I have just finished reading Wendell Odom’s post at Network World about the changes to the CCNP certification announced today. Wendell is probably the goto person outside of Cisco so his excellent post is worth reading before you read the rest of this.
You back ? Good.
Wendell points out that this new CCNP means a deepening of education and, implicitly, skills in the core Routing and Switching Topics at the expense of other topics such as wireless, multicast, QoS and some application topics. It seems that clear that Cisco is recognising the industry trend to specialization. That is, a CCNP is not a good foundation for implementing MPLS or Wireless networks. You should be studying and taking exams in these topics so that you have the depth of knowledge needed to work on those technologies.
This reflects the fact that many areas of networking require deep skills. Being able to route and switch is not a sufficient skill set to operate a Wireless ISP, as I’m sure you can agree.
You won’t have just one certification
If you haven’t realised already, the specialisation of the CCNP on just networking means that you need to consider having more than one certification. Most companies will want your core skills in routing and switching in addition to a specific focus in the area that you work in. Thus, if you are a Wireless Engineer you will need a Wireless certificate, and an MPLS engineer will need a MPLS Certificate.
Just like other careers, the certificate only validates the persons’ knowledge in the specific area. Thus a plumber is certified for plumbing, the gas fitter is certified for gas, and the electrician is certified in electricity. In some sense, the Cisco certifications are aligning in this direction.
You should note that this analogy works pretty well. Just because you are a certified electrician doesn’t mean you don’t know some plumbing or gas knowledge. And a bright and motivated electrician may have the tools and learned enough to make a pretty good plumber, but you aren’t proven to have those skills. You wouldn’t normally hire an electrician to put the plumbing into your house would you ?
Lifelong Study – don’t take shortcuts
It’s also time to think of Cisco Certifications as Lifelong Study. You don’t pass them once. You have to take those exams every two or three years to maintain your status for the rest of your working life.
I’ll say it again, the rest of your working life.
That means is you take shortcuts today like cramming, or skimming over the hard parts, then you will need the knowledge next time. Or the time after that.
This also means taking the opportunity, or planning to re-read those books everytime you have a project. Or setting aside some time every three months to review a section such OSPF, or Spanning Tree. Especially if you don’t use that skill everyday.
CCIE Service Providers Operations
Cisco also announced the CCIE Service Provider Operations today. This also appears to focus a specific skillset, that is, troubleshooting MPLS networks for Service Provider. This is a very different skillset from Designing Networks for Service Providers which requires less depth of knowledge and more awareness of the ‘width’ of technologies.
Again, this seems to show use that specialisation is the future of the Cisco Certifications. By focusing on deep knowledge so that operating and troubleshooting MPLS Core is enhanced.
Broadly, I’m in favour of the changes. The personal challenge is that newly certified CCNP will be smarter and that means I’m going to have a work a bit harder to keep ahead. On the other hand, having someone with good knowledge sharing the work load is a damn fine thing. Knowing that someone has got my back is valuable in a big network.
I think these changes reflect the current marketplace for specialisation and the need for highly knowledgeable people.
PS I still hate the logo