IT pros skilled in the many areas of networking remain in high demand in today's job market. Those who are serious about their careers should consider one or more of these best-of-breed networking certifications to set themselves apart from the competition.
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, as well as government, research and academia. It's hard to go wrong by earning Cisco certification nowadays, and the CCNP Certification is its leading 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) — which is also available in numerous specializations.
CCIE: Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert
The unparalleled networking certification is the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), which comes in several tracks. The annual production of CCIEs remains small enough that Cisco could still claim to hire all of them itself, with demand and appreciation for this difficult and rewarding certification still extremely high. During the past few years, the Storage Networking credential gave way to the Collaboration specialty, and the Data Center credential was introduced.
Although the road to obtaining the CCIE is long and hard, it will be well worth the effort, time and money spent. This is a credential that will open doors to plenty of job opportunities and high salaries for networking pros.
JNCIE-ENT: Juniper Networks Certified Enterprise Routing and Switching Expert
Juniper Networks designs and sells routers, firewalls, and all kinds of networking solutions aimed mainly at data center environments. Its well-known network operating system for routing, switching and security is called Junos OS, which figures prominently in many Juniper devices and equipment. As such, the company is a top competitor to (that is, engages in fabric wars with) Cisco, Brocade, HPE and other networking powerhouses.
Juniper formed the Juniper Networks Certification Program (JNCP) several years ago to ensure a workforce capable of supporting the company's hardware and software solutions. The part of the program that focuses on Junos-based credentials includes Associate, Specialist, Professional and Expert levels across four tracks: Data Center, Service Provider Routing and Switching, Enterprise Routing and Switching, and Junos Security.
We favor the upper-tier Enterprise Routing and Switching-Expert (JNCIE-ENT) certification because of its cachet in the industry and its salary-generating capability. The credential requires candidates to achieve the Professional-level certification as a prerequisite and pass an eight-hour hands-on exam. Once earned, the certification is valid for three years.
There aren't that many entry-level networking IT certifications around, probably because CompTIA's Network+ credential more or less owns this particular niche. Many IT and certification pundits, including us, believe the Network+ to be an important early check-box 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.
WCNA: 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.
Outside of the top five networking certifications, there are lots of other choices for networking professionals to investigate and pursue.
Networkers who are interested in a mostly vendor-neutral certification that includes a vendor-specific component for network management should look at the SolarWinds Certified Professional certification. The certification recognizes general network fundamentals, planning, management and troubleshooting skills, as well as proficiency in using the SolarWinds Orion network performance monitor.
Many major networking vendors, including Brocade, Nokia (formerly Alcatel-Lucent), F5 and HPE, offer networking-focused credentials that ascend all the way to advanced or expert-level credentials. Serious network professionals will also want to check out the certifications offered by Avaya, Citrix and Extreme Networks.
If you don't see something you like in our short list of the leading networking certifications, that doesn't mean there's nothing else to choose from, by any means. As you explore your options, take a look at some of our networking-related certification and career options: