Get yourself ahead, Part 1: Network Certification

Fred Ferrell

This blog is the first of a four-part series that will cover certification in networking, virtualization, operating systems, and storage. The series will review what’s available from a few different providers and look at the benefits and requirements for each.

With that said, there is something I want to address ahead of time in regards to what others may have to say about pursuing certification…

You may find that there is some negativity from others towards your ambitions as you pursue your path to certification success. Some people think it is a waste of time and money. You will probably find that the ones who take this position don’t have any certifications themselves.

certificationThe reality is that a certification will not hurt your career, but only help you. If you are spending the time to learn the topics, why not spend just a little bit of extra time to get the certification with it?

Certifications for me were wonderful for two reasons. First, they provided me a structured approach to learning the material. Since this was all new stuff to me it was important that I wasn’t guessing about which way was the right way of doing things. This was also a huge time saver because I didn’t have to find all the material that I needed scattered across the Internet.

Second, they made me extremely competitive in the market place because a company could easily quantify what I knew. I am not saying that you have to have certifications to be competitive, but it does help especially when there is a non-technical person who is handling the screening process or doing the hiring.

I myself have 16 certifications from providers such as Cisco, VMware, and Microsoft. This has helped me grow into the position I have today, managing infrastructure in two data centers, in just seven years. Check me out on LinkedIn if you are interested to see which certifications I have and want to learn more about my background.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into our first (and my favorite) topic – Network certification.

There are two major providers that come to mind that offer certification in this discipline: Cisco and CompTIA. Although there are others, we will focus on the most common certifications, but may revisit these down the road.

The certificates I will cover are below, click on each one to go straight to the in-depth explanations:

I hope you get some specific insight that will help you achieve any of these certifications you may choose to pursue. Along with that I want you to know that getting certified is simple, but not easy. It is simple in that we know what we should do to get it, but not necessarily easy to have the discipline to see it through to the end.

I recommend that you write out a schedule for your studying. This allows you to set small goals and hold yourself accountable should you start to slip. Take your studies day by day. You will have some good ones and some bad ones. You just need to make the commitment to yourself.

Last, don’t feel discouraged if you don’t pass your exam the first time. Personally, I have failed every third exam I have ever taken. My first Microsoft exam took me four attempts!

I wish you luck and hope to hear about your success stories in the future. Also, don’t forget to checkout my future posts on the other areas of certification.

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CompTIA Network+

7045582381-350x93This was my first certification. If you are brand new to IT or looking to get into it, this is a great place to start.

Benefits
This certification will get your feet wet and started me on a track to certification success. I can’t promise that a company will hire you just for this certification, but it will help build confidence to get other certificates under your belt.

Requirements: http://certification.comptia.org/docs/default-source/exam-objectives/comptia-network-(n10-006)_examobjectives.pdf

Study material
CompTIA Network+ N10-006 Cert Guide, Deluxe Edition
by Keith Barker and Kevin Wallace

CompTIA Network+ Deluxe Study Guide: Exam N10-006
by Todd Lammle

How to study
To pass this test you should read one of the books above. The authors are some of the best in the training industry. I have included links to the new books to be released soon so you can study for the latest version of the test. Also, use the study materials that are included in the book; you paid for them!

Lastly, if you purchase the book that Todd Lammle wrote, you will also have access to a forum where you can ask questions on specific chapters (http://www.lammle.com/discussion/forumdisplay.php?65-CompTIA). I used Todd’s book for my CCNA and that forum was of great value.

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CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate)

CCNA-350x346I would be surprised if this wasn’t the most popular certification in networking and maybe even in IT. However, even though it is popular it doesn’t mean that it has the greatest number of people who have passed it. This exam covers network fundamentals in fine detail and many things learned here will apply even outside of the Cisco product line. The understanding of networking that you get is huge, and this is the reason that many companies look for CCNAs when hiring network engineers.

Benefits: This certification will open doors for you in both employment opportunities and your continued education. The return on investment in time and money is one of the best there are with this certification. It will help you stand out among your peers more so than most other certifications.

Requirements: Click here for details.

Study material
CCNA Routing and Switching Deluxe Study Guide: Exams 100-101, 200-101, and 200-120 (1st Edition)
by Todd Lammle

Or…

INE

How to study
Your study habits for this test will require more than just reading a book and memorizing the items in it. This exam has practical application and requires you to know how to configure the network equipment using command line.

Similar to studying for the Network+, I would start by reading the book listed above, but this time employ a method called active reading (http://www.dartmouth.edu/~acskills/success/reading.html).

The material is complex and requires a repetitive approach to learn it faster. You should start by reviewing the contents and determining what you think you will learn in each chapter. Write these down along with any questions that you have that you think will be covered in the chapter. The purpose of this is to sensitize you to the material before you start reading and help you retain it.

Work through the practice tests as you move along the different chapters. Again, Todd Lammle provides a forum on his site (http://www.lammle.com/discussion/forumdisplay.php?95-Todd-Lammle%E2%80%99s-Cisco%C2%AE-CCNA-R-S-Study-Guide-Exam-200-120) where you can ask questions that relate to the topics covered in each chapter. He also provides additional study materials when you email him your receipt from your book purchase.

I would also purchase the INE CCNA package that includes the training videos and a lab workbook. Apply the active reading method with the videos as well. This will give you a great foundation before you start with the labs.

Speaking of labs, let’s talk about the equipment you will need to practice on. I personally bought my own and used Packet Tracer (a Cisco Academy learning tool), but there is a better option today. I would use the rack rentals that INE offers. At $3/hour I would find it difficult to beat and the experience is better than you would get on a simulator/emulator.

Go through the labs on the rack rental equipment until you have the commands memorized and don’t need to read through each step to configure the devices. Also, learn the troubleshooting and verification commands for each item you are implementing.

If you are a new CCNA, I would recommend that you take the two test route, because it splits the topic coverage in half. Granted there will be more questions overall for you to get your certification, but it is still easier. 

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CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional)

CCNPThis certification consists of three separate exams that cover routing, switching, and troubleshooting. Most people have at least three to five years of networking experience behind them before they attempt this certification because of the large amount of information that it spans.

Although it is a certification that isn’t talked about much, it is highly regarded in the networking world. I don’t know the numbers that don’t ever pass the CCNA, but I feel pretty sure that the percentage of passes for this is even smaller.

Requirements: Click here for details.

Study material
CCNP Routing and Switching ROUTE 300-101 Official Cert Guide
by Kevin Wallace 

CCNP Routing and Switching SWITCH 300-115 Official Cert Guide
by David Hucaby

CCNP Routing and Switching TSHOOT 300-135 Official Cert Guide
by Raymond Lacoste et al.

And…

INE

How to study
Follow the same guidelines as I explained for the CCNA.

When it comes to testing, there are two main opinions I have heard. The first is to take the SWITCH test first, the ROUTE test second, and the T-SHOOT third. The second is to take the ROUTE test first, the SWITCH second, and again the T-SHOOT last. I did the latter and don’t feel it makes a difference, but either way the T-SHOOT needs to be last because the material covered in the others is applied in this one.

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