Cisco certifications, while helping networking pros hone and prove their expertise, had long suffered from a gap in the experience food chain, with the coveted and difficult Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) as the jump-off point and no lower-level certification targeting entry-level networkers.
Recently, however, Cisco announced that it has revamped its networking certifications, creating a new entry-level Cisco Certified Entry Network Technician (CCENT) and broadening the scope of the CCNA to include new technologies that were not previously covered.
According to Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, senior director of learning at Cisco, the certification changes are a way to invigorate networking careers and "expand talent on a global basis for networking."
CCNA has long been the entry point for Cisco certifications, but many felt that CCNA, which is targeted at a more experienced networker with roughly three years on the job, was exclusionary.
"We wanted a certification to demonstrate the skills for a learner who's gotten their first job," Beliveau-Dunn said. "We needed to expand that entry point."
Recent research by IDC indicates that there will be a roughly 40% gap between the demand for and supply of technical networking skills over the next five years. CCENT is looking to close that gap as a stepping stone to CCNA. CCENT is designed to validate the skills needed to install and verify basic routed and switched networks. The curriculum includes the ability to configure IP addressing, implement basic security measures, and understand the concepts of wireless networking.
Beliveau-Dunn said CCENT can introduce new networking pros to careers in help desk and technical support while also letting them get a head start toward CCNA.
"It's really meant to grab those people and mentor them toward that next goal of CCNA," she said.
"I think one challenge Cisco is going to face soon is that technology is much broader today than before," he said. "For the person graduating from college, there are many career paths. Lowering the barrier of entry into networking will help fuel the growth in network-centric people versus maybe Microsoft-centric."
Kerravala added that an entry-level certification like CCENT can prepare administrators and even application developers looking to learn more about networking.
"More and more things are network dependent, so more jobs should have a basic understanding of it," he said.
Along with announcing CCENT, Cisco also made some revisions to the CCNA certifications exams and courses. Beliveau-Dunn said the courses will now be more robust and include new areas that networking pros need to explore, such as new technologies and standards beyond just routing and switching, and more advanced voice, wireless and security lessons.
"We've increased the hands-on exercises," she said, adding that examinations will involve more simulation work.
Another area the revamped CCNA will focus on is troubleshooting, which used to be limited to simply ensuring that the network was up and running.
The new courses will be offered starting July 26, with new exams on August 1. Old exams will continue through November 6.
The new CCNA focuses on a comprehensive understanding of networking fundamentals and validates the knowledge and skills required to install, operate and troubleshoot a small to medium routed and switched network, including the ability to implement and troubleshoot protocol to manage addressing and authentication, as well as establish and troubleshoot connections to service providers over a wide area network.
"Career opportunities in networking are abundant and span a wide array of experiences from software applications and systems design to troubleshooting global networks that span all business, government and person-to-person communications," Beliveau-Dunn said. "Networking offers people a broad opportunity for career advancement while learning about the world, about business and about ways to improve human interaction."