Cisco Corporation provides a wide array of certifications for technically minded people who want to specialise in supporting their hardware and networking equipment. There are three levels of certification in the General certifications path, from Associate to Professional to Expert, with certification paths covering Routing and Switching, Network Design and Architecture, Network Security, Service Provider, Storage Networking and Voice Certification.
While not directly comparable to college degree programs in all aspects, you can think of the Associate certification as being roughly equal to an Associate of Arts degree in the generalised technology area, the Professional as being just shy of a Science degree, and the Expert certification as being broadly comparable to a partial Master’s Degree program.
Many professionals end up getting an Expert certification in one area, and branching out with Associates and Professionals in a few supporting topic areas.
Going beyond the generalised certification programs, Cisco also has Specialist Certifications, all of which require an Associate or better certification to take the exam. These get significantly more diverse, with subjects covering Advanced Routing and Switching, with field specialists (people who trouble shoot problems), sales specialists (people who are good at defining what range of Cisco products a customer needs and getting them in place) and solutions specialists (who design full architected systems for customers).
The most common Specialist certifications deal with data centres, and there are eight of them, usually split between Support, Design and Sales, for Application Services, Network Switching interfaces, and Network Storage Certifications. These build on several foundation skills.
The second most common Specialist certifications cover IP (Internet Protocol) Communications Certifications; these are, in effect, engineering certifications, and cover the range from Telephony Network Design services, Contact Centre certifications, generalised IP communications certifications and more. What these certifications do is give a baseline for setting up networking solutions for large organisations.
One of the most demanded sets of specialisation certifications include the VPN and Security specialisations, which cover everything from firewalls to generalised security technical’s to architectural setup certifications. There are also specialisations covering wireless LAN and channel partner certifications.
All of these certifications (both General and Specialist) have
attended course requirements and exams; you can expect that a typical course will run from three weeks (at the Associates level) to six to eight weeks, and be followed by an exam; expect to pay a largish fee for these certification processes.
Unlike most of the professional IT certification programs, Cisco’s tends to involve a hands-on approach with the class work and certification; this is a direct response to the watering down of competing certifications, many of which now have “cheat sheet” web sites to help potential students ‘hit the books’ for the tests. Cisco Systems knows that its certification program rests on the fundamental skills used by its students; people with certifications who can’t do the work don’t do a good job of promoting Cisco, nor are they assets to their employers. As a result, expect to work hard for these certifications.
The up side of these certifications is that they give you a leg up in the job market when working with this particular hardware set and these protocols. Therefore Cisco certifications are an excellent investment in your IT future.