This post originally appeared in the Packet Pushers’ Human Infrastructure Magazine, a twice-monthly newsletter about life in IT. Get it free when you become a Packet Pushers member.
I received the following email from a listener:
I have recently found your show on my podcast catcher. After listening to the show, I am worried I have made a poor choice to start my career. I began to study the CCNA. As professionals in the networking field, please could you provide advice on a networking certificate that will give me a leg up? While studying at university, Cisco was God in the networking program. I have never used an alternative company.
As a first step toward an IT career, you are on the right path for now and in the current climate. The CCNA program will give you a good grounding in some basics and prepare you for a long-term career.
Today Cisco remains the ‘big dog’ in data networking and you are much more likely to get your first few jobs with a Cisco certification on your resume. So you are making the right choice right now.
In the years ahead, however, I doubt Cisco certifications will be as dominant. I have abandoned my own Cisco certifications so I can spend time on new skills like GCP/AWS, Linux, and programming.
My advice is that you should learn as much as possible whenever you can. You will be learning new technology for the rest of your career. Your CCNA is just first step on that path and you will have many more things to learn in the future; the majority of them will not have a curriculum and test.
For example, learning Linux is not taught in 40 hours of classroom time and some extra hours of self-study.
In terms of a university education, Cisco has spent large sums to provide course resources for teachers and institutions. This saves money and makes it easy for educational institutions to deliver a course with a recognized source.
Of course, Cisco gets a bunch of graduates who will be keen to use what they have learned, which is good for selling more Cisco products. (In psychology terms this is called exposure bias: you like what you know).
At the same time, the market is changing and Cisco isn’t growing with it. Public cloud networking is being led by AWS/GCP/Azure. There is security and monitoring where Cisco is not a leader. That’s not a negative, it’s a reality. Keep an eye on what is happening in the market and adapt your career. Change direction as needed.
If you are surrounded by Cisco technologies and career choices based on Cisco, then go with it. Cisco is successful company and has large footprint in the enterprise. You could have a strong career just following that path for many years. Be wise and evaluate your choices on a regular basis.
Remember: The goal is to earn money so that you can live your life. It doesn’t really matter which brand of technology you use; it is networking that will keep you employed for several decades.
It’s highly likely that you will change employers every few years. Your skills must be portable to make the transition regularly.