All you ever wanted to know about Cisco certifications

* Network World Chats with Cisco trainer Wendell Odom

I'm loving Network World's latest resource (I'm not saying this just because I work here!) - Network World Chats, in which we invite an industry expert to take questions from our readers live and in text. A few weeks ago, we had a lively chat with Matt Colarusso, a national IT recruiter with staffing company Sapphire. Most recently, our chat was with Wendell Odom, a trainer with Cisco learning partner Skyline-ATS, a prolific Cisco Press author, and author of Cisco Subnet's Cisco Cert Zone blog.

Readers picked Wendell's brain about everything from which Cisco certifications to take for what jobs, to the importance of business skills to an IT professional, to whether network pros need to learn a programming language (short answer: no, but some scripting languages can help as there are some embedded in Cisco IOS).

Here are a few of the questions Wendell tackled:

Q: Does the certificate help me? I have 5 years IT experience, but not in the networking, but I like it, and I want to go to this IT field. An employer wants experience, but experience you can get only when you work, how to solve this vicious circle?

A: Well, you should take this as just one opinion, and seek others – I’m pretty good at helping you get some Cisco certs, but I don’t spend any time examining the job market. In my opinion, Cisco certs help for a couple of reasons. Frankly, if I was hiring someone to work with Cisco gear, and they hadn’t at least taken the time to get their CCNA [Cisco Certified Network Associate] (or maybe today the CCENT [Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician], which is a new less-strenuous cert), then I’d wonder if it’s worth the time to bother looking at the resume. Secondly, Cisco partners (Cisco moves over 90% of its product sales through partners) need a certain number of certified engineers, so there’s financial value in a Cisco cert if you want to pursue jobs at these companies. But boy, if I could solve the job experience/get-the-job issue, I might be the most popular person on the planet – I don’t really have any unique suggestions there. Well, maybe one – read the design docs at Cisco.com. These documents show Cisco’s best practices for a variety of technical areas, so it’s a good way to learn what’s really happening in real networks – even if you don’t get hands on.

Q: What are your thoughts on the recent research that says non-certified IT pros are making more money than certified folks, mainly because they're lining up with business goals of the enterprise?

A: Well, my first thought was that old quote “lies, d***ed lies, and statistics,” and my second thought was to look at the data rather than the conclusions. I only spent a few minutes on the article but here are a few quick opinions. First, business skills have always been important, and this article is a good reminder of that fact – maybe even more so today. Second, the survey appears to focus on people who maintained their existing job. Especially for end-users (i.e. not resellers), where a cert has no direct financial benefit for the company, the cert’s value is less. The other main benefit – being an objective measurement of job skills – can be done better through normal employee evaluation processes for those remaining in the same job. However, I think that certs maintain a high value when looking for the next job – both inside and outside the same company. I did find the survey interesting, and I think we can all take something away from it – in my case, it was a good reminder that even when working in a highly technical job, you need to continue to develop business skills at the same time.

Q: Should I go for CCNP [Cisco Certified Network Professional] or CCIP [Cisco Certified Internetwork Professional] after my CCNA? Which is the hottest certification today?

A: Bart, hands down CCNP between those two. However, if you're looking for hot as in get a job, CCVP [Cisco Certified Voice Professional] and CCSP [Cisco Certified Security Professional] are probably hotter, and will be, IMHO.

Q: My dream company is Cisco. As a fresh graduate, what kind of skills to I need to learn to be worthy of getting employed at Cisco? Thanking you, Ansh.

A: Ansh, in my brief time at Cisco, I actually did a fair amount of interviewing prospective employees. There was a minimum technical bar that had nothing to do with certs – it was how you did answering real questions about the theory of networking, and about real-life networking. If you knew practical things but not theory, or vice-versa, that was ok. It was that you could clearly articulate what you knew, and that it was enough depth, and that you could then talk through (with the interviewer) things that you knew only a little about.

For the full transcripts to this and previous Network World Chats go here.

Go here for a sneak peek of a chapter from one of Wendell's latest books, "CCNA ICND2 Official Exam Certification Guide (CCNA Exams 640-816 and 640-802), 2nd Edition."

Check out our line-up of upcoming chats.

Editor's note: Starting Wednesday, Nov, 14, this newsletter will be renamed "IT Careers and Training Alert." Subscribers to the HTML version of this newsletter will notice some enhancements that will provide you with access to more resources relevant to IT careers and training. You will still receive Linda Leung's analysis of this market, which you will be able to read in its entirety online at NetworkWorld.com, along with links to relevant news headlines of the day. We hope you enjoy the enhancements and we thank you for reading Network World newsletters.

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