IT pros skilled in the many areas of networking are in high demand in today’s job market. Those serious about their IT careers should consider one or more of these best-of-breed networking certifications to set themselves apart from their competition.
When it comes to the care and feeding of modern networks, there’s quite a list of tools and technologies that qualified IT professionals must master – especially those who aspire to work as network administrators. In addition to the servers and clients that make up the endpoints in such environments, there’s a lot of network infrastructure to worry about. This includes switches and routers (both physical and virtual), plus a raft of appliances and services, such as unified threat management (UTM), next-generation firewalls (NGFs) and WAN optimization, as well as spam, email and content filtering.
Wrapping your head around all these certification options and specialties can be challenging, but knowing where to start can help. We looked at five networking certifications (in their order of appearance in the job boards table that follows) that we consider leaders in the field of networking for 2018 and beyond.
To pick our leaders, we looked at the state of networking certification, examined various market and salary surveys, and performed an informal job board survey that revealed the number of job posts across the U.S. in which our featured certifications were mentioned on a given day.
Making its first appearance on the leader board this year is the SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP). It replaces the Juniper Enterprise Routing and Switching, Expert (JNCIE-ENT) credential. While the JNCIE remains a great credential, the job board numbers for the SCP were stronger, earning it a slot in the top five. The other featured credentials are the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), CompTIA Network+ and Wireshark’s Certified Network Analyst (WCNA).
CCIE: Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert
An evergreen and high-value networking certification is the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), which comes in several tracks. The annual production of CCIEs remains small enough that Cisco can still claim to hire all of them itself, with demand and appreciation for this difficult and rewarding certification always stratospheric. Over the past few years, the Storage Networking credential gave way to Collaboration, and a Data Center credential made its debut.
Although the road to obtaining a CCIE is long and hard, it is well worth the effort, time and money. This credential opens doors to plenty of job opportunities and high salaries for networking professionals.
CCIE facts and figures
CCNP: Cisco Certified Network Professional
The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) takes aim at platforms and products from a leading networking equipment vendor found at most communications and internet service providers, not to mention enterprises and businesses of all sizes, including government, research and academia. It’s hard to go wrong with Cisco certification nowadays, and the CCNP is its most important midrange credential across a wide variety of specialties.
Cisco offers several flavors of the CCNP: Cloud, Collaboration, Data Center, Routing and Switching (the most popular), Security, Service Provider, and Wireless. The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) is a required steppingstone to the CCNP. What usually comes after the CCNP for networking professionals could be another CCNP (different specialty), one or more Cisco Specialist certifications, or the advanced Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), also available in numerous specializations.
There aren’t that many entry-level networking IT certifications around, probably because CompTIA’s Network+ credential more or less owns this niche. Many IT and certification pundits, including us, believe the Network+ to be an important early checkbox element in any savvy IT professional’s basic certification portfolio. If you’re just starting out, this is a certification for you.
CompTIA Network+ is also a vendor-neutral certification and a steppingstone to a variety of more advanced networking credentials. Some vendor-specific certification programs even include it as a prerequisite.
SolarWinds Certified Professional
Our sole newcomer to the top five this year is the SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP). Headquartered in Austin, Texas, SolarWinds makes simplicity its business. At SolarWinds, businesses and IT professionals will find tools, products, and solutions to improve performance and monitoring and to solve real-world problems in an easy, efficient way. SolarWinds offers product solutions across six areas: network management, system management, security, database management, IT help desk and the cloud.
SolarWinds currently offers a single credential, the SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP), which is designed to validate a candidate’s skill, knowledge and expertise in using either the SolarWinds system management or network management product portfolio. Candidates can choose to test for the SCP on either the Network Performance Monitor (NPM) or Server and Application Monitor (SAM) path. A single exam is required to earn the credential.
SolarWinds is committed to ongoing education and ensuring that SCP credential holders maintain skill currency as new products and technologies are released. To accomplish this, SolarWinds requires SCP credential holders to maintain a SolarWinds subscription and attend events and training. The subscription provides SCPs with webcasts, online training, invitations to in-person and online events, enhanced support, opportunities to study with SolarWinds experts, and more. An annual subscription fee of $200 is required. Credentials expire after three years if a candidate fails to maintain their subscription and attend training.
CNA: Wireshark Certified Network Analyst
Founded in 2007 by major networking geeks Gerald Combs and Laura Chappell, Wireshark University offers only a single certification but makes it worth your while. The Wireshark Certified Network Analyst (WCNA) recognizes knowledge of network sniffing and analysis using Wireshark, as well as TCP/IP network communications, network troubleshooting and network security. To achieve this credential, candidates must pass one multiple-choice exam, which is DoD 8570 certified.
The WCNA is good for three years, but certification holders must obtain a total of 20 continuing professional education (CPE) credits each year to maintain their credentials in good standing. These CPE credits must focus on activities related to the WCNA exam objectives (sniffing, analysis, etc.) and not be tied directly to job tasks. For example, attending a Sharkfest or Black Hat conference, or even reading the Wireshark Network Analysis Study Guide, can net some CPEs.
Along with administering the WCNA program, Wireshark University offers self-paced, instructor-led and customized training options for anyone who wants to learn about Wireshark and packet analysis. An All-Access Pass is a one-year subscription to all Wireshark University training courses and costs $699.