What Beginners Should Know about the Cisco CCNA

A question that gets asked from time to time about the Cisco CCNA is if this certification is ideal for beginners.  In this article, I’ll answer what beginners should consider before pursuing the Cisco CCNA certification.

Is the Cisco CCNA good for beginners?  The Cisco CCNA is a good certification for beginners that want to pursue a career in IT, computer networking, or cybersecurity. Beginners that have access to the CCNA curriculum through their school or have the support of an employer should consider using those resources to earn the CCNA.

Keep in mind that there are really two different concepts here to consider.  First, of course, is if a beginner can earn the CCNA.  The second, however, is if they should.  Let’s answer both questions, starting with if a beginner can earn the CCNA.

Can a Beginner Earn the Cisco CCNA?

The Cisco CCNA is a well-known certification from Cisco, that is an “associate” level certification (as compared to Cisco’s expert and professional levels, for example).  The good news for beginners is that it is now certainly geared toward beginners, and in my opinion, much more so than it has been in the past.

Cisco’s language regarding the CCNA suggests beginners are their target market for the certification.  For example, they state that earning the CCNA is “the first step” toward an IT career, and that it provides “the foundation” for your career.

They also list a number of areas that the CCNA covers, including “network fundamentals” and “security fundamentals”, which are good indications of the basic nature of the CCNA certification.

Personally, I have taught the CCNA curriculum more times than I can even count at this point, and I can tell you that their curriculum starts at the basics.  You don’t need to have any networking background at all before starting a Cisco Academy training for the CCNA.  In fact, I’ve written an entire article on how hard the CCNA is, which you can check out here.

So, can a beginner earn the CCNA?  A beginner can earn the CCNA with adequate study and preparation, as long as they fully understand the networking concepts and Cisco IOS configuration commands that are covered on the exam.

What Skills Do You Need to Begin Studying for the CCNA?

When you start out in your preparation for the CCNA, don’t be too concerned if you don’t have any background with computer networking or IT.  Every major textbook and online course on the CCNA, including CCNA’s own curriculum, cover the basics of networking fairly well.

But to begin studying for the CCNA, you should have a decent background with PC usage and technology, including background with Microsoft Windows computers.  For example, a warehouse worker that has never used a computer before will have more difficulty learning the CCNA material than someone with basic computer experience.

Here are the skills I recommend you have before you start your CCNA journey:

  • Experience using a Windows-based computer, including using software applications and internet browsers.  If you don’t have basic computer experience, you may want to consider a basic computer course first.
  • Preferably, some experience setting up or troubleshooting technology. This can simply include setting up or connecting your home computer, home internet router, or cell phone.  Having this extra experience will be helpful for the troubleshooting and configuration you’ll need to do.
  • Experience studying new concepts or studying for a professional skill.  If it’s been quite a while since you’ve been in school, and you don’t read or study on a regular basis, you’ll want to make sure your study skills are strong enough to be able to absorb the new material.

Should a Beginner Earn the Cisco CCNA?

Now that we’ve established that a beginner is capable of earning the CCNA, let’s address whether they should.  In other words, is the CCNA a good certification for beginners?

There are several factors that you should consider in order to determine if you should earn the CCNA.  Let’s take a look at a few of these.

Is Networking or Cybersecurity in Your Future?

If your career goal is to get into IT or cybersecurity, then the CCNA can certainly help you.  The certification isn’t required to work in the field, but it is helpful, and I know a lot of cybersecurity professionals that have the CCNA and earned it on their way to becoming a cyber pro.

If you’d like to get into the networking domain of IT, then the CCNA will be even more useful for you, regardless of whether your eventual employer uses Cisco equipment.  So if you’re shooting for a job as a Network Administrator, Network Engineer, or anything related, I think the Cisco CCNA is a great addition.

If you’re leaning toward the programming or coding route, then there are probably better topics for you to focus on than the CCNA.

Why are You Choosing the CCNA Over the Network+?

There is another prominent entry-level networking certification on the market, which is the Network+ offered by CompTIA.  The Network+ is similar to the Cisco CCNA in that it also covers all of the basic networking concepts, but doesn’t cover the Cisco-specific concepts, including configuration of Cisco devices.

While both exams are challenging, there is more preparation that you’ll need to do in order to pass the Cisco CCNA, since you’ll also have to learn the IOS commands that are part of the CCNA curriculum.  The CompTIA Network+ bypasses much of this content.

Because both of these certifications can help your career, you’ll want to decide which one is best for you (my article here covers reasons why you may want to take the Network+ first.)

From my experience, most people that choose the Cisco CCNA first are doing so because they either have access to the curriculum through their school and can learn it that way, or because their employer prefers it.  However, plenty of people that already have the Network+, or that have experience in the field, do choose to sit for the CCNA, because it does have value in the field.

Are There Certifications That You Should Earn Before the CCNA?

Besides considering the CompTIA Network+ before the CCNA as explained above, you may also want to consider the CompTIA A+ certification.  The A+ is intended for those that want to work in a role that relates to help desk, computer repair, computer technician, or other first-level IT role.

The A+ is not required to earn any other certification, however it does cover a good bit of networking concepts, so having the A+ first tends to help those that move on to the CCNA.  I cover some thoughts about choosing between the CCNA and A+ here.

What to Do Before Preparing for the Cisco CCNA

If you’re still interested in pursuing the CCNA, make sure you get access to the curriculum or a textbook, and also arrange for access to equipment or a simulation.  You’ll want to have an opportunity to build your experience configuring Cisco devices as outlined on the CCNA. In this article I cover some things you should consider as you move toward preparing for the CCNA.

Tips for Preparing for the CCNA

If you’re ready to move forward with earning the Cisco CCNA, check out my top five tips for passing the CCNA and my time saving tips for preparing for the CCNA.  I hope you find those resources helpful.

About the author 

Matt Day

Matt Day is a cybersecurity professional with over twenty years of experience in the IT, cybersecurity, and technology training fields. He has a degree in Computer Information Science and CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+, Server+, CySA+, and Cisco CCNA certifications.