Ask the Expert – Network+
I am currently taking a class to obtain my Net+. There are follow-up classes that I may take that could put me in a position to go after an MCSE or a CCNA. At this time I don’t work in IT, but I have a strong background in QA and Electronics. I want to get into Network Security, but most of those jobs require experience in my geographical area. So in your opinion–in the State of Maryland or anywhere else-what certification is more marketable MCSE or CCNA at an entry-level position? How can I then make the best transition to security work?
Rich C., Baltimore, MD
In a very real way, your question is like asking me which pickup truck is better: Chevy or Dodge? Each has its adherents and admirers, and plenty of people find each one attractive. The job market is pretty tough right now: as of May 2003, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the highest level of unemployment since the last big recession in the 80s. Things are most difficult at the entry-level, where you’ll be competing with recent college grads with computer science or IT degrees for such jobs as are available. If you’re close enough to DC to consider yourself in the metro area, you may be able to benefit from stronger opportunities related to national security and defense industries, but otherwise things are pretty grim.
That said, opportunities for both Microsoft and Cisco professionals do pop up from time to time. In some ways, it’s not fair to compare the CCNA to an MCSE (CCNA takes only 1 or 2 exams, MCSE takes 7), so you might want to factor that into consideration as well, or think about going for one of the various Cisco professional level certs: CCNP, CCDP, CCSP, or CCIP, after you get your CCNA–all of them accept CCNA as a pre-requisite anyway. It’s probably more meaningful to ask which offers the best opportunities: a Cisco professional cert or the MCSE? If that’s a valid restatement of your question, my gut feeling is that the Cisco certs have a slight edge, but not necessarily enough to guarantee you employment just because you hold one.
If your long-term goal is to work in information security, either MS or Cisco certs can provide a stepping stone into that field, since that vast majority of full-time infosec professionals come from the ranks of system and network administrators. Thus, I’d also urge you to pursue and obtain the CompTIA Security+ as you work toward the other programs or credentials you might decide to pursue.
I hope I’ve been able to shed some more light on your dilemma, but I shrink from telling you to go one way or the other. Rather, I encourage to explore and determine what really interests you, then to follow that interest to its logical conclusion. If that means going down the MS trail, do it; likewise, if it means going down the Cisco trail, do that instead.