Dear Certmag: Seek an Internship or Contract Work to Build Experience

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Question:

I have a B.A. in History and want to get a CCNA. What can I expect job-wise if I have a CCNA but no experience @ Network Engineer I level? I fear I may never find a job. Also, would you recommend just studying from an Amazon book and then taking the test?

-Brock

Answer 1:

First of all, you already have a degree, which is a plus.
What job can you expect without experience? Generally speaking, you’ll start at help-desk/workshop level 1 (aka 1st-tier support) and not on the actual network itself. Most, if not all, network engineers, even at level 1, should have the skills to create and update documentation and network drawings, maintain network hardware and software and support projects, in addition to being knowledgeable in several other technical areas such as security and voice (VoIP).
Do I recommend just studying from a book? Definitely not. Professional certifications (especially the mid to high range) need hands-on experience.
If you want your Cisco certification to have some meaning, surf the Web for vendors that sell Cisco kits (for example, www.ciscokits.com) to learn and practice on. Other learning materials such as CBT, practice exams from legitimate vendors and audio lessons help the learning process.
I personally would recommend doing the A+ and the Network+ combination, as they are both vendor-neutral certifications; then, if you do want to do a Cisco certification, look into the CCENT, which is Cisco’s entry-level certification. I say this for two reasons:

  1. Not everyone uses Cisco kit. There are a lot of different vendors out there, such as HP, 3Com, Netgear and Ruckus.
  2. Cisco certifications expire. The CCENT, CCNA and CCNP need to be renewed every three years (CCIE every two years), and there is no guarantee that you will be working with the network infrastructure within that time period.

Answer 2:

The Cisco Certified Network Associate credential (just like any other certification) is itself no guarantee of a job. When employers look at you as a candidate, they will be interested in whether you have the experience to back up the credential. A person with a CCNA on paper but little experience troubleshooting indicators that come up when a network encounters a routing error will quickly become evident in an enterprise environment.
Obtaining the CCNA will probably put you on track for a position as an intern, junior network engineer or network engineer I, or other networking-integrated roles that require close oversight by a more experienced colleague. Given that you have little other experience, you will need to spend time on the hardware itself or on a simulator, at the very least, before sitting for the exam.
I strongly argue against sitting for exams of this nature based purely on the intent to get a job if you’re not also seeking to supplement your study with opportunities to obtain experience.
Right now it’s difficult to find a job; there’s a large number of IT-focused professionals who have recently been laid off and are competing for every open position. As such, the competition for open positions will be stiff, so I would strongly encourage you to focus on obtaining opportunities to either work in an internship or seek contract work, where the requirements of the position are less stringent and more implementation-focused, to build your experience.

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CertMag Staff

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Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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