Making Sense of the Great Cisco Certification Shakeout, Part 1

NOTE: This is Part One of Two. Read Part Two.


Cisco rolled out its new certification scheme in Las Vegas earlier this year.

Earlier this summer in Las Vegas, Cisco Systems held its annual Live! conference, an event for customers, partners, and other industry professionals invested in Cisco's ecosystem of IT products. During Cisco Live! 2019, the company announced major changes to its training and certification program.


The single biggest change involves the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification. All existing versions of the CCNA — there are currently nine of them — are being replaced with a single CCNA credential which will be awarded to candidates who pass a new exam being released next year.


Other changes include the following:


? Removal of prerequisites for all Cisco certifications at the associate and professional levels.
? A new certification track called DevNet that focuses on software development for Cisco platforms.
? Consolidation of the certification tracks for the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) credentials.
? The creation of new Cisco Specialist certifications.


The end result of these changes is a massively streamlined road map of Cisco certifications to be based on the following IT industry disciplines:


? Collaboration
? Data Center
? Enterprise
? Security
? Service Provider


Taking all of that into account, here's what we have left: There will be a single CCNA certification, a CCNP and CCIE certification path for each of the above disciplines, a Specialist certification for each of these disciplines, and four levels of DevNet certification.


All of the new Cisco exams necessary for the revamp will be released in February 2020; simultaneously, all of Cisco's current slate of certification exams (with one notable exception, which we'll discuss later) will be retired in February. Candidates who are in the midst of preparing for any of the current CCNA, CCNP, or CCIE certifications will have until Feb. 22, 2020 to complete their training and exams.


Cisco scratches the overhaul itch


Cisco is dramatically simplifying its certification program.

So why is Cisco making these wholesale changes to its certification program? Here is the company's answer to that question, taken from its Training and Certification FAQ:


The new Cisco Certification program introduces ... certifications that maintain the high-quality standards known to the industry yet have been streamlined based on market demands and learner preferences. The program is designed for agility, value, and leadership. It lets people choose the skills they want to develop and encourages lifelong learning.


This is great marketing content, but it doesn't really answer the question. What has prompted Cisco to make these changes?


First off, Cisco had to do something about its bloated and confusing CCNA certification offering. The CCNA certification track had grown so complicated as to become incomprehensible. Creating a single CCNA credential that consolidates the most relevant industry skills and knowledge into one exam is an excellent move by Cisco.


The new CCNA exam is titled "Implementing and Administering Cisco Solutions (CCNA)" and will have the exam code 200-301 CCNA. The 200-301 exam knowledge domains chosen by Cisco are:


(Each domain is listed with its estimated percentage of dedicated exam content)

? Network Fundamentals (20 percent)
? Network Access (20 percent)
? IP Connectivity (25 percent)
? IP Services (10 percent)
? Security Fundamentals (15 percent)
? Automation and Programmability (10 percent)


Cisco has also reported that a new training course with the same title as the exam will be made available to Cisco Learning Partners in the near future.


Retooling the CCNA certification will likely prove to be a popular move with candidates, industry professionals, and IT instructors. The new CCNA will be an appealing entry-level target for technology newcomers and career switchers who want to break into the IT industry.


The streamlined CCNA credential will also help raise the popularity of Cisco Networking Academy, an education initiative Cisco maintains to promote CCNA certification in high schools and colleges around the world. Trying to market a portfolio of nine different CCNA tracks to students was probably a tough proposition; a single CCNA credential is much more appealing to someone looking to get a start in the tech world.


CCNP, CCIE, and CCNA's sole survivor


Cisco is dramatically simplifying its certification program.

Cisco's decision to consolidate its pro-level CCNP and expert-level CCIE credentials into a handful of IT industry disciplines is a strategic move that offers greater clarity to these certification tracks. Some of the impetus to make this change likely came from both IT pros and tech employers who wanted to have a clearer relationship between Cisco certifications and industry job roles.


The creation of the new Cisco Specialist certifications will give candidates the ability to further customize their CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE credentials in order to better meet their existing (or desired) job roles or to augment their current tech interests.


Finally, the new DevNet program gives Cisco a certification track designed to attract software developers, automation experts, and designers working on Internet of Things (IoT) products.


Which brings us to the one legacy Cisco certification we mentioned earlier — the one that isn't being retired as part of the revamp. We're referring to the CCNA Cyber Ops certification, which as of this writing, is slated to remain in force as presently constituted. How did this specialized CCNA credential avoid the executioner's axe?


The most likely explanation is that CCNA Cyber Ops has been given official approval by the U.S. Department of Defence for its DoD 8570.01-M Information Assurance Workforce Improvement Program (IAWIP). This program is tied to a regulation requiring DoD Information Assurance (IA) personnel to achieve and maintain a number of industry certifications, and CCNA Cyber Ops is one of the approved credentials. It's quite possible that Cisco didn't want to shake up this existing arrangement, and therefore decided to keep CCNA Cyber Ops on the active duty roster.


In Part 2 of this article, we'll take a deeper dive into the new CCNP and CCIE certification tracks, and look at how current Cisco certification holders will be impacted by the upcoming revamp.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
Aaron Axline is a freelance technology writer based in Canada.

Aaron Axline is a technology journalist and copywriter based in Edmonton, Canada. He can be found on LinkedIn, and anywhere fine coffee is served.