This post sat in my drafts folder for awhile – so please keep that in mind when reading it. Sorry about that!
I finally got around to it and took my Cisco Certified Network Associate exam (CCNA from here on out). I did this for quite a few reasons, which I’ll dive into later. Right now, I would like to use this article as a “review” of the exam, some prep work I did and final thoughts on it!
DISCLAIMER: This is not a cheat, braindump, howto pass, etc…. and all details here are completely available from Cisco. Also, I will be ahering to the NDA that all Cisco test takers agree to.
Now let’s get to it! First and foremost, the test I took has been replaced. I took the 640-802 and just made the window which I believe closed or is closing at the end of this month (at the time of this writing – October). This review, albeit brief, will cover that version of the exam.
To sum it up, the exam was quite difficult! I’m not by nature a network engineer but I do quite a bit of work with routers and switches and wan links, vpns, etc… you name it. Its just the nature of my job – I wear a ton of hats! So, as you might guess, it just made sense to add this cert to my resume (as a added bonus, like many certs, it is accepted as college credit so take that for whats its worth). I started studying about 3 months in advance with the basics: books, online references, and forums. And like many advanced certs, I did end up building a lab for this. Now, I built my lab with the idea that I’m going to pursue my CCNP and possibly my CCIE (stretching here folks; again I’m not by nature a network engineer so that’s more of a long term career thought I’ve had – more on that later) so my lab was a bit more expensive then the eBay kits but comparable to the equipment in those. If you don’t have access to the resources to get cheap hardware, eBay is your friend (their CCNA kits fit the bill – here is a example of one). Finally I used GNS3 as well (it’s quite a hog on resources so make sure your computer can handle it). If you plan to stop at the CCNA, use that, otherwise stick with the hardware kits – nothing beats hands on physical hardware, IMHO.
Of all the resources I used, to be honest, the books were the most disappointing. The books are so broad and cover so much on each topic that you get lost in the details. To be frank, they are better off as references for your future in networking then study material. The resource I found was the videos and material from CBT Nuggets. If you can afford (or your employer can) to swing those videos, they are worth it! Jeremy Cioara is a great educator, delivers the goods and his notes are great!
Finally, the exam. The exam itself was hard, no doubt, BUT not unreasonable. The questions were fair, no trickery or weird wording, and covered all of the topics I had read or reviewed or knew about from hands on experience (in other words, it’s very connected to real world experience). I used the official Cisco guide (located on their exam site) to know what to study for – and the exam follows it to a “T”. You do have some breathing room during the exam, but not much. I think when I worked it out, it’s something like 2.5 min per question or something like that – so be sure you are ready for this exam! Real world experience is going to help you out here but hands on time with the routers and switches in the kits above helped a great deal too (not everyone has access to a frame or MPLS links to play with). Overall the exam was quite fair and challenging and I walked out of there really contemplating my next steps with Cisco.
To be honest – I got the CCNA because my cert list covers darn near all aspects of my IT career and I felt that a piece missing was networking. While I do enjoy networking, I don’t know that I could see it being a full time function. I enjoy security and open source platforms much more and find those to be fascinating enough. That being said, I think anyone in the IT field that touches many aspects of IT, could benefit from rounding themselves out with a networking cert – be it network+ or the CCENT (step down from the CCNA). Networking seems to be a dark art that most admins avoid (much like programming, which is slowly being erased with the introduction of DevOps fundamentals). So, if nothing else, it rounds out my cert list for potential employers and validates my own personal curiosity about my ability to function as a network engineer (even if it’s not at a in depth level – I can still work with them and understand the issue(s) at hand better because of it). Does this mean that I won’t pursue a in depth path of networking like the CCIE? No – it simply means at this time I’m going to continue down my current path and know that the option is there should the need arise. In the rapidly changing IT world, it never hurts to have options, believe me.
And that’s about it on the CCNA – since I have checked and my version of the exam has been shelved, there isn’t much reason to go over the number of questions, time line, etc…. though I will say this – and it hasn’t changed so far as I know – Be Sure You Are Ready. The reason I say that during the exam, you CANNOT review your question – once you select a answer and move on to the next question – THAT’S IT, no more review for that question! This adds a level of difficulty to the exam that was previously unexpected so, again, know your stuff! Good luck and let me know your thoughts on the exam!