Cisco Certification Guide: Overview and Career Paths

Cisco Certification Guide: Overview and Career Paths

Cisco Systems Inc. specializes in networking and communications products and services. The company is best known for its enterprise switching and routing products, which direct data, voice, and video traffic across networks worldwide. However, Cisco also offers storage networking, applications for unified communications, telepresence, and collaboration (WebEx), and a range of services ranging from simple product support to complete solutions for data centers and cloud management.

To ensure that IT professionals have the skills and knowledge to support Cisco products and solve customer technology problems on many fronts, the Cisco Professional Certification Program is global. That is, it starts at the entry-level, then progresses to the associate, professional, and expert levels, and (in some areas of certification) ends at the architect level.

Each level offers one or more credentials. Earning a diploma generally involves passing one or more certification exams. Pearson Vista delivers most Cisco exams. For higher-level degrees, applicants must also demonstrate that they meet the necessary prerequisites. The higher the certification level, the more references and conditions are needed to meet these requirements.

Cisco Certification Guide: Overview and Career Paths


  1. Cisco Certification Program Overview
  2. Cisco Entry-Level Certifications
  3. Cisco Associate Level Certifications
  4. Cisco Professional Level Certifications
  5. Cisco Expert Level Certifications
  6. Cisco Architect Level Certifications
  7. Training and resources

Cisco Certification Program Overview

Certifications within the Cisco portfolio include the following credentials:

  • Cisco Certified Entry Network Technician (CCENT)
  • Cisco Certified Technician (CCT)
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA)
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
  • Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP)
  • Cisco Certified Network Expert (CCIE)
  • Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE)
  • Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr)

One can take many certifications and pathways in the Cisco career program. However, its two main tracks cover the operation and design of the network. A typical Cisco network certification ladder starts with entry-level CCENT credentials, progresses to CCNA and CCNP, and ends with CCIE. Design-minded individuals consider beginning with CCENT, moving up to CCDA, then professional-level CCDP, followed by CCDE, and ending the program with CCAr.

The Cisco Professional Certification program also includes several specializations. These certifications recognize a professional’s skills in a specific Cisco technology, such as data center application services, voicemail and messaging, or rich media. Cisco specializations are organized into two main categories: one aimed at technical specialists and one aimed at digital transformation specialists. There are currently 15 specializations between these two categories that IT professionals can choose from.

The Technical Specialist category includes specializations in six subcategories:

  • Collaboration
  • Data Center (FlexPod)
  • network programmability
  • operating system software
  • service provider
  • Internet of Things (IoT)

Digital transformation specialists understand credentials focused on enterprise architecture and customer success.

Earning a specialist degree usually requires passing one or two exams. Some credentials also impose prerequisites.

Beginning, Associate, and Professional diplomas are valid for three years, CCIE and Specialist certifications are valid for two years, and CCAr is valid for five years. To keep credentials current, Cisco professionals must renew their certificates by passing a recertification exam or moving to a higher level in the Cisco certification hierarchy.

Cisco Entry-Level Certifications

Cisco has two entry-level credentials: Cisco Certified Entry Network Technician ( CCENT ) and Cisco Certified Technician ( CCT ). No prerequisites are required to earn the CCENT or CCT degree, and applicants must pass only one exam to earn each degree.

CCENT-certified professionals install, maintain, and troubleshoot small networks or a branch of a corporate network and implement basic network security. CCENT credentials are a prerequisite for certain CCDA and Associate Level CCNA Solution Tracking credentials.

CCTs work on-site with customers, diagnose problems and repair or replace network-related equipment. A CCT can choose one of several specialized tracks, including Data Center and Routing and Switching.

Cisco Associate Level Certifications

Cisco associate-level certifications include Cisco Certified Network Associate ( CCNA ) and Cisco Certified Design Associate ( CCDA ). Depending on your chosen course, you must pass one or two certification exams to earn a CCNA or CCDA degree.

The CCNA recognizes basic skills in installing, supporting, and troubleshooting wired and wireless networks. There are several options, including cloud, collaboration, cyber operations, data center, industrial, routing and switching, security, service provider, and wireless. The CCNA is a prerequisite for professional-level CCNP certification. Requirements for the CCNA vary depending on the solution path chosen, as does the number of exams required. All possible solutions require one or two tests.

Cisco created CCDA to identify people who can design virtual wired and wireless networks and integrate security and voice solutions. The CCDA is a prerequisite for the CCDP certification. To earn the CCDA, applicants must have a valid CCENT, CCNA Routing and Switching (or any CCIE certification), and pass only one additional exam.

Cisco Professional Level Certifications

Cisco’s professional-level credentials include two main programs: Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and Cisco Certified Design Professional ( CCDP ). To earn the CCDP, you must pass three certification exams and have CCDA and CCNA switching and routing credentials or any Cisco CCIE or CCDE certification.

CCNP credentials: The service provider also accepts Cisco Certified Internet Professional (CCIP) credentials as a prerequisite (which was withdrawn in 2012). Requirements for all CCNP solution tracks include lower-level CCNA credentials or CCIE credentials. All CCNP solution leads, except routing and switching, require candidates to pass four exams. Only three exams are required for the CCNP: Routing ID and Switching.

CCNP credentials recognize professionals who plan, implement, and troubleshoot LANs and WANs. CCNP tracks are the same as CCNA tracks, except for Industrial and Cyber ​​Operations, which are not offered in the CCNP stream. CCNP is recommended to move up the certification ladder: Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert.

The CCDP identifies competencies in designing and deploying scalable, multilayer switched networks. From CCDP, you can upgrade to Cisco Certified Design Expert.

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Cisco Expert Level Certifications

Cisco’s expert-level credentials embrace two primary certifications: the coveted Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) and the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE). Neither certificate has prerequisites, but you must pass a written and rigorous practical exam to achieve either of these qualifications.

In July 2016, Cisco updated its Expert Level exams to include an evolving technology field. This new area focuses on cloud, network programmability, and IoT, accounting for 10% of the total exam score. Cisco may modify topics in this area to reflect emerging technologies as they achieve strong enough business interest, potential, and presence to be worthy of consideration. The company describes this mechanism as a way to help maintain their certifications so that employers can assume that those with current credentials are also aware of critical new network technologies.

For many network professionals, earning the CCIE is the highlight of their career. A CCIE has expert technical skills and knowledge of Cisco networking products and solutions in one of CCI’s technical streams, which currently include collaboration, data center, routing and switching, security, service provider, and wireless.

The CCDE identifies experts who design infrastructure solutions for large enterprise environments, including a project’s technological, operational, business, and budgetary aspects.

Cisco Architect Level Certifications

For those seeking positions as a network architect or data center architect, it is a good idea to acquire the Cisco Certified Architect ( CCar ) certificate. Many people consider CCR to be the most challenging technology certification to obtain. The CCAr is like the doctorate in the Cisco Career Certification program: the highest level of certification offered by Cisco. This degree validates the skills of a senior network infrastructure architect, someone who can plan and design IT infrastructures based on business strategies.

To achieve CCDE certification, you must design a network solution to implement an assigned policy; You must then appear before a Cisco-appointed panel to explain and defend this solution.

Whether you’re pursuing a career path in Network Operations or Network Design, Cisco certifications are uniquely positioned to help IT professionals prepare for various Cisco-related professional roles. No matter what career you choose, there are many job opportunities for qualified Cisco professionals. Searching for Cisco CCNA professionals on two popular job sites, SimplyHired and Indeed, returned between 7,500 and 9,500 jobs each.

Job opportunities vary based on experience and whether you focus on network operations or design. While certainly not exhaustive, the following list identifies some joint employment opportunities by certification:

  • CCENT: Help Desk or Technical Support Features
  • CCT: Engineer (field, network, application support) or system administrator
  • CCNA: Engineer (network, telecommunications), technician (network, network operations), or analyst (network, network operations center)
  • CCDA: Engineer (network, system, design, lead), analyst (interface), interface developer, or technical specialist
  • CCNP: Network administrator, engineer (support, web), or advanced technician, as well as higher-level roles
  • CCDP: Higher Level Roles; senior network design engineer, senior analyst, network cyber protection analyst, or designer
  • CCIE: Expert Level Roles; network architect, engineer (manager, systems, network), or senior network administrator
  • CCDE: Expert Level Roles; systems engineer, senior network engineer, network architect, network design engineer, or IT infrastructure team leader
  • CCar: Architect (leader, network, enterprise, voice data, and more)

Training and resources

Cisco maintains a comprehensive list of training and self-study resources. These resources include various forms of online learning, practice tests, and learning labs, links to which appear on each certification web page. The Cisco Learning Network offers candidates a free essential subscription that includes access to exams, live seminars, computer training videos, study groups, forums, study materials, and much more. Cisco Subscription Platinum Learning Library provides professionals with on-demand learning and access to over 400 courses, hands-on labs, the Support Library, and more. Additional training materials are also available from Cisco Press.

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Cisco Certification Guide: Overview and Career Paths

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