If you’ve recently passed the CompTIA Network+, congratulations! Earning the Network+ is a great step toward starting or furthering your IT or cybersecurity career. Once you’ve let your new certified status settle in, you may be wondering what certification you should pursue, now that you’re Network+ certified. In this article, I’m going to cover what you should do after your Network+ certification.
What certification should you get after the CompTIA Network+? The two most common certifications to earn following the Network+ are the CompTIA Security+ or the Cisco CCNA. The Security+ is the best next step for those pursuing a career in cybersecurity, while the CCNA remains helpful for those dedicated to a networking career, especially in locations with Cisco equipment.
Let me now clarify a little more about which steps you should consider following your Network+ (and if you have yet to take the Network+, see my Network+ Success Bundle.)
Option #1: Security+
One of the best certification options to pursue following the Network+ is also from CompTIA, which is the very popular Security+ certification. CompTIA aligns Security+ to be the follow-up certification for Network+, and for good reason. The Security+ is simply a network security certification, adding security concepts to the networking concepts of the Network+.
If you’re thinking that a career in cybersecurity is in your future, the Security+ is a no-brainer, and very well may be required for some of the jobs that you’ll be looking at. At the very least, the Security+ will certainly help you when applying for any job that relates to cybersecurity or has a security component.
The Security+ is a very well recognized certification, and it pairs well with the Network+. And now that the Security+ has been around for a while, employers are very likely to recognize it or even request it. I have seen many employers what general IT employees to have the Security+, and the Security+ is usually the baseline certification for entry-level cyber jobs.
How Soon Should You Sit for the Security+?
Once you’ve completed the Network+, you may be wondering how soon you should be scheduling your Security+ certification. These two exams have a great deal of overlap in content, they have a similar level of difficulty, and their formats are similar as well. Because of these factors, the worst thing you can do is to let the studying that you did for Network+ go to waste by taking to long to move on to the Security+.
The best strategy here is to continue to study and build on your Network+ knowledge by adding on the Security+ material. Even though you may feel ready for a break, letting your sharpness with the Network+ content is a bad idea, as you’ll have to relearn that when you decide to move on to the Security+. Keep pressing forward and the Security+ will be that much easier.
I recommend for most of my students to sit for the Security+ within four weeks following their successful Network+ exam. You can move that up or back, depending on how well you did on the Network+. For example, some students who are really strong on the Network+ and had no issue at all with the exam can sit for the Security+ within two weeks with relative ease. Others, who have not worked with security concepts before may take four to five weeks. Rarely is taking longer than five weeks beneficial for anyone.
What Study Strategy Should You Use for the Security+
Since you were successful on the Network+, and the exams are similar in format, a similar study strategy is probably your best bet, as long as you keep in mind that the Security+ exam may be somewhat harder for you.
Personally, I felt that the Security+ was more difficult than the Network+, and most people that visit the site here at StartaCyberCareer.com do say that too, but I’ve also heard some say that the Network+ was the more challenging of the two for them. This depends on your background, so be sure you don’t underestimate the Security+ as you prepare. If you’re ready to sit for the Security+, check out my Security+ Success Bundle here.
Option #2: Cisco CCNA
The second major option to follow your Network+ certification would be the CCNA certification from Cisco. Many employers will see this as somewhat of an overlap of the Network+, but it is still valuable, even for employers that don’t use Cisco equipment.
I have talked with major networking employers that do use Cisco equipment, and for them, the Cisco certifications are mandatory, so the CCNA still has a good market presence. If you’re going to choose between this and the Security+ mentioned above, it really comes down to your desired career focus.
For anyone that wants to go deep into networking, and is not concerned much about a career directly in cybersecurity, pursuing the CCNA is probably the next best step. This is also reinforced by the additional higher level Cisco certifications that are available following the CCNA, such as the CCNP and CCIE, etc.
Cisco offers many certifications that focus on various products and levels. You could spend several years just pursuing networking related Cisco certifications, so if that’s your path, spending time on security-based certifications may end up being a distraction.
How Soon Should You Sit for the CCNA?
Preparing for the CCNA is going to take a little more time for many people that it would take to prepare for the Security+, since the CCNA is a practical exam, where you’ll need to have experience with the equipment, at the very least in a lab setting.
The Security+, being a primarily theoretical exam, does not command the same amount of hands on experience. Therefore, if you don’t have experience with Cisco equipment or the Cisco operating system IOS, you have some work ahead of you.
Most people I’ve worked with will need about 6 weeks of practice for the CCNA, following their successful Network+ exam. This may be as short as three weeks for those that have Cisco experience, but rarely is it less than that. If you have no experience with Cisco’s operating system, then you may need a full two months to get ready, or more, depending on where you’re starting from.
The bottom line is that, in my opinion, you can’t and shouldn’t try to rush your preparation for the CCNA, like you can the Security+, simply because the CCNA is different from the Network+ you’ve already done.
Option #3: Python PCAP
You could also go in a different direction and prove your ability in a new skill set by earning the PCAP certification. This is one of the few certifications that show ability in basic Python programming, and while the certification isn’t well known, it is pretty inexpensive and doesn’t appear to be that challenging for someone that has been coding in Python for a few months.
Exams to Avoid Following the Network+
Now that I’ve covered the best two options for a follow up certification to the Network+, I want to spend a moment listing the exams that I think are not good follow up exams for Network+.
Many people are interested in the CySA+ and PenTest+ certifications, also from CompTIA (see my articles on the easiest CompTIA certs here), but these exams are intermediate-level exams, and certainly more difficult than the Network+ or Security+. Don’t make the mistake of jumping right to either of these exams unless you have some experience in those topics in the field.
Another unnecessary move following the Network+ is to go back and earn the A+, if you don’t already have that. The Network+ overrides and supersedes the A+, so unless you are dead set on becoming a helpdesk technician, the A+ is going to be limited in what it can do for you. My recommendation is that the A+ should only be pursued in this scenario if a) the employer is going to pay for it, b), the employer is going to pay for the training, or c) you’re required to get it or will get a raise for completing it.
Can You Choose Not to Do Another Exam?
Some people will take another option completely, which is to not follow up the Network+ with any exam. That is fine too, but I do want to share that I’ve seen many times that the Network+, paired with another certification, really helps on the resume and sets you above others that have not done a second certification.
So if you’re serious enough about your career to have already passed the Network+, you should probably be serious enough to take it a step further and earn a second certification, because that will take you to the next level in your career options. Best of luck.