"I want to get a CCNA certification! I need to get a CCNA certification," senior security analyst David Brown said. "My last certification was MCSE NT 4.0 … like that's gonna work for me anymore." Brown's cries echo much of the feedback received in SearchNetworking.com's CCNA Video Mentor contest. Participants expressed not only their desire to obtain CCNA certification but their desperation to do so.
For many networking pros, the CCNA provides validation of the skills they possess. "I desperately need to get my CCNA to prove my skills on paper," network specialist Steve Petty said, adding that until he obtains his CCNA, he cannot get work done on a project -- or the recognition he deserves.
IT help-desk supervisor Jason Driscoll agreed. "Experience is great on a resume but is only tangible by demonstration. Attaining certifications proves investment and effort."
Sometimes the validation is a personal quest. "Obtaining CCNA certification would be a big confidence boost," network specialist Kim Thompson said. "As a woman in an area of IT that still seems to be male-dominated, I can't help but feel the need (perhaps unnecessarily) to prove my knowledge and ability to myself and others."
Getting a job
With all of the hands-on experience desktop support engineer Tracy Dickson gained over the last several years, she still finds herself being passed over because she has failed to get a professional networking certification
Dickson isn't alone. Many respondents told us they were unemployed. One SearchNetworking.com member wrote that the first question on every interview was "Do you have your CCNA?"
Career-switchers and students alike are challenged to find entry-level positions, but the CCNA can help them get a foot in the door. Student Kristi Blanton said, "I need the CCNA certification to prove to employers that I have the knowledge and capabilities of my younger counterparts seeking entry-level positions in networking."
For network administrator Richard Tucker, CCNA certification meant his resume would surface faster than those of other candidates. "It's all about setting myself apart from the rest of the crowd," he said.
There's no doubt in anyone's mind that a certification plus experience would beat out the less-qualified candidates, so some people want to be sure they're among the first to pass employer inspection. "I knew that my degree plus 10 years of experience in communications would go favorably in a job interview," U.S. Army Sergeant Charles Donovan said. "But adding a Cisco CCVP certification to that resume would do even more."
Keeping a job
For employed networking pros, staying on the payroll is still a bit of a trick. Employers may expect them to have passed the CCNA exam. Unfortunately, many companies provide no financial support for obtaining certifications.
"I've tried to pursue CCNA and bring my MCSE to what's current," David Brown said, but his company won't send him to training.
Similarly, IT manager Wayne Goeden has been told to get certified on his own time, but "being a father of four kids," he said, "I don't get my own time."
The most resounding reply was that obtaining certification means more money. Many employees felt that their salaries did not reflect their level of experience, owing to a lack of certification. Some were even laid off after certified applicants said they would work for the same salary.
Many realize that in order to move up the ranks of their company -- essentially to get better pay -- the only way is through certification. Systems engineer Steven Johnson said "I want more money for my position and am chasing a promotion to senior systems engineer."
"If I could get my CCNA," Steve Petty said, "that would be the key I need to open the next door and justify asking for a bigger salary."
The frustration of not having the information necessary to perform the job is a pain point. "I have to depend on someone else to put static routes and VLANs in for me because I just don't know enough," Brown admitted. Solutions consultant Joe Camardo, an experienced voice professional, is learning about data networking. To keep himself marketable, he says, the CCNA is a must. "I realize that if I want to have any value … I need to be a converged resource," Camardo said. "With my voice experience and the CCNA ... I should be able to keep food on the table and get all three kids through college."
Charles Donovan realized, however, that a test wouldn't be the magic key to all knowledge of configuration. "Would it guarantee that I am a[n]… expert on all things Cisco?" he said. "No, but it would provide me with the understanding of how telephony and networking function in the real world."
"It's more to do with wanting to be better at my job for my own professional reputation's sake, to know the whys and wherefores before undertaking the task without having to go to Google and see how someone else did it and then hope they knew what they were doing," Johnson said. "To be able to say, 'Yes, I know how to do this,' without having to RTFM or, better still, speak to a consultant -- the ability to go out and do the job right [the] first time, every time."
After all, knowledge is power.