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.

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J: I take my CCNA next Tuesday, and I think I am ready. I have been a sys admin for seven years, and have PIX/VPN/ ISR point-to-point experience, but it is kind of like a set-it-and-forget-it scenario. I want to break into a career just focusing on networking, but coming from a smaller shop (under 60 users), it's hard to get into a bigger company. Any suggestions? 

Wendell_Odom: J, yep, it's hard to go from small shop to large, particularly because networking is what – maybe 10% of your work? I think that one way to get there is to moonlight for a small consulting company, and get anything that smacks of Cisco, and do it for cheap – just to get some learning in. If you believe a recent Network World article, you may have an in by increasing your business skills. 

TomC: Wendell, as a hiring manager for a major manufacturer, how can I retain good people like yourself and not let them leave to become independent consultants? 

Wendell_Odom: TomC, pay more money? ;-) Seriously, I find it has a lot more to do with opportunity to build more and more skill, and getting rid of the mundane – at least for the high-skilled folks. Certainly, money can be a big lure, but if you're talking about say most CCIE-level folks, the playpen effect – giving them projects that are challenging, and time to pursue the next big skill, may outweigh their choice to leave. I'm also a big fan of deferred bonuses – they're sometimes hard to walk away from. 

Tracey: Wendell, do you have any suggestions for specific training related to integration of Cisco routers into Military Tactical environments? (p.s. How are you? Been to the Grand Canyon lately?) 

Wendell_Odom: Tracey! How you been! No Grand Canyon lately for me, or Gary Mac, who I still keep up with. Great to hear from you! Military and routers… you still working on that project, from 10 years ago!?!?!?! 

Wendell_Odom: Question for the audience: What do you folks think about the value of Cisco certs for people that do not work for Cisco partners – any of you out there today, do you see a value in Cisco certs, other than to get the next job? 

SMP: I find that reading for a cert gives you a better understanding. 

Wendell_Odom: Yep, I agree – passing the test makes you dig in, and makes you learn the nooks and crannies – good point. 

SMP: In terms of the value of Cisco certs for people who do not work for Cisco partners, I believe that hands-on training was better. But you need both to have a clear picture. 

SneakyPete: Hi Mr. Odom. In regards to the new Cisco CCNA certification test after November 6, what areas within IPv6 should a student be prepared to focus on in order to address the upcoming CCNA certification test? 

Wendell_Odom: Well, without breaking NDA, I can't say a lot. However, I can tell you what I put in my books. Unicast addressing, a little about multicast addressing used for overhead functions like neighbor discovery, and the basics of how to enable IPv6 and configure IPv6 addresses are all covered. 

JWF: We are working with our Cisco partner to implement a Cisco IPCCX for two small call centers onto an existing CallManager / Unity in the next months. Recommendations for avoiding trouble spots? 

Wendell_Odom: JWF, I love PacketTracer – great tool for learning concepts and hands-on. It's one of the great advantages of being in a Cisco Academy. If you want more hands-on, the Cisco Press Network Simulator is more robust than PacketTracer in regards to hands-on, particularly on the number of commands supported. 

JimmyM: I am a beginner and am interested in studying for the CCNA certification. What combination of books would you recommend to me? I am interested in testing after November 6. 

Wendell_Odom: JimmyM, is there any other answer than … buy my books? Seriously, since you asked, Exam Cert Guides are an obvious great core book – if you go the self-study route, you should have someone's Exam Cert Guide, and I'm biased. Additionally, a small lab with a couple of routers (a few hundred bucks on eBay) can help a lot. Also, the CCNA Video Mentor from Cisco Press gives you some instruction on some of the topics (a few hours, not a full course). There are practice tests from many sources, and network simulators. I think that an Exam Cert Guide, and one or two other sources, are great ways to get started.

Wendell_Odom: Thanks everyone for taking the time to chat today – sorry if I didn't get to all the questions – thanks again!

Moderator-Julie: Remember to join us for our upcoming chats: IP routing guru Jeff Doyle at 2 p.m. ET on Nov. 7, and LAN switch security expert Christopher Paggen at 2 p.m. ET Nov. 13.

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