Certified Cisco Network Associate (CCNA) certification is the Cisco entry-level certification for IT professionals who want to work with Cisco networking devices. It allows channel partners who sell Cisco networking devices to speak to their clients in technical terms that both parties can understand. Cisco Press recently released the second edition of the CCNA Official Exam Certification Library, by Wendell Odom, CCIE, for test preparation. We interviewed Odom, who has taught Cisco courses for the past 14 years, to help you understand the certification process and the importance of CCNA to value-added resellers (VARs), systems integrators (SIs), managed service providers (MSPs) and other channel partners.
Does having CCNA certification affect the job market for channel partners and resellers?
Odom: There are a lot of available jobs for networking engineers when it comes to working for channel partners. Somewhere around 95% of Cisco products are sold through resellers. For Cisco to be confident that the companies doing that have the right skill set, they require a certain number of certified individuals with certain certifications. CCNA is part of that whole channel partner culture. If I wanted to be hired by a channel partner as a technologist, I would want to go to that channel partner with at least a CCNA in hand and say, "I've got CCNA, I think I've got potential, hire me and help me work towards my next certification, and I'll help you towards the number of people you have certified." Based on the numbers of certified individuals, channel partners that meet all of Cisco's certification numbers requirements can get deeper discounts on the products, so they make more when they sell the products.
You said Cisco works with many channel partners with CCNA certification. Who needs it most: VARs, SIs or MSPs?
Odom: I'd say all three. If you look at Cisco's partner structure, channel partners are product-focused, but almost all are service-focused too. Some companies are just professional services and team up with resellers. All of those formal relationships with Cisco require some number of certified individuals. So you and I could start a company and ignore Cisco and their contracts, which is perfectly fine. But if you want to sell Cisco, you have to sign a contract and have so many certified individuals. Across the partner ecosystem with Cisco, there are a certain number. They actually do annual audits to find out how many people in [their partner companies] are Cisco-certified, just to make sure you're at the required number.
What do you think is the best way to prepare for the CCNA exam?
Odom: It's up to the test taker to some degree. For some people, the complete self-study route is completely reasonable. My book would be a tool you can use in self-study. For some others, a combination with a class might help prepare better. A lot of people call their classes "CCNA boot camps," meaning you stay in class and work hard and you'll be able to pass the test at the end of the week. For the more advanced certifications [such as professional certifications and expert certifications], more people would need to take a class.
The first and most obvious study route is to buy a book that has all the stuff you need to pass. Mine would fall under that category. These books don't just explain technology but also give you tools to help you get ready for the test, such as test questions on a CD or some tips explaining not just how the technology works but how to drill into it, how to approach it from five different angles. You can also buy a lab simulator -- software that acts like a simulator so you can get more hands-on skills. For a couple hundred bucks, a lot of used gear companies will sell you Cisco routers and switches that you can buy and set up in your home and practice to your heart's content.
There's always the CCNA Video Mentor from Cisco Press. It's essentially the desktop of my computer with me talking and I show a PowerPoint animation of what I'm going to do. Then I turn around and configure some routers and switches. It's sort of a hybrid of class and self-study project, where it's like being in class with Wendell talking, but it's three to four hours of material instead of the 28 hours or so that you would get in a week-long class.
Interested in Odom's certification guide? Check it out at Cisco Press's product catalog.