A question that I see frequently asked on networking forums is: “To land a job as a networking professional, should I get a CCNA or a DEGREE?”
The short answer to this question is – either is good, but work experience is all important. Let me put a bit more meat around those bones with a few different scenarios to help you out.
The Unsure Newbie.
You don’t have a job in IT and hold no networking certifications, but you’ve been messing around with computers since you were a kid. You have a dream to be a network professional but you aren’t sure where to begin.
Is the CCNA for me?
It sounds like it could be. A complete computing novice may struggle to grasp some concepts of the CCNA and may be better taking some more general certifications to begin – such as the COMPTIA Network+. However, if you have already have a keen interest in computing – I’d say go for it.
One more thing though – as with scenario two, you will need some experience before the proper networking role opportunities will start to open for you. Get some skin in the game by starting on helpdesk – who knows, the company may even pay for your CCNA.
The Graduate / Inexperienced Candidate with a CCNA already.
As a jobseeker with little/no real world experience looking to go straight into a network engineer role you have found yourself in that classic chicken and egg position.
That idiot hiring manager says you don’t have enough experience, but no-one will give you the job to get the experience. You aren’t alone. Almost everyone has this same conundrum at the beginning of their career.
It’s really not that hard to gain the experience that the hiring manager seeks.
My suggestion is again to take a helpdesk role for a couple of years before trying to move into a pure networking role.
Your CCNA will give a big boost over many helpdesk candidates. Sure, the salary may not be great but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
If there is a network team internally; take it upon yourself to own the networking issues that your teammates would simply pass straight to the network team. If you impress, then you may find yourself top of the pile when it comes to recruiting a new junior.
If not, then you’ve still gained some experience, confidence, and general infrastructure knowledge (which is invaluable by the way) to take a dream role someplace else.
The Wannabe Specialist
So, you’ve been in a helpdesk role or a system administration role for a couple of years, maybe you’ve been there for what seems like a lifetime. I should know, I was in this position too.
We all have our favourite parts of the infrastructure and as you’re here, I assume that you have also found yourself drawn to the dark forces of networking and want to specialise in it.
A CCNA is a desirable certification, but there are a lot of people that have it. Therefore, lots of competition. You can make yourself stand out in a number of ways:
- Get another associate level certification with another vendor such as Juniper JNCIA.
- Begin your CCNP, you may be best advised to concentrate on the exam that would help you most in your day-to-day role first. There’s no problem with explaining that you have completed 1 of 2 CCNP exams (as of Feb 2020 – see more about Cisco certification changes) on your CV.
- Cloud and automation are the flavour of the year, perhaps an AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, Python, course would give your CV a boost? Check out what employers in your area are looking for, and see if it interests you.
- Use an emulator to increase your networking experience without buying physical equipment, or fear of breaking anything at work! Check out GNS3 or EVE-NG which are two popular emulators.
If you have no experience then you’re unlikely to land a network engineer role without a huge stroke of luck, no matter if you have a CCNA or a degree, or both. Companies take a risk with each person that they hire – in that it costs them money to recruit – which is why you may be overlooked for higher salary roles.
Start out with a helpdesk or junior system admin role – it may not be glamorous but you will almost certainly learn a lot about IT in general, how business works, and it will give you the experience to move forwards into a specialist role should you choose to do so.