Is CCIE the right certification for your IT networking career?
For years, a hot topic among network professionals around the water cooler has been the value of a Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert certification (CCIE). Is CCIE still a high-value cert or not? Well … it depends. It depends on a number of variables, including IT market status, technology evolution, professional career goals, experience level and many other factors.
Perhaps the question should be, “Does CCIE have value for me?” It then becomes an evaluation process of personal returns of the CCIE certification and if it pays off to spend the effort and money on such a lengthy technical development plan.
The evolving CCIE
CCIE, introduced in 1993, is an expert-level certification that demonstrates a very high level of network engineering skills. It has traditionally been seen as one of the most prestigious certificates in the networking field. CCIE has developed over the years as more specializations were added to accommodate the evolution of technology in the industry.
Currently, Cisco offers seven different expert level certificates: CCDE, CCIE Routing and Switching, CCIE Collaboration, CCIE Data Center, CCIE Security, CCIE Service Provider and CCIE Wireless.
According to Cisco, CCIE certification holders represent less than 3 percent of all certified Cisco professionals, and less than 1 percent of all networking professionals worldwide. That’s a pretty exclusive club.
These small numbers are largely the result of the difficulty of achieving the certification — not an indication of its popularity. For example, to achieve CCIE certification, candidates must pass a famously demanding day-long lab exam in addition to the more traditional written exam. The lab exam is tough. It includes complex scenarios and requirements that require a candidate to show a high-level of technical knowledge.
CCIE in the IT marketplace
Because choosing the correct certificate depends on one’s goals, candidates should thoroughly evaluate the value of a certification to their career before diving into exam preparation, and before addressing the different methodologies of tackling certification.
Although no longer the highest-valued certification in the IT industry according to recent IT skills and salary surveys, CCIE still retains an important place of prestige. It may not be at the very top of lists of “most valued” certifications, but the CCIE certification generally always appears on such lists.
The value of a CCIE cert is derived from the sum of the knowledge contained in the program. The CCIE certification journey is designed to develop a candidate’s knowledge up to the expert level. In order to earn the certificate, candidates will have to possess a deep technical knowledge of network technologies and concepts.
The good reputation of CCIE engineers over the years has also contributed to maintaining the cert’s high value in the IT market. Hiring managers are aware of the difficulty of the CCIE exam, and passage (or not) of the exam is a helpful screening option when evaluating job candidates. Over the years, recruitment managers have come to trust the technical capabilities of CCIE professionals.
Yea or nay?
Before deciding whether or not to go for a CCIE, however, candidates should answer the question we posed initially: “Does Cisco’s CCIE have value for me?”
When it comes to employment, there are two obvious opportunities for CCIE certified professional in the IT market: The first is the high probability of working for system integrators. Companies like to have CCIEs on staff, because the more CCIE employees they have, the higher discounts they receive when purchasing equipment from Cisco. Also, the presence of CCIE professionals in a company’s skills portfolio is an important selling point for many potential customers. Many companies believe it’s good to have at least a few CCIE professionals around, so there tends to be ready interest in anyone who has the credential.
The second opportunity is a more long-term consideration. Reaching CCIE certification enriches professional experience and increases the likelihood of strong salary and job security over the long haul. Having obtained a CCIE shows commitment and advanced skills, as measured by achieving one of the toughest exams in the industry.
On the other hand, if you are looking for immediate results in terms of increased pay and promotion, then perhaps CCIE is not the right move for you. CCIE will help you climb the pay and promotion ladders, but its long-term effects in helping you staying ahead of the ever-evolving technology curve are probably more impactful.
Identifying your career goals is an important step in evaluating the potential value of a CCIE. Earning the certification is a very tough journey requiring lots of dedication and hard work. Failure to earn the cert may, in fact, be one of the reasons why some IT professionals doubt its value.
Achieving CCIE certification
Despite the fact that the process of earning CCIE certification can be long and challenging, there are still good reasons to pursue it. With a small, but steadily increasing population of CCIE certified professionals, and expanded availability of exam preparation resources, it is actually easier to tackle the certification today than ever before.
The CCIE typically takes from six to 12 months to prepare for and achieve. The time varies depending on how hard you work and how much available time you have for study. Joining study groups and discussion forums is a good way to pump up your preparation. The journey is long and your persistence may easily weaken. It helps to have some study buddies to encourage you when you don’t feel like studying.
The number of CCIE certified professionals today is close to 50,000. Many of them are willing to share their experience and study plans for the exam. Searching for other professionals online will uncover hundreds of posts about other IT professionals willing to offer help and encouragement as you forge ahead. The overall key to success in the CCIE exam is how much you practice and prepare, but any source of knowledge you encounter in your CCIE journey is valuable.
A word of warning for preparation is to avoid buying or using CCIE lab exam brain dumps. They are unethical, cannot be trusted to be current, and can cause you to lose your certification for life.
End of the line?
If you have decided to pursue CCIE, remember that the credential, while important, is only one item of your professional portfolio. Many people fall into the trap of slowing down the advancement of their technical knowledge after achieving CCIE certification. Some foolishly believe they achieved the highest knowledge level and there is no reason to seek more learning.
Cisco encourages CCIEs to refresh and keep current their knowledge by mandating renewal every two years of the CCIE written exam. While this is mandatory for keeping CCIE status current, it’s also just good practice. All IT professionals should seek to continuously renew and increase their knowledge.