Cisco Updates it’s Certification program: The Community Reacts

Earlier this year at Cisco live 2019, in sunny San Diego, Chuck Robbins announced on stage during the opening keynote a major overhaul to the Cisco Certification Program, including new Cisco DevNet Certifications.

Chuck Robbins, Cisco CEO, on stage at Cisco Live US in San Diego. Photo credit A.J. Murray, NoBlinkyBlinky.

If you haven’t heard…

Courtesy of Learning at Cisco

To summarize, the changes include a whole new CCNA, the 200-301 exam. The new CCNA will not go as deep as the current CCNA, but will instead be much broader. It will include topics on Routing and Switching, wireless, Design, Security and more! The intention was to provide the CCNA recipients with a much broader range of knowledge, better preparing them for the real world. This means that the current silo’ed CCNA certifications, such as CCNA Wireless, Security, and others, will be retired.

Courtesy of Learning at Cisco

To replace the more specific certification tracks Cisco will be releasing what they are calling Specialist Certifications. Details on the specialist certs aren’t released yet. But, the specialist certs are intented to reflect training completed. Under the new program any exam you take will result in a certification. This will immediately reflect your progress and not leave you hanging. For example: the current CCNP Routing and Switching requires 3 exams. Taking any one of those exams doesn’t yeild you a certification until you’ve completed all three. So, even though you take 1 or 2 exams you’ll still only be a CCNA. This doesn’t accurately reflect the time and energy spent learning the additional skills required to pass those exams. Under the new program all exams will yeild a certification and reflect training completed.

Cisco also added some DevNet certifications, Associate, Professional, and Expert (coming soon) This was directly in response to feedback that Cisco’s Susie Wee, and team, received from the Cisco Champions.

Courtesy of Learning at Cisco

To read more about the latest changes you can check out my blog post.

Necessary Change

So, without a doubt there are some pretty big changes. However, I think few people will argue the fact that these are necessary changes. The landscape is rapidly changing and if Cisco wants to keep their certifications relevant then they need to update the program.

Nearly all of the new tracks include some emphasis on network programability. Being able to interpret, understand, and create code to automate all, or significant portions, of the network is an ever increasing skill set.

I’m presently studying for my CCNP Route exam and I have to understand Frame Relay. Doesn’t feel very relevant…

Reactions from the Community

With all the big changes coming down, and now that we’ve all had time to digest what we’ve learned, I thought I’d turn to the community and ask around to get some opinions and thoughts on the announcement.

My Panel

I’ve assembled a panel of sorts composed of people whom I know well, I work with, and people whom I may not know as well – but I value all opinions. Let me take a minute and introduce you to them, and in no particular order:

Taylor – has over 5 years of experience in the IT industry.  His areas of expertise include designing, building, maintaining, and troubleshooting LAN and WAN networks as well as providing support with telecom and unified communications. Taylor is experienced in network components from Cisco, HP, VMware and Citrix.

Taylor also has extensive experience designing, implementing, and maintaining converged and hyper-converged networks alongside of virtualization technologies like VMWare, Hyper-V and AHV.

You can hear more from Taylor on his blog – ucadministrator.com and follow him on Twitter @ucadmin.

Keithia – “My name is Keithia Williams. I am a Systems Administrator that has been in the IT field for 14 years. I got my start in IT doing technical support, to laptop repair tech, to data center tech, to Systems Administrator.”

Please give Keithia a follow!

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/keithiawilliams/

Instagram: @keetoofalltrades

Twitter: @keetofalltrades

Eric – “My career decisions have taken me through diverse skill sets and have now led me to where I belong, IT.  I am a simple guy and enjoy riding a wave full of excitement and challenges.”

You can follow Eric online at:

Twitter: @NetworkPistol

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/erictapianetworking

Instagram: @NetworkPistolero

Max – Maximilian Francis is an Austin-based network engineer. He recently changed careers, transitioning out of more than a decade of retail & hospitality experience. Having enrolled in Cisco’s Networking Academy at the recommendation of a family friend, Max found networking to be an exciting, intellectually stimulating industry with near-limitless potential. He’s currently finishing up his CCNP Routing & Switching certification. He is an active member in RouterGods, one of the largest online communities centered around networking and professional certifications.

To here more from Max follow him on:

Twitter: @EAPLoL

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maximilian-francis-115b45179/

Personal website: http://its-not-the.network/

Nate – “My name is Nate Lambert, I am a CCNP & CCDP who has worked as a network engineer in the Cisco reseller space for 7+ years.

Learn more about Nate on LinkedIn!

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nathan-lambert-77839051/

Prior to the changes, how did you feel about the Cisco Certifications?

Taylor – I felt like the tracks were well balanced. You had 3 distinct levels for all the specialties. It allowed anyone to jump right into to where they hearts desired. Those working with Phone Systems could get their feet wet with CCNA Collab without having to go to CCNP Collab. That would give them a basic understanding of Calling Search Spaces, Partitions and Media Gateways without needing to get into the weeds on how G.711 works as a codec. (Difference between Designing/Deploying and Administrating)

Keithia – I felt that the certifications were challenging yet intriguing. Being someone who is starting to focus more on networking, the Cisco material went into great depth and the study material was actually enjoyable to read at times.

Eric – I began this certification journey in January 2019, so I am still new and have plenty to learn.  In my opinion, the Cisco certifications are guides toward the Cisco networking world.  This world has many different paths and each certificate provides a guide to topics an “engineer” must know.  I personally saw the certifications as a blueprint to entry level success into IT, the core fundamentals and far from mastery. 

From my limited experience, a Cisco certification is like being at Disneyland.  I am too excited by all the cool and exciting things I am seeing.  I am enjoying the journey and too much at awe to judge it.

Max – I felt that the associate and professional-level certifications, while largely covering relevant topics, were becoming a bit stodgy—the CCNP in particular. The CCNP Routing & Switching exams hadn’t been updated in four years and referenced hardware which was sunsetted in 2016.

While the core technologies upon which the exams center are currently deployed in the majority of today’s campus networks, certain topics on the blueprint’s periphery feel vestigial. Frame Relay, anyone? Additionally, many of the current and future trends were entirely absent—there’s zero mention of SDN and policy-based controllers, APIs, virtualization, automation scripting or DevOps in the current CCNP R&S framework.

Nate – I felt as though the Cisco certification carried a significant value in the IT/Networking space. People were aware of the structure, and associated each level of certification with a specific skillset.

How, if at all, has the announcement affected your plans for certification?

Taylor – Since the announcements, I have accelerated my studies in-order to get my CCNP before the deadline.

Keithia – I recently started classes at WGU under the BS Network Operations and Security program. Part of that program entails obtaining your CCNA R&S, CCNA Security, and CCDA (Cisco Certified Design Associate). Thankfully, I already have my CCNA R&S, but still need to obtain my CCNA Security and CCDA certifications. When I found out about the upcoming changes, it just added more fuel to the fire for me to finish my classes within the next 6 months, as WGU is unsure of how they plan to handle the certification change after February 2020. I already had a plan to obtain my degree by the end of December, so if anything, the announcement just gave me that much more motivation to finish my degree with the two certifications completed by this year. 

Eric – When I convinced myself to pursue Cisco certifications earlier this year, my goals were to get my CCNA, CCNP and explore DevNet.  DevNet being my long-term goal and career.  The new certification announcement blew my mind.  The announcement had a big impact and revamped my roadmap.  It did not change my initial goals but instead added more.  This is the first time I have considered going after a CCIE certificate, the DevNet CCIE.  The announcement was HUGE in my eyes.

Max – Having passed ROUTE in March with plans to sit SWITCH within the next 30 days, I see zero reason to alter my current trajectory. I would say that folks planning to sit the CCIE lab are the most impacted by these radical changes.

Nate – I was considering the CCNP Security in the coming 12 months. Since I won’t likely complete the entire certification before the start of 2020, I will now likely wait and pursue the new security track after the changes next year.

Having heard/read about the forthcoming changes, how do you feel about this major update? 

Taylor – I think, at least for the Professional Level, this is a long awaited and necessary change.The Last time the CCNP R/S was updated was almost 5 years ago when Frame Relay was heavily used and IOS XE was just a glimmer in Cisco’s Eyes. A lot has changed since then…. Its is great that there are no more prereqs to getting a Professional Level Cert. That means CCNP DC can be done directly after CCNA R/S without obtaining CCNA DC first.

Keithia – I think with Cisco making the changes its made with their new certification structure, it raises the bar for those wanting to obtain a certain knowledge and skillet within the Cisco networking realm. After obtaining my CCNA R&S, I know I got overwhelmed by the choices of either making a lateral move of getting my CCNA Security, or moving onto CCNP R&S. With Cisco providing only one CCNA certification, this will allow the candidate to get that foundational knowledge, then decide to specialize. Also, giving candidates the option to skip the CCNA and go straight into the CCNP is a good move, especially for those that have been working in the networking field for a while. 

Eric – Prior to the changes, all I wanted was a career in coding networking solutions.  The new changes have set a roadmap which include many different Cisco platforms.  Embarrassedly I do not know much about these platforms except for the buzz words being broadcasted through social media.

I have not look much into the new networking certificates as my concentration will be on DevNet.  As for DevAsc, I only fear it may be too broad as a whole and some topics may be too narrow.  I am not sure what to expect since some DevAsc topics you can literally find entire books describing each of them.  Until an Official Cert Guide comes out, it’s difficult to understand what is required to pass the exam and too early to judge it.  

On the other hand, I like that it is broad as it allows me to look into the available options and hopefully choose a couple concentrations for my future endeavors.  For now, I will embrace it, move forward with it, and enjoy the journey!  At least I now have a DevNet certificate I can pursue!  It’s the guide I needed that will lead the way to a successful career.

Max – I’m conflicted. As with any change, it’s a give and take. Certain technologies which should’ve been retired in the last go-round are finally being plucked from the curriculum while newer, forward-facing concepts are installed in their stead. The lack of specialization at the CCNA level seems a bit mystifying, and yet I applaud Cisco for removing prerequisites from the different certification tracks.

Should the CCNA have retained its focus on applying the fundamentals of Layer 2 and Layer 3 interaction? Probably. But conversely, should network operators just entering the field be armed with the knowledge of how to deploy Ansible playbooks and maintain Git repositories? Undoubtedly.

The modularity of specializations being introduced seems like a huge boon as well. It will make recruiters’ lives challenging for the next 12-24 months while they get up to speed with the vastness of, say, the CCNP ENTERPRISE certification and everything that entails, but it provides clear milestones for operators looking to continue their professional education. The overall barrier to entry seems lessened and as long as Cisco protects its certs’ market value, it should end up as a net positive for both Cisco and folks like myself who have invested in their training programs.

Nate – I have some concerns. As a person who has spent the past 7+ years working towards various Cisco certifications, I feel as though this change could reduce the perceived value of my certs. 

Do you think these changes affect the value of the Cisco Certs? 

Taylor – I do think that the value of the CCNA has changed. It has become more of an entry level and generalist certification, taking the place of the CCENT.

Keithia – I think more than anything, the value of the CCNP certification will become more valuable. The CCNP certification requires a good amount of knowledge and labbing experience. I think the certification will continue to serve as valuable in the workplace and will show that the candidate is capable of working in a networking environment. I haven’t taken any of the CCNP certifications yet, but from going through the material, the level of difficulty definitely surpasses that of what the CCNA R&S is. 

Eric – I do not believe a certificate or for the matter a degree comes with much value other than it helps get your foot in the door.  It’s the person that will have the true value.  He/She must have the confidence, knowledge, ambition, and energy to show value.  In my opinion, networking is key and your ambition is your value!  Certificates are personal milestones.

Max – I think there’s an understandable fear that this sweeping reform will dilute the perceived value of the certifications from an employer’s perspective, but I don’t think anyone will know for sure until sometime in 2021 or beyond. Everyone seems to agree that the cert tracks needed change. You’re never going to please every single person and it’s foolish to assume that’s even possible.

I think the integration of software concepts and full-stack protocols into the training paths will probably be looked upon as one of the wiser decisions Cisco could’ve made; networking isn’t just hardware anymore. Hyper-converged infrastructure isn’t coming—it’s already here. Cisco is betting on the long term, and I find that admirable.

Nate – I think that the change will disrupt the industry’s ability to easily qualify a technical professional based on their certifications. While the content of the certification tracks will continue to train and enable engineers to succeed, the drastic change in the structure could reduce the ability for an average hiring manager to evaluate an engineer’s skillset.

What are your thoughts on the new Cisco DevNet certifications? 

Taylor – The DevNet Certs are awesome! They couldn’t have come soon enough! Programmability and Automation is increasing in popularity and it’s critical that Cisco recognizes the engineers that have spent countless of hours in these spaces.

Keithia – As important as it is for Network Engineers to know their stuff on the infrastructure side, I believe that gaining DevOps experience will serve as an advantage to that Engineer and for the company. For the past few years, DevOps has been buzzing through the air and made its way into the realm of the System Administrator. For a Sysadmin, it’s not just about infrastructure and hardware, but now we’re dealing with APIs, working in “the cloud”. It was inevitable that DevOps would make its way to the Network Engineer realm, as it did with the Systems Administration realm. I still have a bit to learn about these certifications, but I have a feeling DevNet certifications are going to be very beneficial to those who want to be successful Network Engineers. 

Eric – I love it!  I started this year with a goal of pursing DevNet as a career.  When I heard the news, I was super excited.  Now I have plenty of blueprints to choose from, plenty of Cisco platforms to learn, and certificates to earn!!!

Max – Fantastic. Cisco is doubling down on DevOps and fostering a path for those who don’t come from a traditional developer background. CI/CD has been hailed as the way forward and it’s important that both budding and experienced network operators aren’t lost in the shuffle. DevNet certifications have the potential to validate an operator’s practical knowledge in the same fashion that CCNA has for over two decades. I personally know a lot of folks who are very excited about the new certification tracks. I’m currently evaluating my next area of study, and the DevNet Associate cert seems like a logical step after wrapping up my CCNP.

Nate – I will be looking into these certifications, I feel as though they have lots of value in the future of IT.

The consensus?

Well as you can see here I think the overall reaction is overwhelmingly positive. People are excited for the new Cisco DevNet certs, and the updated content and additional specialist certs on the new focus areas is all very exciting stuff!

My thoughts…

Personally, for me, this has no affect on my certification path. Prior to the announcement the plan was to complete my CCNP Route Switch and then go for my CCDP. My goals remain, as long as I can get the exams in before the cut over.

My personal collection of CCNP Routing and Switching related books

If I don’t complete the exams by the cut over then my plan is to pursue the new equivalent Certifications and Specialists. I have an absolute affinity for network design so I want to carry a certification that reflects my passion.

The forth coming Enterprise Networking track. Courtesy of Learning at Cisco.

I do believe that the new CCNA is great, but I worry that they aren’t giving folks whom have completed the most recent CCNA enough credit. If you compare the current CCNA with the current CCNP there is A TON of overlap. Therefore, I believe, Cisco should reward those folks by giving them their NP. But, that’s just my personal opinion.

The new CCNA, the 200-301, will be far more comprehensive and allow recipients to be better prepared, that was smart move. Providing a broader foundation. This will also help those just starting out to get more experience across a wider range, which will allow them to perhaps find something they love and pursue additional specialist certifications.

I’m also very excited for the new DevNet certs! Initially, I plan to go and get at least my DevNet Associate. I’ve talked to many people that are interested in automation and program-ability and found it difficult to get good relevant resources for learning things like Python and how it relates to networking. Now we have a path and we will have resources and training available shortly.

Your thoughts?

What do YOU think of the new changes? Are you still full steam ahead or are you reconsidering? Shout out in the comments or feel free to contact me, I’d love to here from you.

Regardless, good luck on your certification journey! As always, thank you for taking the time to stop by my blog.

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