Putting Some Realism into Cisco Certified Architect

Starting a Discussion of the New Top Cisco Certification

The Cisco Certified Architect  certification may well be the single biggest addition/change to the Cisco certification space since the introduction of CCNA and CCNP in 1998. In the space of two years, Cisco has taken the pinnacle of the Cisco cert space - the CCIE - and added another cert billed as equivalent for Design issues (CCDE), and then made a new pinnacle to the cert pyramid - the new Cisco Certified Architect cert - sitting on top of the CCDE.. Network World bills it as a Ph.D. in Cisco.  I've been pondering this one in the back of my mind, and want to offer some perspectives, and give us a space to get a discussion started.

First off, "CCA" is already used by Citrix, so right now, Cisco has to spell out "Cisco Certified Architect". For the purposes of this quite informal blog space, I'm going to stick with the acronym CCA, just for convenience. Personally, I hope (clicking heels 3 times right now) that Cisco will change the name to a usable acronym. Note that CCDA is of course already taken as well, by Cisco.  ;-)

I will summarize some relevant points about CCA, but for those of you with more interest, here's some useful links:

The world, she has changed. Once upon a time, IT was a cost center, something you had to have to get the work done. IT was operations, and not part of the overall business model. Over time, IT has developed into a strategic asset for many companies, with entire business models predicated on the role and function of IT. Over that same time, the complexity of IT has kept growing. Combining the fact that IT has not only visibility within corporate management of large companies, but may been seen as a strategic intertwined asset of the company, it's not a big surprise that Cisco has developed a certification aligned with those job skills.

Next, consider the typical number of job opportunities for CCIE-level network implementers/troubleshooters versus CCDE-level network designers. Certainly, most companies need more implementers than designers. Is the ratio 10:1? 20:1? That's not rhetorical, I'd really be curious as to what you see out there. Certainly, in many companies, 1 person fills both the role of designer and implementer, but then there might be several other folks who most do network engineering tasks, but fewer design tasks. So while CCA may be the cool new cert (and CCDE to some extent), the number of job roles for those with these design certs may be less than for CCIEs.

While the design-oriented CCDE and CCA and implementation/troubleshooting oriented CCIE are separate certs, the skills are related. The best network engineers have a good understanding of network design, and vice versa. Many people who do the network design were formerly doing network implementation - in fact, that was one motivation for adding CCDE and then CCA. So while the certs are separate, the skills are not completely separate.

The whole pre-req topic made for some interesting discussions out at Networkers last week. The new biggest baddest Cisco cert, and Cisco doesn't even require a CCIE as a pre-req. While at Networkers last week, I asked some Cisco folks about the whole CCDE and/or CCIE as pre-req for CCA thing, and the response was interesting. Although CCIE is not a pre-req, it's unlikely you'd pass the Board exam without CCIE level skills. So while technically the pre-req is CCDE, in practice the better candidates may be the CCIE/CCDE.

Practically speaking, making CCIE the only pre-req just didn't work, even if Cisco wanted to. For perspective:

  • (Rumor) 7 CCDE's worldwide today. Number unverified. However, no scaling issues with the testing.
  • 353 people with 3 or more CCIE's today (link)
  • Over 2155 multiple CCIE's
  • (my math makes it around 1800 dual CCIE's)
  • Over 20,000 total CCIEs; been around over 15 years

With these numbers, Cisco just couldn't have made CCIE the only pre-req for CCA and also required a live, human board review. They would have way too little capacity to handle the board reviews. I personally would have preferred to see both CCDE and CCIE as pre-reqs. I even thought that Cisco should offer two options for pre-reqs - either CCDE or be a triple (or more) CCIE - but that would still leave us with too big a pool of initial candidates (353 today). I have no idea if Cisco discussed this internally, but it just wouldn't have worked.

Chime in, give your thoughts, and let me know what you think. Next post, I'll examine how all this matters to the general certification population.

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