The New CCNA

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Things are definitely afoot in the Cisco certification world, and with the economy in its current state of affairs, it is more important now than ever to attain your certification. Here we’ll demystify a couple of the Cisco certifications and help lay out a path to success.

CCNA and CCNP Certification
The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification is at the apprentice level of the networking profession. This can be misleading and is discussed in more detail later in this article. There is only one exam required for the CCNA level. The newest exam for CCNA is:



  • #640-607 CCNA: Cisco Certified Network Associate


The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) is considered a journeyman level of skill, well above and beyond the CCNA level, and requires you to pass four more exams after the CCNA. Those exams may be taken in any order and are as follows:



  • #640-604 BCMSN: Building Cisco Multilayer Switched Networks
  • #640-901 BSCI: Building Scalable Cisco Internetworks
  • #640-605 BCRAN: Building Cisco Remote Access Networks
  • #640-606 CIT: Cisco Internetwork Troubleshooting


However, there is a shorter path to CCNP, requiring only two exams:



  • #640-841 Foundations: Covers BCMSN, BSCI and BCRAN
  • #640-606 CIT: Cisco Internetwork Troubleshooting


Notice that whether you take the long or short path, you must take the CIT exam.

First, recognize that you will need to have your CCNA before you can go for the CCNP. This means a total of five exams for the CCNP (one exam for the CCNA plus four more for CCNP). At time of this writing, the four additional exams for CCNP are BCMSN, BSCI, BCRAN and CIT, as noted above. Pass those four exams after your CCNA, and you’re a CCNP. The CCNA and the entire CCNP exam track have now changed to a new format discussed below.

Why Would I Want Cisco Certification?
The reasons are many and varied for obtaining your Cisco certifications. One of the greatest is the level of respect within the industry for Cisco certifications. Cisco’s exams are known to be tough. They require candidates to spend a considerable amount of time and effort learning how to design, implement and configure network devices and understand exactly how they work. This last point is important because by understanding how things really work, your ability to troubleshoot becomes much stronger. Like I’ve said many times to my students, a trained monkey could turn on OSPF. But what would the monkey do when the network breaks? In order to troubleshoot our networks effectively we need to know exactly how our technologies work. The more in-depth your knowledge, the more effective a troubleshooter you will become.

Cisco certification improves your credibility not only with a hiring manager but also with clients. There can literally be millions of dollars at stake at a client’s site, and they’ll be depending on you to troubleshoot and fix their network. Clients sleep better at night knowing that the engineers working on their equipment are certified by Cisco. Cisco certifications are a powerful influence and confidence-builder.

It is often difficult to improve our skill set without first setting some kind of goal. Committing to a certification program within a set timeline goes a long way toward motivating us to study, work those labs and increase our skill set.

You will no doubt find folks who are quick to say that certified individuals are paper tigers. We have all seen individuals who fall into this category. I have also worked with many fine engineers who didn’t have a certain certification. But I maintain that an individual who’s attained both certification and experience has an unbeatable combination, and that is the way it’s supposed to work.

Say, for example, that we’ve got two network engineers of equal skill, but one is certified and the other is not. The economy has taken a turn for the worse, and I’m forced to lay off one of those engineers. Which one do you think gets to stay? Realize also that several of my clients will simply not allow uncertified people on their networks; that’s their prerogative.

Now for the certified engineer, great, continue to build new skills. We are on a career path that demands constant learning, which means more certifications in your future. Remember, things change fast in our field.

The engineer who’s not certified need not panic yet. Remember that I said both engineers were of equal skill. That means that if one of them could get certified, the other should be able to get certified as well. Yes, we can always find some excuse or explanation as to why we can’t start right now, but in the preceding example, we already know who won’t be able to stay. Quite simply, don’t let the fact that you’re not certified be the deciding factor in your job security.

What’s Been Going On with Cisco Certification?
So you have been studying like mad for weeks, months or maybe years. Now, just when you start to think you’re in position to take Cisco’s CCNA exam, they change the test (#640-607). By now, many of you have heard that the new exam is a very different animal from anything that came prior.

“So what gives?” you ask. Well, several things, which by themselves don’t seem to amount to much. But put them together, and Cisco has come up with one of the best (and much more difficult) test formats in the industry.

I’m sure we’ve all heard those disparaging remarks about some of our fellow engineers. “Yeah, they’re certified, but they’re paper tigers.” Or the now-classic “Well they’re XYZ certified. You know, like my three-year-old.” Ouch!

Cisco has always strived to make its certifications meaningful. Their team reviewed the old test with their parallel-processing brains and came up with the new format. I have watched hundreds of candidates go through the certification process, and I can honestly tell you that the new format definitely works! For maximum efficiency, Cisco also changed all of its CCNP exams to the same type of format.

What Is the Certification Path to CCNA?
You’ll want to be careful here. There is only one exam to CCNA certification, and this has led many people to the wrong conclusion. This exam is the entry-level Cisco exam, but realize that Cisco expects those individuals who pass to have approximately two years of job experience, and that doesn’t mean occasionally walking past some routers on your way to lunch.

Which Is the Most Effective Way to Prepare?
There are three standard exam-preparation methods, and here are some pros and cons for each:



  • Self Study: This may be the least expensive method of training, but it is quite possibly the most difficult. Self-study tools are available, everything from books to practice exams, so accessing the information is not the problem. Pruning that information and finding ways to efficiently or cost-effectively work on practice labs is usually the biggest problem. If you are highly motivated and can diligently study on your own, this may be an effective method for you.
  • Internet or Web Training: With Web-based training, you log on to a Web site to take your lesson. This method has several significant problems, and I don’t just mean technical glitches. Let’s say an engineering manager pays to have 10 engineers log on to one of these courses. The instructor can’t see the students. Strange as this may seem, it is more important that the instructor see the students than the other way around. For example when you’re sitting in my CCNA class, I can actually see your expressions, your body posture, etc. As an instructor, there are many techniques I can use when I see these things in my students. But my hands are tied when I all I’ve got is a microphone, a piece of software in front of me and 100 “theoretical” students out
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