10 things to know about Cisco's certification overhaul

10 things to know about Cisco's certification overhaul

Cisco's CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE certifications are changing to emphasise areas such as network programmability, multi-cloud, Internet of Things, SD-WAN, and other software-focused initiatives

Cisco’s network certification line-up is set for a major overhaul.

The vendor is adding a new coding-focused track to its offerings, and it's continuing to streamline its core designations: Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE).

Gaps in the company’s certification curriculum became clear more than a year ago, according to Derek Winchester, CEO of consultancy Gotcha 6 Technologies and a member of Cisco’s CCIE Advisory Council.

Job descriptions that hiring managers were posting to attract network professionals increasingly included many more skills than the CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE were providing.

“Hiring managers had so much packed in there, including awareness of cloud and Amazon Web Services as well as Python [scripting language],” Winchester says. He felt Cisco was falling short on its promise to position CCIEs as leaders in technology.

“All senior-level CCIEs are expected to be able to design the world’s most complex networks,” and, according to Winchester, their training was no longer supporting that.

Even CCNAs, who were being funnelled into specific tracks such as security or wireless, could no longer speak the same language, Winchester says.

“They came out knowing security and wireless well, but they couldn’t communicate the fundamentals of networking infrastructure, and that became very noticeable.”

Along with his fellow Council members, Winchester began to push Cisco for more substantial change than the incremental steps it had taken thus far, such as adding a few emerging technologies track questions to certifications tests.

Meanwhile, Cisco was hearing not only from network professionals who need to learn how to support software-focused initiatives – including programmability, multi-cloud, machine learning, artificial intelligence, automation, the Internet of Things, SD-WAN – but also from developers who want to learn networking fundamentals to be able to interact with IT teams and to perform simple enterprise tasks.

Cisco responded with sweeping changes set to take effect on 24 February 2020. The updates were first announced in June at Cisco Live!, the company’s global conference.

Cisco certification executives hope the streamlined tracks and new certifications will fill the skills gap that hiring managers and individuals are experiencing.

“Infrastructure is now a big software system, and we are inviting network engineers and developers to build these skills into their tool bags and expand their career paths,” says Susie Wee, senior vice president and CTO of Cisco DevNet.

10 key Cisco certification changes

At a high level, Cisco has streamlined the way the tracks work within its four main certification levels: associate, specialist, professional, and expert levels. You can pursue an engineering and/or software track for each level.

At this time, the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician, Cisco Certified Design Expert, and Cisco Certified Architect certifications will remain as they are today.

Digging into the changes, here are 10 important things to note: 

1. Cisco unveils DevNet track.

The company introduced the Cisco DevNet track, which focuses on coding, automation, application development on Cisco platforms, and what developers need to know about network fundamentals.

For instance, the DevNet Associate covers the understanding and use of APIs, software development and design, application deployment and security, infrastructure and automation, and network fundamentals.

2. Cisco consolidates associate-level training and certification

The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification no longer has different tracks. Multiple elements – wireless, security, routing and switching, and concepts of network automation – are covered broadly within a single exam.

The consolidated and updated CCNA covers entry-level networking skills across technologies, such as basic IP fundamentals, network access, IP connectivity, security fundamental skills and the basics of automation and network programmability.

3. CCNP options include concentration exam

The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) is comprised of two exams. There's a core exam in one of five technology tracks – enterprise, security, service provider, collaboration, or data center – plus one concentration exam of the candidate’s choosing in the same technology track.

Technology core exams cover the foundational and common concepts that are required for a candidate to be proficient in a technology architecture.

Concentration exams take a deeper dive into a relevant and related technology to the core, allowing the candidate to choose a topic that is either of interest or related to his or her chosen technology area of focus.

4. DevNet options include concentration exam

Cisco Certified DevNet Professionals take the DevNet core exam and one concentration exam of their choosing in the DevNet technology track (which also includes an automation and programmability concentration in the five network engineer tracks).

Concentrations are focused on automation across enterprise, security, service provider, collaboration, or data centre areas as well as topics such as IoT, WebEx, and DevOps.

5. Concentration exams recognised with a specialist certification

The specialist certification covers a specific technology topic. There is no limit to the number of specialist badges you can achieve.

You can earn a specialist certification by passing any written, proctored exam in the certification portfolio, with the exception of associate-level exams.

6. CCIE requires one core exam and the corresponding lab exam

The Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) level comprises first a technology core exam (focused on enterprise, security, service provider, collaboration, or data center) and then one lab exam from the same technology track.

The enterprise technology track will initially include two lab exam options: enterprise infrastructure and enterprise wireless. The same written exam will serve as the core exam for CCNP certification and CCIE certification.

The CCIE lab exam is being updated to assess candidates’ skills through the entire adoption lifecycle of designing, deploying, operating, and optimising complex network scenarios. The lab format will change to assess these skills end-to-end. Candidates are required to pass the technology core exam before taking the lab exam.

7. CCNA certification is no longer be required as a prerequisite for professional certifications

There is no prerequisite to start earning an associate, specialist, professional, or expert level certification, so candidates can start at the level they choose. Continuing education credits can now be used toward recertification at all levels. They were only available to CCIEs previously.

Continuing education activities include attending Cisco Live! training sessions, authoring content, completing online training courses, completing instructor-led training courses and more.

8. Stay tuned for Cisco Certified DevNet Expert certification

Cisco plans to introduce a DevNet Expert level in the near future.

9. Current exams set to expire when new certification tests become available

You can certify or re-certify on current exam offerings until 24 February, and the expirations will hold as usual.

10. Cisco adds CCIE Lifetime Emeritus benefit

A CCIE or CCIE Emeritus who maintains their active or Emeritus status for 20 consecutive years will have the option to choose a lifetime Emeritus status with no yearly fee.

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