Cisco Certifications 2017: A Comprehensive Guide

Learn about the various tracks and specialities in Cisco's certification program.

Alex Bennett

June 15, 2017

4 Min Read
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Cisco certifications have formed the foundation for thousands of successful careers in networking. They’re more than just a piece of paper or a line on your resume; they’re ways to navigate and build your networking career.

Whether you’re a beginner or a networking master, a Cisco certification can help build and prove your skills. Let’s take a look at Cisco’s expansive certification program.

Cisco certification program

The Cisco Career Certification program is massive, covering a huge range of networking abilities,  from entry-level to expert.

To achieve any of these qualifications, candidates must gain the necessary networking knowledge, and prove it by passing one or more Pearson Vue delivered exams.

Two paths exist within the program: network operation and network design. While both begin with the entry-level CCENT, the paths then diverge across different certifications, skills and knowledge.

Every Cisco certification is ranked in terms of experience needed and difficulty to attain. Within these certification bands, candidates have the option to specialize their knowledge across networking topics, like wireless or data center technologies.

Entry level

This is the starting point for a career in networking and the first step on Cisco’s certification ladder. Both the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) and Cisco Certified Technician (CCT) have no prerequisites.

Studying for and gaining the CCENT provides the skills required for entry-level network support roles. In other words, CCENT holders are able to manage small enterprise branch networks. It’s also the first step towards a CCNA certification. Training providers often group both the ICND1 and ICDN2 exams into one course covering CCENT and CCNA.

CCT-certified pros work onsite at customer locations, diagnosing issues and repairing network equipment. Unlike the CCENT, the CCT will not qualify candidates for the CCNA.

Associate level

Candidates with a CCENT will generally move onto Cisco’s associate-level certifications: Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA).

The CCNA recognizes basic skills in installing, supporting, and troubleshooting both wired and wireless networks. Alternatively, the CCDA identifies individuals who can design basic wireless and wired networks and incorporate security and voice solutions.

Candidates on the network operations track can choose between nine CCNA tracks. In addition to the CCENT, one to two additional exams must be passed to gain the CCNA. CCENT-certified candidates will only need to pass one extra exam to achieve the popular CCNA: Routing and Switching certification.

Those pursuing the network design track must achieve the associate-level CCDA by passing one additional exam.

Professional level

Pass the exams associated with a CCNA and you will be qualified to take on the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) certification. Within the network design track, the CCDA is a prerequisite for the Cisco Certified Data Design Professional (CCDP). The CCNP and CCDP comprise   Cisco's professional level of certifications, which continue the established operation/design demarcation.

As with the CCNA, a number of specializations exist at this level, covering a range of networking tech, from cloud to wireless.

The CCNP validates professionals with complex networking knowledge. CCNPs can deploy and troubleshoot local and wide-area enterprise networks and work collaboratively with specialists in voice, wireless and security. Those who achieve the CCNP demonstrate their ability to work as network engineers, support engineers, and network technicians.



For those on the design track, the CCDP proves a professional’s ability to design and deploy scalable networks and multi-layer switched networks.

To achieve these professional-level certs, students must possess valid CCNA or CCDA certifications. Networking pros that possess an expert-level CCIE certification are also qualified to return to the professional level and achieve a second CCNP specialization.

At this advanced stage, more exams are required to achieve these credentials. Every CCNP track requires the passing of four exams except for; the CCNP: Routing and Switching, which requires three. The CCDP requires candidates to pass three exams.

Expert level

For most network professionals, achieving the CCIE is a career highlight. There are a range of CCIE certifications specializations available, none of which have any official prerequisites.

However, a tough written and practical exam must be passed, so it's recommended that professionals have a relevant CCNP - and bags of experience - before attempting the CCIE.

There’s also an expert level design track certification, the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE), which identifies experts who design networking infrastructure for large enterprises, including the operational businesses and budget facets of a project.

Architect level

This is the highest level of certification that Cisco currently offers. Often referred to as the PhD of the Cisco Career Certification program, the Cisco Certified Architect (CCA) is ideal for network or data center architects. As expected, it’s the pinnacle of Cisco’s design track.

Achieving a Cisco certification

There’s a wealth of helpful guides, tutorials and resources available online, all designed to help networking professionals achieve their Cisco certifications. Students who don’t want to self-study can also opt for instructor-led training from official Cisco learning partners.

There are also tons of free ways to study for your Cisco certification, as well as an abundance of high-quality books available, many from Cisco’s own publishing arm, Cisco Press. So, what are you waiting for?

About the Author(s)

Alex Bennett

Technical Writer, Firebrand TrainingAlex is a technical writer for Firebrand Training. Working at the forefront of the IT training industry, Alex uses his insider knowledge to write regularly on IT security, networking and cloud technology

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