ago, which is another reason to seriously consider taking it before your CCNA.
Should You Actually Take Both Network+ and CCNA?
If you’re planning on becoming a network administrator or network technician, both the Network+ and Cisco CCNA certifications can really help your career, even with employers that do not use Cisco equipment.
Most professionals will not need to do both certifications, as employers are likely to see these two certifications as similar (although employers that use Cisco will put a higher premium on the CCNA), but having both certifications is still better than having just one, and for those that are ready for the CCNA and having the funding, taking both of these certifications can be very helpful.
How Soon After the Network+ Should I Sit for the CCNA?
Most people that complete the NEtwork+ successfully are able to continue their preparation toward the CCNA and earn that certification within 60 – 90 days, assuming they have access to lab content and equipment or simulation software.
Another Option: Network+ and Security+
While network administrators may want to do both the Network+ and CCNA (in that order), aspiring cybersecurity professionals may benefit from a different approach, which would be to complete the Network+ followed by the Security+.
Taking these two exams in short order can be fairly easily done, given the major overlap of exam content, and completion of the Security+ will set you up for entry-level cybersecurity-related positions.