The Top 10 Questions about Networking: Answered

So, I scoured the internet in places like Reddit’s r/ccna and r/networking, popular Facebook CCNA study groups, and even the Discord server It’s All About the Journey, for the most frequently asked questions in networking.

Then, to get some different opinions I asked my friend Girard from TechHouse 570 to share his thoughts and opinions on these same questions. To check out what he thinks head on over to his blog, and for my answers continue reading on!

How long does it take to complete the CCNA?

First of all, if you’re asking this question you’re asking the wrong question. It almost sounds like you’re taking, or at least looking, for a shortcut. The CCNA absolutely holds it’s value, so no matter how long it takes you the fact is you’ll have it. There’s no special secret sauce here. Put in the effort every day and before you know it you’ll have it.

Also, NEVER EVER compare your journey to someone else’s. You’ll also see people posting they got their CCNA online – But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It might take people 1 month, 2 months, or it might take some people a year or more. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, commit to doing it and get started!

I do highly recommend, however, that you find a study group, a tutor, or a mentor. If you’re looking for a mentor I am available – for the right person. Please reach out.

There are so many different factors that affect how long it’ll take a person to complete the CCNA certification. Do you have any experience in networking? How long can you commit to studying each day/week? What resources do you have? It’s impossible to put a finite term on this.

How do you get a job with your CCNA and no experience?

This is the whole chicken and the egg thing: you need experience to get the job, but you need the job to get experience.

My best advice here is Be Hungry! It’s about the right attitude. Express your interest in technology. Show the hiring manager that you’re worth taking a risk on and deserving of this opportunity.

Now, there’s no doubt about it sometimes the right person for the job at hand is an experienced one, and that’s an unfortunate reality. But, don’t let that deter you, keep hunting, and show the hiring managers you’re hungry. Your shot will come.

Suggestions on a Beginner Networking home lab?

If you’re just starting out and going for your CCNA then Packet Tracer should be all you need, honestly. So, don’t feel like you need to drop a ton of money on a virtual or physical lab. In fact, I wouldn’t do that if you’re just starting out. So, if you haven’t already, head on over to netacad.com, make yourself an account, and download Packet Tracer for free!

If you’re currently working in IT check with work to see if your company is retiring any routers or switches and see if they’d be willing to give or sell them to you, or use temporarily even, as a training aide. This is a totally viable option that I’ve been able to leverage over the years.

Where to begin in the IT Industry?

Help Desk. There’s nothing wrong with Help Desk at all. You’ll get exposed to a lot of different things, including networking. In my personal opinion, it’ll make you a better network engineer because you’ll understand what’s going on in the network, rather than just the networking itself.

Where can I go after Help Desk?

After Help Desk you can really go anywhere. If you like networking go into networking. If you like Server Administration be a Sys Admin. The sky is the limit. You’re exposed to so much at the help desk level you’ll have a really good foundation of infrastructure and application knowledge that you really could go in either direction. Don’t feel limited at all.

How do I study when I don’t feel like it?

Remember your why. Your why is “why are you doing this?” Why are you choosing to get certified in the first place. If you don’t have a good why then why are you studying in the first place? My why is my family. This is the career I’ve chosen and in order to stay competitive, keep my employer happy, and make my customers feel comfortable getting Certifications is a requirement.

Second of all it’s okay to take a break. In fact it’s required. There is totally a thing called burn out from over studying, it’s happened to me. If you need a break, take a break. However, if you haven’t been studying then you probably don’t need another break.

If you’re having some trouble getting into it then commit to smaller periods of time. Twenty minutes of reading or labbing is way better than 0. I used to do this all the time and more often than not I’d end up studying for hours. Some nights I hit my 20 minutes and called it a night for studying. You know how you eat a whole elephant? One bite at a time.

Where do you go after CCNA?

If you’re in networking or are looking to get into networking as a career then I highly recommend you go straight to a Professional level cert such as the CCNP. Then, take a deep dive into some form of Network Automation and Programmability. If you’re just getting starting I highly recommend Ansible. You don’t need a ton of programming experience to get started either. If you’re interested, please check out my Starting your Network Automation Journey with Ansible articles. If certifications are important to you and your employer then consider Cisco’s new DevNet track of Certifications. You can build it into your CCNP Enterprise with ENAUTO, or take a look at the DevNet Associate. Also, strongly consider another vendor. You never know where you’re going to end up in the future so having multiple vendor certifications won’t hurt you. I can’t recommend the Junos Genius program enough, I used it to get 5 Juniper Certs earlier this year.

Lab: Physical or Virtual?

Yes. Seriously, yes. There are benefits to both. Software labs like Packet Tracer, GNS3, EVE-NG, and even CML2 are all emulations of physical gear. Some emulate physical gear better than others. Nothing acts like physical gear more than, you guessed it, physical gear!

For me the virtual lab is about economies of scale. I might only have four physical routers in my lab, but I can have 10, 20, or even 30 routers running in CML2, for example. You can even connect the virtual lab to the physical lab, it’s entirely possible. When I was learning Ansible I’d have Ansible running plays on both my physical lab gear as well as a bunch of routers running in GNS3.

My physical lab.

Get a job and reinvest a small portion of your paycheck back into yourself. Get books, get physical gear, get a video learning subscription, get a nice server, install ESXi or Hyper-V, and then get GNS3/EVE-NG/CML2. You will only benefit from doing stuff like this.

How do I defeat self doubt?

That feeling of self doubt is called imposter syndrome. It’s super common. It happens most often when you’re surrounded by peers during discussions. Maybe you feel like you can’t keep up. Or it can happen seeing people have success at the thing you’re struggling at, like passing the CCNA. Imposter Syndrome happens because you’re pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and it’s, well, uncomfortable. When you’re learning something new it’s okay to fumble and fall, you’re learning. Be proud of the steps you’re taking outside your comfort zone. Ultimately, this is about growth. Embrace that feeling and get used to it.

How do you know when you’re ready to take the exam?

I wish I had a better answer to this one, but the truth is you’ll never know, at least I don’t. Practice exams can be a good indicator, but they aren’t the end all be all. I have studied and prepared for an exam, arrived on exam day feeling like I was going to just absolutely slay it – and then failed. I have also arrived on exam day and during the exam I just feel like I’m getting my butt handed to me and even before I get to the last question I’ve accepted that I’m going to have to take this exam again – only to pass.

Want another perspective?

These are all pretty subjective answers and are, of course, just my opinion. For another opinion and perspective go check out what Girard has to say. Girard works in IT for a major healthcare organization. He has over 14 years of experience as an IT Professional in the industry, working on the help desk, as a network, and systems administrator. He also blogs on his blog TechHouse570! You can also find Girard in the It’s All About the Journey Discord server, and he’s also very active in the Cisco Learning Network, where he even won Rookie of the Year!

Have your own thoughts and opinions? Feel free to shout them out in the comments or start a conversation with me on Twitter! As always, thanks for stoping by.

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