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December 6, 2013

Cisco CCNA’s value over time

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Over the last 15 years, one of the premier entry-level networking certifications has been the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). The CCNA is targeted at those with one to two years of network engineering experience and is achieved by taking either two specialized or one consolidated written exam. Over time the certification has held its value while other programs have waned away. Why is this the case? Let’s take a look at the history of the CCNA and how Cisco has managed to keep its value from declining.

Where did the CCNA come from?

In 1998, Cisco introduced beginning and professional-level network engineering certifications to complement their very successful Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) program. The most successful of these certifications has been the CCNA. The main goal of the CCNA is to provide those new to the networking field an ability to learn the basics of the Cisco networking environment (primarily IOS) and provide them with enough knowledge to successful operate this equipment in a production environment.

One of the primary advantages of this certification was that it required a minimal amount of training to achieve and was very affordable. This combination along with an extended training network allowed interested individuals an easy entrance ramp into the networking engineering field. The initial CCNA certification which was focused on Routing and Switch (R&S) has been extended a number of times over the years to include several specialty CCNAs including CCNA wireless, CCNA Security, CCNA Voice, CCNA WAN (since retired), CCNA Data Center, CCNA Service Provider, CCNA Service Provider Operations and CCNA Video. But of all these different specialties, the CCNA R&S remains the most popular of the options.

What gives the CCNA staying power?

There are a number of different opinions as to why the CCNA certification has been able to retain its reputation over the years of its existence. The most obvious of the explanations is that the material that is covered in the CCNA (and other Cisco certifications), while specialized to Cisco environments, remains useful at a general level across all networking vendors. This allows an individual that achieves the CCNA to take the knowledge and apply it to a number of different environments, increasing their marketability across platforms.

Another reason is that Cisco has been considerably better than other vendors in engaging their target audience and providing them with the tools and knowledge to successfully study for, schedule and achieve their certification. The availability of good self-study materials and well-organized training syllabi (blueprints) across a number of different learning providers provides many different options which can be used by potential candidates regardless of their budget.

The last and potentially most important of the reasons that CCNA retains its value is in Cisco’s ability to keep up with the cheaters. With the initial CCNA (and with many other vendors’ tests) all of the questions that were on the exam were multiple choice (M/C) or matching. These question types enable the candidate to memorize the exam questions (through illegal braindump sites) and take the exam. This situation lends itself to quickly becoming what is referred to as a paper certificate holder. The people that are labeled like this may have the paper certificate but don’t really have the knowledge that is intended to go along with its achievement. Modern CCNA exams, while still primarily multiple choice, provide for a number of different question types (simulation, simlet and testlet) that ensure that the candidate is familiar with the material and are not as easily memorized. This in itself is invaluable.

Cisco continues to prove themselves as the best at continuing to engage there target audiences and ensure that they are happy with the current training and certification options. As long as Cisco retains this ability they will remain one of the top-tier providers of certifications. But like anything, if at some point they lose sight and sync of those in their target audience their certification reputation could be lost in a reasonably short amount of time. Hopefully they will be able to maintain these relationships as well as keep in front of the inevitable cheaters waiting in the wings.

About the Author

is an accomplished networking consultant for SR-W Consulting ( and writer/editor for infoDispersion ( Sean has been in the IT field for over 15 years, working with companies like Cisco, Lucent, Verizon and AT&T as well as several other private companies. Sean holds certifications with Cisco (CCNP/CCDP), Microsoft (MCSE) and CompTIA (A+ and Network+). His educational accomplishments include: a Master’s of Science in Information Technology with a focus in Network Architecture and Design, a Master’s of Science in Organizational Management, a Master’s Certificate in Network Security, a Bachelors of Science in Computer Networking, and an Associates of Applied Science in Computer Information Systems.

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