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The Past, Present, and Future of Cisco Certification

The new Cisco certification regime is here. Let's take a look at where it all began, what changed last month, and what the Cisco certification landscape will look like moving forward.

Dana Fellows was working at a steel mill when Cisco launched its certification program.The year was 1998. I was working at a steel mill in Sterling, Ill. My job title was design draftsman but I actually found myself doing a little bit of everything. Some of those tasks were populating and maintaining a database for all of our CAD drawings, installing printers, working with large format plotters, and even repairing company PCs.

 

Another thing that I did was figure out the best way to organize and secure our files on a local network. Although I was very tech savvy, I did not know nearly as much as I needed to in order to accomplish this task. At about the same time, there was a big over about some new courses being offered at our local community college.

 

The college had just become a Cisco Network Academy and was going to offer some new courses in computer networking. In particular, one planned course would help students prepare for the new Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) exam. CCNA was new at the time, having been introduced about a year earlier at the Philadelphia Networker show

 

CCNA would serve as a precursor to all of the new Cisco certifications, such as the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), which was also being introduced at the time.

 

This all sounded exciting to me, so I signed up for these new courses. Fairly quickly, I found that the instructors didn’t have nearly the level of knowledge that they should have had in order to teach networking. I made it through, learned a lot, and continued with my career as a design draftsman for the time being.

 

Then a few years later, the steel mill closed and I switched my career path to information technology. I ended up teaching those very same CCNA courses at a career center, and later on at another community college.

 

That Was Then, This Is Now

 

Apple Talk was covered in early iterations of the CCNA exam.The CCNA has gone through a lot of changes and upgrades since 1998. The early certification exam covered topics like AppleTalk, IPX/SPX, and Token Ring. Over the years, other topics have cycled through the exam and vanished from sight. Routing protocols such as IGRP and RIPv1 are long gone, along with lots of other protocols that are now either obsolete or close to it.

 

Over the last several years prior to 2020, the CCNA body of knowledge became spread across several different exams, covering domains such as Routing and Switching, Security, Collaboration, Service Provider, Data Center, and so forth.

 

That all changed at the Cisco Live event in June of 2019, when Cisco made the bombshell announcement that CCNA, Cisco Certified Network Associate v2.0 (CCNA 200-301), would be reverting to a single exam. The new exam also has an official title: Implementing and Administering Cisco Networking Technologies.

 

Prior to Feb. 24, you could obtain any or all of the following CCNA certifications

 

● CCNA Cloud
● CCNA Collaboration
● CCNA CyberOps
● CCNA Data Center
● CCNA Industrial
● CCNA Routing and Switching
● CCNA Security
● CCNA Service Provider
● CCNA Wireless

 

Those have all been replaced — with one exception — by the new single CCNA, which will cover topics such as network fundamentals, network access, IP connectivity, IP services, security fundamentals, and automation and programmability. The old CCNA CyberOps, which recently ascended to a spot on the coveted Department of Defense 8750 (soon to be 8140) list, has been renamed Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate (CCCA) and will be sticking around.

 

If you already have a CCNA, it does not go away. You will now have a CCNA certification with a specialty area identified as a badge. For example, if you passed the CCNA Wireless exam before the deadline, you will get the new CCNA credential, along with a CCNA Wireless training badge.

 

If you have the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT), you’ll need level up by passing the new CCNA exam. CCENT was retired on Feb. 23.

 

The Thinking Behind the Makeover

 

Cisco is repainting (so to speak) its popular certification program.Why would Cisco make such drastic changes to their certifications? To answer that we need to look at how much the IT industry has changed in general. New technologies are being introduced at a rapid pace. Some believe that Cisco wanted to take a step back and return the CCNA to more of true entry-level certification.

 

Supporting that line of thinking is the fact that there are no formal prerequisites for taking the new exam. Cisco does recommend the following basic preparations:

 

Have an understanding of all exam topics

Have one or more years of experience with computer networking and Cisco equipment

Have a good grasp of network fundamentals

 

The topics in the new CCNA are more of a sampler of several technologies. You can still specialize, you just have move up to the CCNP and CCIE levels to do it. The new CCNA exam is built around fundamental networking topics and is targeted more to junior level technicians who are just beginning a career in networking, or other individuals with similarly limited experience.

 

The topics on the new CCNA exam are broken down as follows:

 

● Network Fundamentals (routers, switches, cabling, TCP and UDP, IPv4 and IPv6) — 20 percent
● Network Access (VLANs and Trunking, EtherChannel) — 20 percent
● IP Connectivity (IP routing, OSPFv2) — 25 percent
● IP Services (NTP, DCHP, QoS, SNMP) — 10 percent
● Security Fundamentals (VPNs, wireless security, port security) — 15 percent
● Automation and Programmability (REST APIs, Puppet, Chef, JSON, SDN) — 10 percent

 

What Happened to The Old Topics?

 

I mentioned earlier that topics have been removed from the CCNA over the years, and this time is no different. The major topics that have been removed include:

 

● Network fundamentals: OSI model
● LAN Switching: Frame, VTP, Switch stack
● Routing: EIGRP, RIPv2, OSPFv3, Inter-VLAN routing
● WAN: PPP, MLPPP, PPPoE, GRE, BGP, WAN access

 

Just because this the new CCNA has removed several topics, however, does not mean they are not important. Some will surely show up in one or more of the new CCNP certification exams.

 

We listed the CCNA exams that are going away. If you want to specialize in a certain area, you will now need to move up to the CCNP tier. Interestingly, the new CCNP exam do not have CCNA certification as a prerequisite — though having a strong ground in the material covered in the new CCNA exam would certainly be very useful.

 

The new CCNP certifications are as follows:

 

● CCNP Collaboration
● CCNP Data Center
● CCNP Enterprise
● CCNP Security
● CCNP Service Provider

 

Cisco's new CCNA exam addresses networking fundamentals.To obtain any of the above-listed CCNP certifications, two exams are required: a technology core exam and a concentration exam. The core exams cover foundational knowledge and core concepts. The concentration exams take an in-depth approach to the topic of choice.

 

A popular CCNP certification will most likely be the CCNP Enterprise. If a technician wants to focus on Routing and Switching, he or she would need to pass the core exam, 300-401, and then may choose to take the 300-410, Implementing Cisco Enterprise Advanced Routing and Services (ENARSI). I won’t dive into all the different options for a CCNP here, but be aware that there are options (and that the same options are also available at the CCIE level).

 

I’ll end by mentioning that Cisco has also introduced four DevNet certifications. These certifications are focused on software developers who write network applications — hence the name DevNet. There are four levels of this certification: DevNet Associate, DevNet Specialist, DevNet Professional are available now; and DevNet Expert is still in the planning stages.

 

It’s a very different certification landscape than the one I wandered into 20 years ago from a day job at a steel mill. I’m intrigued to find out what will happen over the next couple of decades.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dana FellowsDana Fellows is an instructional designer at TestOut Corporation.