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Network World - I have a chance to get a better position with my company. This requires that I get my CCNA to start and possibly continue
on with getting a CCNP. I have worked in networking for several years, so I have some experience but not enough to where I
feel comfortable taking the exam for CCNA without some preparation. Going to a school or training center is more than I can
afford right now. Are there any self-study options that you can suggest?
-- Via the Internet.
If you have the discipline to set a certain amount of time aside each day for studying and can stay with that commitment, then self study is a viable option for you. There are a plethora of books and electronic options for studying for the exams you are considering.
There are two main areas that you need to think about.
The first is getting experience with the hardware itself. While it is possible to use simulators that get you the experience of working with the equipment, certain things such as upgrading firmware and connecting cables just cant be done with simulators. If money is really tight, you can buy a couple of 2501s with a serial crossover cable. With Cisco starting to test you on features present in 12.4 IOS, some of the cheaper routers may not be that much help which means that you will need to spend a little more for some 3640 routers to let you work with what you will most likely be tested on. You can find used Cisco gear just about everywhere you look. I have had good luck with CiscoKits. You will find equipment that is affordable and can be added to as finances permit. There are several packages available that can give you a collection of equipment without having to assemble a laundry list of what you need and then finding where to get everything.
As to to written material, using Google or other search engines, you will find quite a few offerings that offer to help you with getting your CCNA. For several weeks, I have been going through a package called Cisco CCNA Simplified by Paul Browning. Paul has the best way of teaching you not just what you will need to pass the exam but a lot of practical knowledge that, while not needed on the exam, will make you more valuable as a Cisco certified individual. You learn how to do the bit level math that you need to know to really understand what you are doing but more important, how to quickly do the calculations for the test using his "Super Subnetting Chart." By repeatedly going over the information, you will become comfortable with it to not be scared of the exam.
You get two substantial binders from Paul that will take you through a building block process for building the knowledge you dont have and expanding on the knowledge that you do have. For those working through Paul's program, you will find others to bounce idea off of in addition to Paul by going to HowToNetwork.net. Paul gives you some good suggestions on what hardware that you should consider working with. While you do get access to a "virtual rack" of equipment to use as a part of the course, having access to physical equipment will help fill in the blanks that a simulator will probably leave for you. This also included a collection of video CDs that reinforce the material in the two binders and let you see it done as many times as you need to before going through it on your own. While you will have to dedicate a substantial portion of time to gain the certifications you mention, in the long run, I believe that you will find your efforts well rewarded