Pick Your Path to Networking Knowledge: CCNA or Network+
Newcomers to the networking field are sometimes confused by the differences between CompTIA's Network+ certification and a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification. While they look similar at first glance, they do have some differences that make each suitable for some networking engineers, but not for others.
Although both are leading foundational IT networking certifications, there is enough difference between them that choosing which to pursue depends on your career objectives. To help you decide which credential is best for starting your networking career, let's take a brief look at their similarities and differences.
Both CCNA and Network+ are considered industry-leading entry-level networking certifications. Both are intended for newcomers and neither has any prerequisites other than a basic understanding of how a computer system operates. Achieving either certification will require you to pass a computer-based exam that tests your knowledge of networking topics covered by the specific certification guide.
This is where the similarities end.
To better see the differences between the two certs, we will need to understand their learning content:
Network+ is sponsored by CompTIA, a leader in the field of IT certifications. It is a vendor-neutral certification, which means it doesn't deal only with a specific vendor's devices or technologies. Its focus is on networking theories rather than how they apply to vendor-specific devices.
Because Network+ teaches network fundamentals, without going into too much detail, there are no prerequisites. Also, as a vendor-neutral certificate, the topics covered by Network+ are more general than those covered in CCNA.
The credential comprehensively covers general networking knowledge including architecture, operations, and troubleshooting as, well as industry standards and best practices. Practitioners are well versed in the functions of different network devices such as routers, switches, firewalls, and wireless devices, as well as cable types and the various tools for installing and troubleshooting devices. Certified individuals know how to maintain a network using packet analyzers and other interface and device-monitoring tools.
Network+ also provides a solid knowledge base of network security covering different security devices — such as firewalls — and how to use them to construct a secure network as well as best practices to harden networks against threats.
In addition to a general explanation of networking architecture and operations, a good portion of the training is dedicated to troubleshooting network faults by following established methodologies that best identify network problems, and then fixing them. The certification exam will challenge you to diagnose network problems given different scenarios involving both wired and wireless network devices.
For the above reasons, Network+ is a very attractive certification for newcomers with little or no networking knowledge or experience. The credential is helpful for those working in technical support or as helpdesk engineers supporting computer end-users.
Network+ is considered a desirable first networking certification to build on before pursuing more advanced networking certifications. Unlike Cisco, however, CompTIA doesn't offer any advanced networking certifications beyond Network+. This means that you will have to go to a different certification vendor for higher-level certs to advance your networking career.
Cisco Certified Network Association, or CCNA as it is commonly called, is sponsored by Cisco, the worldwide market leader for networking equipment. CCNA has been a favorite associate-level certification for networking newcomers for decades and is valued by employers around the globe. One big reason for such widespread acceptance is that the world is literally filled with Cisco networking devices. It is rare to come across a network that doesn't use at least some Cisco devices.
While Network+ covers general networking theories, CCNA offers a deeper dive into networking theories, technologies, and protocols. Because Cisco is a network equipment vendor, CCNA's objectives focus on Cisco devices. A significant portion of the instruction is all about configuring and troubleshooting Cisco devices on a network.
Because CCNA is intended to give you a deeper understanding of the subjects covered in the certification, it has evolved over time. Cisco has redesigned CCNA to match industry evolution, and by splitting it into different CCNA tracks. Cisco currently offers nine CCNA tracks in addition to the Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA), an associate-level certification for network design.
Network+ compares to Cisco's CCNA Routing and Switching track. CCNA Routing and Switching starts with explaining basic network fundamentals and concepts and then goes deeper to explain network devices such as routers and switches, as well as the protocols used to transport network traffic. Practitioners also learn different configuration and troubleshooting commands for routers and switches — a big plus that prepares you for real world job tasks.
Other topics covered by CCNA include WAN technologies used to connect remote network infrastructure together, network infrastructure services such as DHCP and TFTP (as well as securing the network using best practices), and infrastructure management for the different devices. Because CCNA Routing and Switching focuses more on infrastructure devices and services, rather than general networking theory, it is considered a more advanced certification than Network+
CCNA certification explains networking concepts in an easy to understand format suitable for networking newcomers with little or no networking knowledge. CCNA certification will prepare practitioners for jobs such as Network Operations Center (NOC) engineers and network administrators. It is also a desirable first step to more advanced certifications such as Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE).
Make your choice
Whichever certification you pursue, the choice should be based upon your individual circumstances. Both credentials are respected foundational-level networking certifications upon which to build a career. Network+ offers a more general coverage of networking concepts, touches more topics than any single CCNA certification, and provides a solid knowledge base for networking newcomers.
On the other hand, CCNA is more focused, provides a more in-depth coverage of theories and technologies and gives you practical exposure working with network devices. CCNA is a good choice if you want to strengthen your network knowledge and pursue a career in building and operating a network infrastructure comprised of Cisco devices.