Like a phoenix from the fire, a new era of Cisco certifications is rising.
At Cisco Live 2019, Cisco announced sweeping changes to its certification exams, including the Cisco Certified Network Associate, or CCNA, exam. Cisco eliminated the majority of CCNA certification tracks, and out of the ashes came a single, new CCNA exam. Changes also came to other Cisco certifications, such as Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE). Cisco will roll out these changes on Feb. 24, 2020.
Wendell Odom, author of every CCNA Official Cert Guide since the dawn of Cisco certifications, said this new CCNA exam symbolizes the networking industry's increased need for engineers to stretch their skills in ways they never had to before. Odom delves into this historic change in the CCNA 200-301 Official Cert Guide, Volume 1, which is available Sept. 27. Volume 2 will be available in December.
The following interview was edited for length and clarity.
What are the biggest changes you've seen with the new CCNA exam?
Wendell Odom: My favorite [change] is Continuing Education credits for recertification. In the old days, you had to pass a test to recertify. Now, if you take certain courses or attend certain conferences, you get points toward recertification. If you show you're doing work to learn, you don't have to pass the test to recertify. Cisco gives you points, and you're recertified for the next three years. It'll be quicker for engineers to get certifications in the future.
For the CCNA certifications, Cisco basically threw out the baby with the bath water and landed with a single CCNA. I think that left people scratching their heads and wondering what to do now. Cisco announced a consolidated CCNA exam, simply called CCNA, to replace nine of the 10 CCNA tracks, except for CCNA CyberOps.
The new CCNA exam has about two-thirds of the content from the old CCNA Routing and Switching exam, and about one-third of new material. From one view, it's a whole new CCNA exam. From another, it's a typical revision of CCNA Routing and Switching. Cisco doesn't bill the new CCNA exam as a revision of CCNA Routing and Switching, but the exam topics between them look like a revision.
The CCNA is not a prerequisite for any exam -- you can get to any CCNP track without taking a CCNA test -- but you need the knowledge and skills. I think Cisco streamlined it to get people to CCNP, because, in Cisco's view, people want to get a CCNP and move to higher, more demanding skill levels. That's what employers want. Cisco wants to give people one test to prepare for their first CCNP tests.
The amount of change is subtle. The old CCNA Routing and Switching had a lot of troubleshooting -- more than 30 exam topics had the word troubleshoot, and now there's zero. Cisco backed off the performance-level a bit. It's broader.
How will this benefit those who work in multivendor environments?
Odom: For almost everything in the new CCNA exam, you could replace mentions of Cisco with Vendors X, Y and Z. I would say three-quarters of what you learn is generic.
Cisco certifications have been this way for a long time -- you might get the Cisco certification for your resume while primarily working with another vendor's equipment because you learn a lot along the way. The certification can travel well in your long-term career, and you can apply skills you learned to commands from another vendor's command reference.
How big of a change is this CCNA redesign compared to past changes?
Odom: Thinking of CCNA as one level of the certification pyramid, it's easily the largest change Cisco has ever made. We had nine CCNAs -- plus CCDA for Design Associate -- and those 10 turned into two: Plain old CCNA and CCNA CyberOps. That change alone is huge.
Eight tracks go poof, but the need to know those topics didn't go poof. The need to know basics before more advanced topics didn't go away. Cisco said those topic areas would be at the CCNP level, but, at the same time, there's a higher bar to start CCNP. You need to learn on your own.
This is a different approach for learners. We have to wait and see if the building blocks are now relabeled as CCNP. I think it's to be determined with what Cisco delivers over the next six to 12 months.
How much did industry changes affect Cisco's elimination of various CCNA tracks?
Odom: Cisco changed particulars all the way from the new CCNA exam to CCIE. It seems more than technology-driven. It's not the normal revision cycle for Cisco with that much change. Any exam revision cycle over Cisco's 20-plus years was often driven by technological change. Cisco tended to be slow in a methodical way to cover core things in career certifications rather than introducing the latest and greatest technologies. I think Cisco set itself up to move quicker in the future, especially the early 2020s.
As expected, Cisco added more automation and programmability -- more about what networks look like today. One flash point of Cisco's announcement was a new DevNet certification track that gets into automating and programming networks.
I think whatever form programmability takes will fundamentally change the landscape and see vendors get better-positioned and worse-positioned. It'll require different skill sets for network engineering staffs, and you'll see that reflected in Cisco certification exams.