Cisco is roughly fifty percent of the networking market, making it a watering hole of certifications for IT professionals. In this post, I am going to run through my Cisco experience. Regardless of if you’re a networking veteran or a networking newcomer. I hope that this post delights you. A quick detour, Something Ventured on Netflix, covers Cisco’s cinematic start. Just in case you were wondering how this giant was hatched.

I digress, I started my Cisco journey when I was getting my associates degree in networking. I took all four of the available CCNA courses in my last year. Many out there will agree with me that CCNA is one of the most difficult Cisco certifications. The CCNA is difficult because all the Cisco proprietary content is new to you, and you must spend time practicing on labs.

I took my ICND1 two months after graduating, just because I was fried from going to school full time for a year, getting CompTIA certs, and working. I took those two months to work on a bucket list and to look for a job. I passed my ICND1, but when I started studying for the ICND2 again, Cisco was about to update the cert. I was not in the mood to read more CCNA books, so I signed up to take the CCNA the last day that version two was available. I am ashamed to say that I failed that attempt, and I had to get the new material for version 3.

I punished myself and got two sets of books and three online courses. I used Todd Lammle’s book and the Cisco Press book. For the videos I used Udemy; Chris Bryan, Laz Diaz, and Matt Carey’s courses. Passing the ICND2 felt like if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I mean how lazy would I look if I had the schools Cisco certification with no official Cisco cert.

ICND 1 vs ICND 2

Next, I am going to answer a common question that I get from future networking folks. Is it better to divide the CCNA into two tests or take the big kahuna?  Personally, I took the separate tests, but I will list the non-bias pros and cons of each. It does not matter which route you choose the end game is the same, conquering the gatekeeper of networking the covenanted CCNA.

Taking the ICND1 and ICND2 will give one less material to focus on. If you look at the objectives, the first half will be the IOS basics, layer two, and layer three fundamentals. If you have a busy schedule, you can take advantage of this and pluck low hanging fruit. Truth be told there is a yin and yang relationship here. The first half is extremely easy, but the second half is a doozy. This is where Cisco gets into routing protocols and real troubleshooting. Since you are taking two tests, the questions will be more granular (cough cough HSRP).

Taking the composite will cover the whole spectrum that is the CCNA. You will have more content to remember going this route, so you must make sure that you study the ICND2 material while you regularly review the basics. Math would say that fifty percent of the questions should be taken from the ICND1, but it is Cisco so that number might be a bit skewed. The logic for going this route would be that you will get fewer questions with a good portion of them being easy pickings.

Do not let other people pick which route you take. The most important thing is that you are comfortable with your decision. That way you can walk into that testing center with confidence and own that test.

Affordable CCNA Resources 

If you are considering paying for school or a boot camp this next section is for you.

You, “Hello I would like to sign up for a CCNA boot camp.”

Sales representative, “Sure thing that will cost you one-thousand-dollars and your soul.”

“Huh, I’ll have to call you back I have tamale’s in the oven,” click.

I am going to review my three favorite resources for the CCNA. The first is Todd Lammle. His book is one of those few IT books that will not put you to sleep after ten pages of reading. Lammle does a fantastic job of explaining networking in layman’s terms so that you can build a strong foundation. Todd then uses that foundational metaphor to illustrate the more granular content. I took four CCNA classes at school, and there were a few subjects that were just not sticking, but when I read his book, I saw the light. He has videos too, but at the time I was too cheap to buy them, Udemy is a great substitute.

Lazaro Diaz on Udemy is the best resource for the ICND1 that you will find period. For the second half of the CCNA Laz is a good starter. His 200-125 course is around $12 when there is a sale, so you might as well watch his ICND2 videos as a prerequisite to Chris Bryant’s. Chris, is the man with the bytes, excuse my bad pun. Bryant calls his students bulldogs, and he also teaches the CCNA Security and CCNP on Udemy. If you care about your future job as a network engineer, you will go through Chris’s videos. I have even found myself pulling them out as a reference a few times at work. Ha-ha don’t laugh it was the last two hours of a long night shift, and my body had already started going into hibernate mode. Chris gets just as granular as a Cisco Press book, but his Virginian charisma makes the content more digestible, and the occasional joke will keep you engaged.

So how much will all this run you?

Todd Lammle $30.60

Lazaro Diaz    $12

Chris Bryant   $12

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Total $54.60

CCNP and CCDP, how to hit 2 birds with 4 stones instead of 6

Now that you have your CCNA, you want to be a networking professional, be on call and have two phones. Therefore, you are considering going for the CCNP. Here is why you should consider getting two professional grade certifications. The Switch and Route exams are the same ones for both the CCDP and CCNP. The only difference is that the CCNP has the TShoot as the third test, and the CCDP has the Architect. Before you can take the Arch, you must have the CCDA which is not half bad. The CCDP can be used to renew your CCNP, get a raise, or pivot careers. The CCDA is just a collection of the first few chapters of a few of the other associate-level certifications; voice, data center, wireless, and security. If you wear multiple hats at work, this cert will make you a rock star. Excellent material for the CCDA is the Cisco Press book and CBT Nuggets.

For the Arch, the only suitable material that I could find was CBT Nuggets and the Cisco Press book again. For the CCNP, there are many resources out there, so that you can get multiple perspectives on those problematic subjects. Of course, you have the three Cisco Press books the Switch, Route, and TShoot. Luckily Chris Bryant has books for the Switch and Route. Being the most challenging cert that I have yet to study for, I got a third set of books. Rene Molenaar has books for the Switch, Route, and TShoot. Rene’s books are for an older version of the test, but they still cover about 80% of the material for the current version. The only reason that I am recommending this author is that he reminded me of Todd Lammle’s writing style; yes, a human wrote these books. For videos, I am using Chris Bryant and Lazaro Diaz on Udemy.com. If I struggle to understand something I will watch a few short YouTube videos on it.

Studying For Cisco Certifications

If you hate caring around giant certification books as much as I do you can use this site, https://www.safaribooksonline.com/. It is a subscription-based model that lets you pay $39 for one month or $399 for a year. Saving you about two months’ worth of money. Safari Books has all the latest books that you will need for mostly every IT certification out there. It is browser-based, and they also have a mobile app. Certification books become absolute when the new version is rolled out. While we are on the topic of being useful, you don’t want to be that one person at work that just cheated to get their certifications and doesn’t understand anything. Trust me you will stand out and not in a good way either.

To that respect, putting in lab time is what will make or break one’s networking career. Your first option is the Packet Tracer. If you go through Netacad, you can get access to it with all the labs. This emulator was easy to use and a great way of visually seeing the data flow in a network. The only downside to this tool is that it only houses a few devices, IOS’s, and commands. Making it only useful for the CCNA.

If you want to be a heavy hitter, you will get GNS3. This simulator lets one upload their own IOS files, making your lab as realistic as it can get. GNS3 is not as easy to set up as the Packet Tracer, but it is well worth the struggle and time invested. I used David Bombal’s course on Udemy, to set mine up. You can also use YouTube.

The last piece of the certification puzzle is practice test. I paid for Boson once, and it was not worth it. What I would recommend is to use the questions provided in your books. Cisco press books always come with test simulators. Instead of using the answers in the back of the book or simulator. What I would like you to do is Google each question. Research has shown that when a person is actively searching for information, they remember it better; because you will build more neural connections. Through your five senses and the act of yearning for something and finding it. If you end up at a thirty-page cisco document use, Control + F/Command + F on your keyboard, and only read the few relevant paragraphs. I just started doing this for my CCNP, and it significantly improved my recollection. For more study tips like these feel free to check out my How to Study for IT Certifications course, to the right of the screen.

A networking career through Cisco can be gratifying. When you get your first networking job, you can expect around 60k a year depending on where you live. Unless you get an entry-level NOC job that pays around 40k a year. From here depending on your certs, experience, and how well you market yourself, you can make up to 150k a year. Many of us do not require that much to live comfortably. The real joy of networking comes from troubleshooting, engineering, or designing, and proving your technical chops. Networking is like playing chess or solving a puzzle. I have heard others say that it feels like a video game to them with devices, cables, and commands. If this sounds like your cup of tea, what are you waiting for join the dark side? Ha-ha, what I meant to say is start working on your certs and researching the local job market. A rewarding networking career awaits you.