Dear Certmag: Vendor-Neutral Certs Not the Best Option for Network Design

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I have been a network technician for about two years, and I have the A+, Network+, Security+, Project+, CIW Site Designer and the MCP. My question is, if I want to work my way into network design, should I try to get the CCDA/CCDP certification or go with a vendor-neutral certification? If the answer is the latter, do you know of any vendor-neutral certs with the kind of reputation that Cisco has? I would like to remain relevant to all of the networks that don’t use Cisco; however, I am aware that Cisco holds about 80 percent of the market. -joneseri

Answer 1:

There are a range of certificates and qualifications that you can look into, depending on what you classify as network design. In addition to the CCDA and CCDP, there are other vendors that offer alternative design certs or modules, such as Microsoft and its MCSE program (from a systems design point of view), 3Com’s Certified Enterprise LAN Specialist, Juniper certification, etc. As for choosing a vendor certification program, I would recommend going down the route that matches the current technology you work with.

As for vendor-neutral certificates and qualifications, the only ones I can recommend either would be part of a degree program or something along the lines of the BCS (British Computer Society) Certificate in IT Architecture. However, your national professional IT association might be able to provide you with more information regarding nationally accredited and recognized qualifications for your country.

According to a May article on, Cisco now holds 57 percent of the market, followed closely by Juniper. It goes to show that other vendors are improving their equipment dramatically. Which vendor will have the top place or the biggest slice of the market in a few years’ time is hard to predict. That’s not to say that vendor-specific certs aren’t useful; there will always be an overlap of information between different programs, so only the vendor-specific information will be irrelevant.

Just remember that whatever certification or qualification you go for, experience is more valuable, regardless of how it is attained whether through job shadowing, volunteering or job placement. Certifications and qualifications will not guarantee you career progression; they will only assist you when added to the rest of your experience and skills.

Answer 2:

When you work with network design, as far as the industry is concerned, Cisco’s certifications really are the most common set of accepted credentials to validate those skills. While I certainly can appreciate the focus on staying relevant to all networks, the simple fact of the matter is that network design is so specialized there are not very good vendor-independent certifications.

There are some universities that offer network systems design as a credit course or a certificate course, usually at the graduate level, but the ones I surveyed were still principally based on Cisco’s routers and Catalyst brand of switches. If you opt not to pursue a credential from Cisco, you would be pursuing a credential from another vendor, such as the CompTIA Network+. This is not nearly deep enough to target your design focus.

If you would like to avoid “vendor lock-in” with your credentials, I would suggest pursuing the Cisco certs as a primary path. Certify in what you work with. Does your company have another brand of switches in the environment? If so, then that should be the focus of your secondary credential. Many vendors do not have a dedicated design credential, so you might have to go after the administrator/engineer certification that includes design components.

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CertMag Staff


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