Testing the Networking Waters: The Case for Becoming a CCENT
Let's play a game. Are you ready? OK, deep breath. Let's play ... WHO WANTS TO BE A NETWORK ENGINEER?
Alright, first question: What is the first certification you should pursue? Is it (A) the CompTIA Network+, (B) the Cisco CCNA, (C) the Red Hat Certified Engineer, or (D) the Cisco CCENT?
The answer is, of course, (E) it depends.
The world of entry-level certifications is a treacherous place, filled with numbers and letters and, at least in CompTIA's case, plus signs. Overwhelmed by the options, many would-be professionals use the question "Will it get me hired?" to narrow the field, but in most cases, this is the wrong question. It would be like asking if becoming a doctor of dental surgery (D.D.S.) will get you hired.
If you want to be a dentist then yes, it probably will. If you're trying to practice law, however, you might want to hold off on mailing that application. More importantly, though, is that this question ignores the many things certifications do beyond pad a resume.
This brings us to our question about the four certifications mentioned above and, specifically, the CCENT. The CCENT is an entry-level cert offered by Cisco for no obvious reason. The name is an acronym for Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician, which is a nice way of saying "not completely untrained."
If you need a quick cert that will make you cash, then this probably isn't the right one. Even on Cisco's website, where they're doing their best to try to talk it up, they never mention employment or demand. The most common explanation for the CCENT is that it's the first step toward getting the CCNA, a cert that actually might make you money. CCENT, however, isn't technically a pre-requisite for the CCNA, so you can actually skip right over it.
So, if it doesn't make you a network engineer, won't get you a job and isn't required for the certs that do, then why take it? Under what circumstances would an aspiring Network Engineer begin with the CCENT?
Well, first, consider the CCENT if you know you want to be a network engineer but you don't have any background in IT. Take it for the same reason you first read The Cat in the Hat as a preschooler, rather than War and Peace. The CCENT gives you an opportunity to learn how the certification process works while simultaneously pushing you to learn more about your desired field. Treat this cert less as the end goal and more as a study guide for certifications to come.
Second, you might consider the CCENT if you only think you want to be a network engineer, but you're not quite sure. In addition to being a primer or stepping stone for the CCNA, studying for the CCENT can help you recognize whether you really do like networking or whether, perhaps, another field might suit you better. This is even valid if you come from an IT background and are just thinking of switching fields but want to test the waters first, or if you've gotten the CompTIA Network+ and are still sitting on the fence.
And finally, consider the CCENT if you don't want to be a network engineer at all but simply want to expand your horizons in your current profession. This might be the case if you work entry-level tech support or help desk for a bigger company and want to expand your knowledge base beyond "Have you tried turning it on and off again?" And who knows — it might be the first step to bigger and better things.
Overviews of both the CCENT and the CCNA are available at the Cisco Learning Network website, along with links to study guides and suggested certification paths.