Cisco certifications: Everything you need to know

With the Nov. 6 deadline looming, author and certification expert Wendell Odom answers readers' questions about Cisco technology, training and new certifications.

Wendell Odom answers readers questions about Cisco technology, training and new certifications.

Moderator-Julie: Welcome to today's chat. Our guest is author and Cisco trainer Wendell Odom. His books include titles on QoS, CCIE R/S, as well as several titles related to CCNA certification, including the September 2007 book CCNA Official Exam Certification Library (CCNA Exam 640-802). Wendell also writes the popular Cisco Cert Zone blog on Network World's Cisco Subnet.

Wendell_Odom: Good to be here. Let's get some questions from the attendees. 

Moderator-Keith: While Wendell types the answer to the first question, here's a pre-submitted one. When will the self-study books be released for the new ICND 1 and ICND 2? 

Wendell_Odom: You mean the CCNA books that I don’t get paid for? ;-) Seriously, I asked the Cisco Press editor that I work with about it recently, and they said these books are planned for December (ICND1) and March '08 (ICND2). For anyone else out there that doesn’t know, if it’s got “Exam Certification Guide” in the title, it’s original material written for Cisco Press. If the title lists “Self Study Guide,” it’s Cisco’s authorized course content, edited (book-ified if you will) so that it reads more like a book. But my "Exam Cert Guides" have been out for a few months now.

Johnson2448: Will certification help me? I have five years IT experience, but not in networking. I like networking and I want to go to this IT field. But employers want experience and you can get experience when you work. How can I solve this vicious circle? 

Wendell_Odom: 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 (or maybe today the CCENT, which is a new less-strenuous cert), then I’d wonder if it was 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 – don’t really have any unique suggestions there. Well, maybe one – read these design docs. 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. 

BartKnight: Which programming language should I learn to have a good command of networking? 

Wendell_Odom: Bart, Had to chuckle on that one – I've been in networking all my life, and Cisco-centric for most of the last 15 years – and I can't remember ever writing a program! So, none. However, scripting languages can help – there's some embedded into IOS (the router/switch OS), but I've also heard of heavy operations folks using TCL. 

Moderator-Keith: Pre-submitted question: 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? 

Wendell_Odom: Well, my first thought was that old quote “lies, damned 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’s 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 (aka 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. 

Ansh: I am preparing for the CCNA 640-082 exam and am pursuing my masters in telecom technology, graduating in December 2008. In addition to the CCNA certification, which other Cisco certifications will help me in landing a stable network engineer job? 

Wendell_Odom: Ansh, I think with a masters, I'd focus on adding to my resume anything that looks like (or actually is) hands-on experience with the gear, instead of more certs. If that's just not available, then I think that a CCNP (if you like working with routers/switches), CCVP (if you like voice), or CCSP (if you like security) would be a great next step. But with an advanced networking-specific degree, I'd rather see you spend time helping out in a Cisco lab on campus. 

Augusto: Is there any advantage applying to Cisco Network Academy to get a CCNA instead of spending five days on ICND1 and five days on ICND2 courses? 

Wendell_Odom: Augusto, I'm biased, but I think that if you have time/money to go the 5-day class route, it's a no-brainer to go that way. Of course, I teach those classes, and don't teach the net academy classes. But if you want to treat it as part of a traditional education, take more time, and possibly at less expense, then the academy may be the way to go. 

Ansh: My dream company is Cisco. As a fresh graduate, what kind of skills to I need to learn to have a chance getting employed at Cisco?  

Wendell_Odom: 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 important that you could clearly articulate what you knew, and that you knew it with enough depth, and that you could also talk (with the interviewer) about the things that you knew only a little about. 

Loyd: Ansh, you might want to check out Cisco's College Graduate New Hire Program

Smp: Hello, Wendell. Since the early '90s I have been involved with Cisco and technologies such as routers. I am a strong believer in hands-on training. Where would one be able to do that at a relatively small price? 

Wendell_Odom: SMP, well, I could answer until you said "small price". ;-) If you want hands-on, and you don't care so much about the topics, several companies rent CCIE-level lab pods for almost nothing – then they make their money with $300 to $500 lab booklets. If you're looking for a playpen of gear for cheep, Google "CCIE lab pods" and that'll find some. I think a few of the e-learning focused Cisco learning partners have remote lab pods with exercises. Finally, from your Cisco login, look for the customer E-learning connection – they often times have free (!!!) lab exercises on real gear. 

Marcone70: Hello, Wendell. I have been in the telecommunications industry for 18 years. I have previously obtained my CCNA, CCNP & Nortel certifications. I was a systems engineer with a major provider. I am interested in obtaining my CCIE R/S. What training track would you recommend for someone such as myself to obtain the CCIE as soon as possible? 

Wendell_Odom: Well, since you've got CCNP, I'd say either CCIE R/S or CCIE SP. If fast is the most important part, I'd say the SP track. From what I can tell, there seems to be a little less breadth on the lab, or at least they don't seem to go quite as much into the small no-way-I-ever-heard-of-that areas that CCIE R/S sometimes does – which makes studying a little easier. But I've not taken the SP lab, so just my opinion. 

Moderator-Keith: Pre-submitted question: Can a certificate like CCNA help me to get into the network field?  

Wendell_Odom: Well, it certainly helps, but it’s just one part of the puzzle. In particular, if you want to work in IT and spend time working with routers and switches, then frankly I think getting CCNA is very important. So, it’s a help, and in my opinion, a big help. But it’s certainly not the only thing. Anything you can do to get related experience helps a lot, and working on your business skills helps, too. 

Max: I'm a telecom salesman forced out of retirement. Does Cisco have a CCENT (sales, not technician) or has IT eliminated all of us Willy Lomans? 

Wendell_Odom: Willy, uhh I mean Max, I think it looks good to have a technical cert on a salesman's business card, but there are some sales-related certs intended for Cisco partners that may be more appropriate. The name "Cisco sales associate" comes to mind. Only Cisco has courses/stuff available to help with that. The cert focuses on what, and what products, but not how to type and make it work – more appropriate for sales folks. Good luck! 

J: Newbie question. Subnetting on classful boundaries is easy, and I seem to be able to do that in my head without fail. However, VLSM always trips me up, and forget about doing it in my head. All the literature for VLSM training is about busting everything out in binary. That's not really feasible. Where can I go for the Mecca of VLSM so I can do it in my head? Ha, or is there such a place? 

Wendell_Odom: J, Mecca is in chapter 12 of the Exam Cert Guide from Cisco Press. At least that's what my editor says I'm supposed  to say. ;-) Seriously, it's a problem. My books show in print how to do all the subnetting stuff fast, without binary, both with a single mask (in the ICND1 book) and with VLSM (in the ICND2 book). There's also a few videos to help you learn the process. If you get the CCNA library, you'll get all that. Hope this helps! 

BartKnight: Should I go for CCNP or CCIP after my CCNA? Which is the hottest certification today? 

Wendell_Odom: Bart, hands down CCNP between those two. However, if you're looking for hot as in get a job, CCVP and CCSP are probably hotter, IMHO. 

Sleevee: Wendell, what Cisco Partners come highly recommended when it comes to the 5-day classroom training (Skyline, Global Knowledge, etc.)? 

Wendell_Odom: Skyline, Skyline, Skyline! OK, now that you know who I teach for… I can only answer with a biased opinion. I've not taken a class from other learning partners, so I can't say as a student. 

HarryB: Wendell, I have my CCNP, if CCVP and CCSP are the hot certs, where do you classify CCDP today? 

Wendell_Odom: HarryB – great question. I think that CCDP has always been kind of a red-headed stepchild kind of cert. As for getting jobs, I think it gives an edge to getting a pre-sales job. It just doesn't have any buzz. However, I'm thinking it might have a resurgence once Cisco gets their new CCIE-level design cert established – maybe CCDA will be a pre-req, who knows. I find the underlying skills very important, but the cert just doesn't sizzle for some reason. 

Max: Wendell, Since the CCNA test will change after November 7. What book(s) should I buy to study for the new version of the test. I had a CCNA but let it expire and now I have to recertify. I will be doing my studying myself without going to a Cisco certified bootcamp. 

Wendell_Odom: To the rest of you out there, I really didn’t ask Max to ask this question… really… Max, well, of course you should buy my books! And now that you might not believe me given my vested interest, let me tell you why: the books were designed to work well for both new candidates and recert candidates. First, the chapters include a pre-quiz so you can better decide whether to read each chapter, or skip over the bulk and just review the key topics from the chapter. The chapter includes icons that show you the key topics to review and study if you already remember most of the details. There’s a very robust exam question bank on the CD, with the equivalent of roughly four complete sample CCNA exams. So, for the typical recert candidate, someone who’s needing to mostly brush up on their skills plus learn any new topics on the new exam, the new Cisco Press ICND1 and ICND2 exam cert guides should meet your needs. You can see them in this list of my books. Thanks, Max! 

Frank: I'm trying to beat the November 7 deadline. I was wondering if you're allowed to answer a question on the CCNA test. Are the scenario type questions asked at the end section of the test? 

Wendell_Odom: Frank, Well, it’s a judgment call each time someone asks anything specifically about the test. First, I don’t think I’d be crossing any lines to answer from my own experiences to say that I’ve never seen them group questions based on the general types, be it a longer scenario or any other type. If you’re asking relative to planning your time on exam day, it’s a tough thing to do, but a strategy can help. I blogged about some time management strategies and I think that applies to the old almost-done 607 exam as well as the new exams. Try to average 1:10 per question, plus giving Sim/Simlet questions a 6X or 7X time factor, and jot some notes about how you’re doing on time. Hope you get it passed by the 7th! 

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