Cisco CCNP Routing and Switching certification: Is it worth it?

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When it comes to getting your Cisco CCNA Routing & Switching certification, the biggest question just might be whether or not it’s worth it. If you’ve ever bothered asking anyone this, you’ve likely heard something along the lines of “It depends.” Sure, it depends on certain things, but that’s not a very helpful or insightful response. So, let’s take a little time to get more in-depth with this common question and then dive right into whether or not you should consider the CCNP.

The CCNA isn’t enough anymore

There was a time when the CCNA alone was enough to get you a job. I remember getting multiple emails a day from recruiters inviting me to apply for networking positions. Those days are long gone. Relying solely on your CCNA to help you get a job or a raise will leave you waiting a long time. Let’s face it: There are a lot of CCNAs out there, and many of them work for cheap. If you want a long term career in networking, you must get your CCNP. Not having your CCNP certainly won’t leave you jobless, nor does it mean you can’t make a decent salary. But having it will help you find a job or negotiate a raise quicker, regardless of your on-the-job experience.

Experience matters, but...

Even if you possess a tremendous amount of experience, you still need your CCNP, because perception matters. If you’ve been in networking for a while, but don’t have your CCNP, you’ll look like you aren’t interested in learning. There’s also the risk that a hiring manger may not take you seriously — if you even get to a hiring manager. Without the letters “CCNP” on your resume, you may not even get past HR. Is it fair? Of course not. Not having a certification doesn’t mean you aren’t interested in learning, nor does it mean you can’t do the job. But in IT, certifications are what separate the wheat from the chaff.

Having CCNA experience, is good -- but having both the CCNA and the CCNP is better, even if you’re lacking in on-the-job experience. We IT folks know that a certification does not replace experience, but many hiring managers see it differently. Hiring managers rely on certifications as proof of experience and in their eyes certification equals experience. Combine this with the fact that the CCNP exams require you to perform configuration and troubleshooting tasks, the CCNP really does prove experience — just not on-the-job experience.

The spotlight is on CCNP

The initial investment you make into getting your CCNP may pay off quickly, but it will almost certainly pay off over time. Many years ago, I let my CCNP expire without re-certifying. About six months later I interviewed for a high-paying systems engineer position — without a current CCNP — and I got the job. That’s how powerful the CCNP can be. The fact that I had achieved CCNP certification put me ahead of other uncertified candidates, even though it was expired. After that experience, I got re-certified and haven’t looked back since.

Income potential

How much will you make with the certification? This is a topic for a different post, but the short answer is this: As much as you want. Ultimately, it comes down to experience, certifications, the market and the company. Don’t believe salary surveys. There are just too many variables that influence those figures. The bottom line is that you’ll make significantly more as a CCNP than you will as a CCNA, all other things being equal.

Vendor-neutral certifications and other vendors

It’s common after getting your CCNA to consider pursuing other entry-level network certifications like the CompTIA Network+ and Juniper. Vendor neutral certifications and other vendor certifications are valuable, but they are not replacements for Cisco certifications. If you get Juniper-certified, for example, but don’t have your CCNP, you're pigeonholing yourself. The opposite, however, isn’t true.  If you have proven Cisco expertise, it shows you are fully capable of learning other vendors. "We don't use Juniper,” is a common refrain among businesses. “We don’t use Cisco,” is the kind of statement that makes a room go silent.

Where to start

If you’re thinking about getting your CCNP just to “see what happens,” then I suggest first viewing the CCNP Routing and Switching learning path to get a feel for what it takes to get CCNP certified. This isn't a let's-just-see-what-would-happen kind of certification. There are three exams you must pass: ROUTE (300-101), SWITCH (300-115) and TSHOOT (300-135). The first two are mostly multiple choice, while the third is mainly hands-on simulations.

Planning for certification costs

You probably already have a decent lab setup that will give you most of what you need for the CCNP. The courses in the CCNP Routing & Switching learning path detail exactly what you need for each exam. That leaves the issue of paying for the exams, which run about $200 each. The exams are not cheap, but neither is being unemployed. Investing in your career now can save you a lot of job hunting or worse; waiting in line at the unemployment office. If you can get your employer to pay for the exams, take them up on that offer. But if that’s not an option, paying for them out of your own pocket can give you incentive to study and practice more so that you can pass each exam the first time. And yes, it’s possible. I passed each exam on the first try, and there’s no reason you can’t do the same.

Bottom line: The CCNP is worth every penny

If you’re passionate about networking and want to make a career out of it, the CCNP Routing & Switching certification is a no-brainer. Not only will it give you a sense of accomplishment, it will make you more marketable, help you earn more, and provide additional job security. Not a bad deal.

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