Fast-track your IT career with these top network design certs
This feature first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Certification Magazine.
If you’re a network administrator looking to up your game (and your paycheck), then network design is a logical next step. If you’re already in this lucrative field, then congrats! And what are you doing to advance your career? In either case, adding a top network design certification to your resume can help you make the move, whether it’s into your first network design job, or into a position that’s more challenging (or comes with a higher paycheck).
IT pros with network design skills don’t always spend their workday laying out new networks. They also install, troubleshoot and manage them, and/or provide advanced technical support to those who do. Job titles range from network technician to senior network architect, with many others in between. The certification list below is organized by skill level to help you pinpoint the best design certification for your current skill set.
When it comes to network design, “entry level” means that you’re already fluent in network administration but new to the design side.
Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) — The CCDA is the first step on Cisco’s network design track. Cisco’s routers and switches lie at the heart of many a network infrastructure, which makes this certification a great entry-level credential in the network design arena. Its employer allure is enhanced even further when paired with one of Cisco’s admin side certs such as the CCNA or CCNP. The CCDA can grease the rails leading to a job as a network technician, technical support, or entry-level network engineer. IT salary firm PayScale puts the range of starting annual salaries for this cert at approximately $70,000 to $99,000.
Juniper Networks Certified Internet Associate/Specialist (JNCIA/JNCIS) — Juniper Networks may not have the instant name recognition Cisco does, but it owns a substantial share of the same marketplace. That’s reflected in the plentiful supply of job listings seeking pros fluent in Junos and the networking hardware it controls. JNCIA is the first credential in the Juniper Networks certification chain, but you can also go straight to JNCIS, which signals a higher skill level. Both of these certs are useful for gaining work in a data center or with a Juniper Networks partner. PayScale’s range of starting annual salaries for this cert is approximately $55,000 to $89,000.
“Mid-level” in networking design means you have significant experience under your belt and possess advanced knowledge of networking concepts.
Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP) — This credential is the workhorse of Cisco’s design track — although you can climb higher, you may never need to. This certification, which is a healthy step up from CCDA, will open doors to a position as a network engineer, Tier 2 or Tier 3 technical support, or working for one of Cisco’s many partners. PayScale’s range of starting annual salaries for this cert is approximately $75,000 to more than $100,000.
Juniper Networks Certified Internet Professional (JNCIP) — One of Juniper Networks more advanced certifications, the JNCIP comes in three flavors: enterprise routing and switching (the core track), service provider routing and switching, and security. Even though it doesn’t come with the same name recognition as some other certifications, employers who need this skillset will recognize it when they see it. Besides which, quite a few senior network engineer job openings mention it by name. PayScale’s range of starting annual salaries for this cert is approximately $77,000 to more than $100,000.
HP Accredited Solutions Expert — Data Center and Cloud Architect (ASE) — This certification showcases a high level of expertise with HP network and cloud products. Since HP is one of the largest vendors of networking hardware, having one of these in hand is a great marketability booster. Typical related positions include senior network engineer, and tier 2 and tier 3 technical support. PayScale’s range of starting annual salaries for this cert is approximately $80,000 to $100,000.
Any of these certifications will place you among the networking elite, but none of them come easily — a full day hands-on lab exam is the norm, and so is a need for multiple attempts at it before succeeding. If you want to write your own paycheck, however, then these are a good place to start.
Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) — The CCDE is a close cousin to Cisco’s more widely known CCIE credential, but focused specifically on network design (whereas the CCIE leans toward administration). Both CCDE and CCIE will identify you as a guru of complex networking. Both will open the door to lucrative network architect and senior network engineer positions creating and troubleshooting complex, enterprise networks that run on Cisco equipment (of which there are very, very many). PayScale’s range of starting annual salaries for this cert is approximately $90,000 to $130,000.
Juniper Networks Certified Internet Engineer (JNCIE) — This certification is every bit as big as Cisco’s CCIE, just with a slightly different audience. To earn it you’ll have to pass a grueling, full-day lab exam that confirms you really know your stuff. It’s available on all three Juniper Systems certification tracks (enterprise routing and switching, service provider routing and switching, and security). This is a top-end certification most beneficial to network architects.
HP Master ASE — Data Center and Cloud Architect (ASE) — HP Master ASE is the top rung of HP’s certification ladder. You don’t actually have to earn the ASE first before pursuing this certification, but you’ll probably want to use it as a stepping stone. Either way, scoring one of these will place you solidly among the networking elite. Network pros with this credential typically work for HP, one of their partners, or a large enterprise running an HP network.
Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) — This is Cisco’s highest certification, and people with this certification are rare indeed. It’s extraordinarily expensive ($15,000) — and you have to already hold the CCDE. The people who go after this are usually sponsored by their employer. With a CCAr, you will be extremely well qualified for jobs in a large data center environment or as a consultant for a Cisco Partner.
More Certifications for Network Designers
If your favorite networking vendor isn’t on the above list, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider their certification program. The above were chosen based on subjective criteria as the front runners in networking design certification. There are, however, quite a few more solid certifications for network designers out there. Take a look at those from IBM and Brocade, for example. Microsoft used to offer some high-end network design credentials, but the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) and Microsoft Certified Solution Master (MCSM) designations were discontinued on Jan. 1, 2014, so you can’t earn them anymore. Microsoft’s MCSE is more geared toward administration, but it’s the go-to for Microsoft network designers for now.
The key to selecting the best networking design certification for YOU lies in choosing the one that best fits your existing skills, and your plans for future career direction.