Is Cisco's CCIE certificate relevant anymore?

The Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts (CCIE) certification is a career pinnacle for many network professionals. But not everyone thinks it's worth the investment in time and money.

'expert knowledge' stamp of certification
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WAVE Life Sciences was barreling toward its commercial launch when it hit a critical speedbump. The company’s network, a key part of the launch, received a negative assessment and would need to be re-architected. Anthony Murabito, vice president of IT at the Cambridge, Mass. biotechnology company, only wanted one thing from the IT pros that would be helping him fix the issue fast – to be Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts (CCIE).

“We needed to do a major refresh and replacement on our network and, when I looked around, I had no network skills available in the organization,” Murabito says. Cisco’s top-tier certification would serve for Murabito and his hiring team as an indicator of a candidate’s expertise.

Murabito’s reliance on the CCIE as network gospel comes at a time when the industry is debating the relevance of the CCIE. A search for “CCIE” and “is it worth it?” returns dozens of blogs and comments from people who wonder whether investing $10,000 to $15,000 as well as a large chunk of their time (it can take over a year to properly study) is the best strategy for advancing their network careers. With cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure gaining in stature and a heavier presence of virtualization, focusing so heavily on just Cisco’s environment seems folly to some critics. Others, like Murabito, say until another certification comes along that is as proven a bellwether for talent, the CCIE, which was first awarded in 1993, is still the best bet.

Keeping the CCIE relevant is a priority for Cisco and its training team. In 2016, Cisco added an emerging technologies track to the written portion of its CCIE (and CCDE) exam, asking questions about cloud, network programmability, and the Internet of Things (IoT), albeit without the same depth as other traditional networking topics. Last fall, Cisco fine-tuned the emerging technologies questions, which is worth 10% of the overall score. Test takers are expected to be able to compare and contrast public, private, hybrid, and multi-cloud design considerations, describe architectural and operational considerations for a programmable network, and describe architectural framework and deployment considerations for IoT.

“What we were hearing from the industry is that CCIEs are expected to be more than just network engineers. They need to be technologists who can tell their business what’s coming and how to adopt these technologies,” says Joe Clarke, distinguished services engineer at Cisco and an original contributor to the emerging technologies section of the CCIE.

For instance, the emerging technologies sections aim to make test-takers aware of the impact of IoT protocols and low-power and loss-prone networks by asking questions such as what is an IoT technology that seeks to cover a wide area using a mesh of very low-powered devices? (Answer: ZigBee) For programmability, they want to help engineers understand the implications of being able to incorporate scripts into the network in a friendly and useful manner and where software-defined networking (SDN) can be used to improve performance.

“While the network engineer of today doesn’t have to be a software engineer or software architect or even a great programmer, he or she does have to be unafraid of programming,” Clarke says. “You may not like programming, but it sure will make your job easier.” That’s the message the enhanced CCIE certification hopes to convey and to present these technologies as an evolution, not a revolution. “We don’t want to scare people off. We’re trying to take them there in a way that feels transitional.”

Clarke anticipates that emerging technologies eventually will be

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