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CCNA changes: Realigning the entry-level Cisco certification

Shamus McGillicuddy

Cisco has streamlined its Cisco Certified Network Associate certifications by reducing the amount of core routing and switching expertise an administrator needs to obtain a CCNA Voice, CCNA Security and CCNA Wireless accreditation. These changes will allow IT pros to use an entry-level Cisco certification to accelerate their careers as specialists in these disciplines, Cisco said.

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Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) has long been Cisco's foundational certification. Administrators had to pass two rigorous exams on routing and switching -- the ICND1 and ICND2 -- to obtain a standard CCNA before taking additional exams on wireless, voice or security to obtain specialist CCNA certifications. This approach has encouraged administrators to get a deep foundation of networking skills before trying to develop expertise in a specific branch of networking.

But employers are looking for more entry-level administrators who can do more than plug in and configure voice, wireless and security systems. They don't necessarily want all their voice, security and wireless administrators to know how to work with routing protocols like BGP and OSPF.

"Job roles are changing," said Ramesh Bijor, product marketing manager at Cisco. "Companies are asking associate-level engineers to do more. They are being asked to troubleshoot and debug system problems with increasing levels of complexity and feature implementations."

More enterprises are creating dedicated job roles in these specialty areas, creating a demand for a more streamlined entry-level Cisco certification program, Bijor said. Cisco commissioned Forrester Research to survey 1,500 enterprises on the subject. It found that 80% of companies will have network administrators dedicated to security in 2013; 69% will have dedicated voice administrators; and 66% will have dedicated wireless administrators.

Of course, entry-level administrators with core routing and switching skills remain just as important to employers, so Cisco will continue to test candidates on these skills with its rebranded CCNA Routing and Switching certification. Cisco will, however, consolidate the exams and test preparation for CCNA Voice, CCNA Security and CCNA Wireless. For these accreditations, administrators will only need to take two exams rather than three. The first exam will evaluate their knowledge of the routing and switching technologies most relevant to their chosen specialty, and the second exam will test their skills in voice, video or wireless.

Not only will this redesigned CCNA help employers find entry-level specialists, but it will help network administrators differentiate themselves early on in their careers, according to Cushing Anderson, program vice president for IDC.

"When we do surveys on hard-to-find skills, routing and switching, voice and security now appear at the top and wireless isn't far behind that," Anderson said. "We're finding that those skills are teachable to entry-level positions. Some level of certification can help make those candidates more employable and also give employers some known competencies that they should be skilling their staff to."

This realignment of entry-level Cisco certifications will allow administrators to define a career path for themselves earlier than they have in the past.

"It allows a Cisco engineer to decide right up front if they want to specialize in security or unified communications," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst and founder of Westminster, Mass.-based ZK Research. Employers want administrators who can quickly fill a specialized role "versus a more jack of all trades administrator."

"Those specialist skills are valuable earlier on in an employee's lifecycle," Anderson said. "They don't need to be generalists and then specialists. Being more knowledgeable in one or several specialty areas makes an employee more valuable."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, news director.


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