The underestimated value of the CCENT
Passing the ICND1 exam & getting your Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician cert
When I was just knowledgeable enough to be dangerous in data networking (or a hero—it’s a fine line), I passed my first CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certification exam.
This was in 2000, and I took the CCNA (640-507) exam, the second revision of the certification exam. I remember feeling overwhelmed with the protocol abbreviations and confused on how the protocols interacted with each other. It seemed daunting. This exam was light on Ethernet, heavy on serial links and IP. And it didn’t even include NAT, variable length subnetting, Etherchannel, HSRP, GRE tunnels, Inter-VLAN routing, OSPF or EIGRP, let alone multiple area OSPF. But now, the 2016 CCNA includes many more topics than the 2000 CCNA, and surprisingly, the ICND1 exam covers more topics – in more depth – than the CCNA exam of 2000.
So, like many IT Ops professionals, if you’re looking to earn the coveted and respected CCNA certification nowadays, there are two ways to go about it:
- Take the CCNA 200-125 exam
- Take both the ICND1 (Interconnecting Cisco Network Devices) 100-105 and ICND2 200-105 exams.
Passing the ICND1 exam will earn you a CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician) certification—a Cisco cert with an underestimated value. However, the CCENT can give you a major career boost by increasing your experience and expertise as a network technician, and a CCENT can prep you for the ICND2 test needed to become CCNA certified.
Why get a CCENT cert?
Earning the CCENT certification requires you to understand Ethernet switching, IP addressing and variable length subnetting, NAT, VLANs, VLAN trunking, port security, IP routing and IPv6 addressing and routing, among other topics. Understanding this range of topics makes you incredibly valuable as a network technician in information technology.
CCENT skills in action
If you examine the day-to-day duties of a network engineer in an enterprise network, the skills tested on the ICND1 exam are the most critical and most commonly used skills in managing a data network. These tasks typically include managing VLANs and port security, troubleshooting link connectivity issues (WAN, data center and end devices) and examining and troubleshooting ACLs (typically on firewalls).
Often, the network engineer’s expertise is called into action by application support teams (usually via mis-routed tickets) to determine the causes of application performance issues. Application performance issues are often blamed on poor network performance, and sometimes (although not nearly as often as accused), the network is broken in some way, which causes performance issues. Most of the time, these issues are caused by misconfigured servers, software or workstations.
In my experience as an engineer and manager, troubleshooting application issues will make most network engineers a bit grumpy. The network is a mysterious operation, and end users and other IT professionals, will often want to blame the ‘black box’ of the network rather than try to find another solution. This is a pretty human thing to do—blaming the mysterious as the source of a problem without considering any other possibilities.
However, for a network engineer, there is an opportunity in troubleshooting these issues. First, the CCENT skillset is all that is required to troubleshoot these application issues. Basic client/server operation, TCP 3-way handshake, TCP/UDP port numbers and the ability to capture some packets in Wireshark are usually all that is required to troubleshoot application issues. Often, you will perform a Wireshark capture on the client and find out the 3-way handshake is not completing. Looking on the server, you will most likely find that the service on the server is not running. This is not a “network” issue, but the network engineer with a CCENT is extremely qualified to troubleshoot this issue.
This may seem like it is outside the skillset of a network engineer. However, IT professionals (typically) do not understand client/server operations. They may be well versed in scripting or development languages or understand business processes, but usually, most people in an IT department are not going to understand the TCP 3-way handshake.
The benefits of a CCENT certification
By using your CCENT skills to troubleshoot application issues on a network, you get to understand what applications are running on your network and how they behave. You get experience troubleshooting layer 1 – 7 issues. You are more likely to examine the behavior of your network and make minor adjustments to improve performance. In time, you will see the network you support in an entirely different way.
I remember the scene from The Matrix where Cypher is watching computer screens in the Nebuchadnezzar and he says, “You get used to it. I don’t even see the code—all I see is blonde, brunette, redhead.” The longer you observe your network in action, the more you capture and analyze traffic in Wireshark, the more you practice your CCENT skills and the more you see the simplicity and elegance of a data network in action.
Sure, you may not see blondes, brunettes and redheads in the code of your network like Cypher did, but I guarantee you will eventually see the consistency and simplicity with which data is moved through a network. And you’ll use this to better understand, troubleshoot and design networks. Eventually, one reaches a level of understanding in data networking where they make troubleshooting a network look like a magic show. The truth is, there is no magic—only practice, skill, understanding and hopefully some luck on your side.
Conclusion: Don't underestimate the CCENT (and skills that come with it)
The value of the skills needed to pass the ICND1 exam, and the potential of one who earns the CCENT, are often underrated—and they shouldn’t be. The language and techniques required to pass the CCENT exam are truly the most important skills for a network technician—fundamental skills you’ll use throughout your career. So, before you jump into higher-level Cisco certifications such as the CCNA and CCNP, even CCIE, you’ll need to have a solid understanding of ICND1 exam topics. And once you master these ICND1 skills, your value as an engineer will skyrocket.
Now that we’ve covered some of the CCENT essentials and why this Cisco cert is so valuable, you’re ready to dive in. I’ve put together a great series of ICND1 skills to help you prepare for the exam and earn your CCENT certification. In this learning path, I go into a bit more depth than the ICND1 exam requires, but I do this with intention—to offer you the opportunity to understand data network operation at a deeper level and go beyond defining network jargon. Now, get to learning!
Learn now: CCENT / ICND1 learning path