If you’ve completed the CCNA routing and switching certification and have added that to your resume, congratulations. The Cisco Certified Network Associate is a rather challenging intermediate certification exam that is well respected and well recognized in the field. With the CCNA complete, many people wonder what they should do next.
What should you take after the CCNA? After earning the Cisco CCNA, most people should work to build hands-on experience and decide on their next certification goal, which can focus on advanced routing and switching, or branch out to other areas, such as security, wireless or operating systems software.
Let’s take a look at our options after the CCNA routing and switching certification, and which may be best for you.
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Step #1: Gain Hands-on Experience
I’ve written before about how you can get into the cyber security or IT field with a CCNA certification, but before you go any further on acquiring new certifications, you’ll probably want to seriously consider working to add hands-on experience to your resume before you load up on more certifications.
There is a risk of going too far down the line with certifications or education without adding in hands-on experience in IT or cyber security. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can get experience, even if you are having trouble finding a job quickly.
If you’ve earned your CCNA and have not built up any document-able experience, consider doing that at this stage. This will help round out your resume and will make future certifications that much easier. Your experience doesn’t even need to be in a Cisco environment or possibly not even related directly to networking. You’ll benefit from getting involved in technology, regardless of the exact position.
Step #2: Choose between going wide or deep
Passing the Cisco CCNA gives you several interesting certification options to follow up with. When analyzing these, you’ll need to consider if you prefer to build your knowledge base wide or deep. This means, do you want to increase your knowledge in a specific subject area (in this case, routing and switching), and work to become somewhat of a SME, or subject matter expert, or do you want to work wider and build a knowledge base of understanding in multiple areas.
This is an interesting option that many cyber security professionals have to ask themselves at some point in their careers. There are benefits to both options, and it’s really difficult to do both. For our discussion here today, I’m going to lay out both options, and show which are easier based on having the CCNA.
CCNA Next Step Option #1: One exam options
Now that you have the Cisco CCNA, Cisco allows you to sit for several other associate and professional level certification exams. For whatever reason, Cisco has set up their certification structure so that the CCENT or CCNA R&S serve as a required prerequisite for several other certifications, including those not in the routing and switching track. Obviously, the easiest options are those that require only one exam to complete.
CCNA Security or CCNA Wireless. Both the CCNA Security and CCNA Wireless certifications are Cisco associate level exams that 1) require the CCNA as a prerequisite and 2) require only one test to earn. These two exams are probably your next best option after the CCNA because at this point you already are familiar with Cisco style exams, you’ll only need to pass one exam to earn them, and the security and wireless domains are heavily related to routing and switching concepts, so they are a logical good move for any CCNA holder.
Keep in mind that going after either of these certifications would be sending you down the track of going “wider”, as you’re expanding your knowledge into other areas outside of straight routing and switching. With either of these (or both of these) certifications, you would be a holder of multiple associate level certifications, which does sound pretty impressive.
I know people that hold both of these certifications, so choosing between the two is somewhat difficult. With either option, I think you’ll be just fine, and you should be able to knock one or these out within 90 days or less if you’re dedicated. If you’re considering either or these, a good strategy may be to evaluate where you want your career to go in the short term and how often you work with, or will work with, wireless technologies or security.
CCNA Next Step Option #2: Non-Cisco one exam options
No one ever said you must stick with Cisco certifications moving forward, and for many people, branching out into other options would be a good move. Which non-Cisco certification you choose is really going to depend on what certifications you’ve already earned and what coursework you’ve taken, but here are a few likely next step candidates that only require one exam.
CompTIA Security+, Microsoft MCP, or CEH. If you want to branch out a little, going after one of these certifications would be something to really consider. Probably the most useful for the majority of CCNA holders is the CompTIA Security+, because it is an exam with similar difficulty to the CCNA (or perhaps a little bit easier), and it matches really well because it covers basic network security concepts that any network administrator really needs to know anyway. I’ve discussed before why the CompTIA Security+ is beneficial to those of us building our cyber security careers, so for many people, with Security+ is a certification to really consider.
Other options are Microsoft’s MCP or EC-Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker. The Microsoft Certified Professional is a good choice if you’re going to be working in a Windows Server environment, but will probably be a more difficult option than the Security+, and seems to be somewhat less in demand. The MCP also doesn’t move you toward a security-specific area, so if true cyber security is your goal, than loading up on security knowledge and certifications is going to be more important than earning the Microsoft certification.
The Certified Ethical Hacker, or CEH, is another option, but it does cost more, and is pretty challenging if you don’t have a lot of security background. Also, the CEH is an offensive penetration testing exam, so probably only something you’ll want to consider if you’re dedicated to going into cyber security and want to focus on network exploitation or defense.
What about the CompTIA Network+? The Network+ is a worthwhile certification, but it does overlap with the CCNA you’ve already earned a good bit. For most people, expanding into another area, like security or wireless, is probably a better bet than doubling up with the CompTIA Network+, since the Network+ doesn’t really take you any wider or deeper in your area of specialty.
CCNA Next Step Option #3: Two exam options
Another possible next step, although one that requires more effort, expense and work, is to stick with Cisco and pursue one of their associate level certification options that requires two exams. These options would take you “wider” as we’ve discussed above. Two possible options that require two exams but have no prerequisite are:
CCNA Cyber Ops and CCNA Data Center. At any point (even before you have the CCNA), you can pursue the two exam options from Cisco, such as the CCNA Cyber Ops and CCNA Data Center. These are newer certifications that are valuable, but for the most part just haven’t had the time to become as widely recognized as the other options we’ve mentioned above. Because they are specialized and require two exams, these options are probably not your best first choice unless these are in an area of expertise that you really want to pursue or your employer prefers it.
What about the CompTIA Linux+? The Linux+ is another two exam option (not from Cisco), and since we mentioned the other common network operating system with the Microsoft MCP certification, it’s worth mentioning the Linux+ too. No doubt that Linux is popular, and if you’re planning on going deep into cyber security, you’re going to need to know it. If Linux is something you’re considering, keep in mind there are quite a few Linux related certifications besides the Linux+, including some related to Red Hat and Kali.
CCNA Next Step Option #4: CCNP R&S
We can’t talk about CCNA next steps without discussing the Cisco CCNP, or Cisco Certified Network Professional. The CCNP is a higher level certification above the CCNA associate level certification, and by pursuing this, you would be going “deeper” and toward more of a subject matter expert background. The CCNP is pretty well known and respected, and i’ve have personally heard hiring managers cite the certification as desirable and as something that drives a higher salary than the CCNA (which it should).
There are a lot of advantages to becoming a subject matter expert in one area, so the CCNP is a good choice if you plan to do that. The downside is that the certification requires three (yes, three) exams to earn, and they are certainly more difficult than the CCNA exam. This alone means that it’s going to take you a while to fully earn the CCNP, but for someone that really wants to pursue a network administrator or network engineer career, this would probably be worth it.
Even More Options
Are there even more options available than the ones covered above? Definitely. But what I’ve tried to lay out here are the most common while acknowledging that building experience is going to be important no matter what you do. The most important thing is to keep moving your knowledge and ability forward.
What is the CCIE certification? The CCIE, or Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, is an expert level certification offered by Cisco. It is renowned as a very difficult, and very desirable certification that indicates advanced or expert knowledge in Cisco networking.