Value of Cisco Certifications: Making Money Vs. Study
Imagine that you see a Tweet today inviting you to apply for a part-time networking job, something you can do in addition to your normal job. You appear to be qualified for the job, and the work looks interesting as well. However, it requires enough of your time so that you would have to set aside your current professional development plans, including study for that next Cisco certification. The job lasts one year.
Would you take the job, setting aside your certification plans for a year? How much money would you need to make in that job before it would entice you to abandon your learning and certification plans for a year?
This post works through a couple of ideas (like the above) about how to quantify the value of a certification. Many people expect that more skills and certifications will give them more salary and better options after they get the certifications. But how can we quantify the value of a certification now, before you spend the time and effort? Quantifying the value up front would be a little more useful, allowing us to each make a more informed decision about whether to pursue a cert or not.
And for a bit of context… this post is my first guest blog post with Cisco as part of the Cisco Champions program. I spend a lot of work hours thinking about how to help people learn about Cisco technology. And lately I’ve had a few conversations about the value of Cisco certifications. Putting all those facts together, this forum seemed like a good place to throw out something a little off the wall, see what people find useful, with a little different way to look at the value of Cisco certifications. Hope you find it interesting.
For this post, I’ve noted two ways to quantify the value of a certification by focusing on the value of the labor spent to study for a certification.
Valuation 1: One-Year Part Time Job Vs. Cert Study
The first paragraph of this blog post set the stage for the first way to value a certification. Basically, you have to choose between an appealing part-time job and studying for your next certification(s). You set a value on the certification by deciding how much that job would have to pay to make you choose the job over the study.
To proceed, do an exercise in introspection, with these rules:
- You will between two options, both of which last 1 year: work an extra part-time job, or study towards passing Cisco certs.
- Both the job and the study options require the same amount of time each week – that is, the two competing options are equal in regards to time (labor).
- You can choose the number of hours/week (write down this number).
- You cannot split time between study and work.
- The work content does not overlap with your certification goals. That is, the job does not give you on-the-job training to help with your cert. Why? Just to keep this exercise as an either/or exercise.
- The work is interesting and you are qualified.
To begin, pick how many hours a week you would realistically spend studying. That’s really up to you. Anyone who starts studying for a certification ought to commit to some number of hours per week. Call it X.
Next, note the certification(s) you would pursue in the next year. Most people value some certifications more than others, so to make this a useful exercise, write down the cert(s) you think you could achieve in one year of study at X hours/week.
Finally, compare the two options (work vs. study). How much money do you need to make per hour to make you choose the job instead of studying for that next certification? For instance, if you would choose to study if the job paid $10/hour, but you would choose the job if it paid $20/hour, somewhere between $10 and $20 is the dividing line. What’s that number for you?
For example, if Fred was studying for CCNA R/S, and could devote 10 hours/week to that study, but he was really psyched about getting his CCNA R/S, he might post something like: “I’d work 10 hours/week, but I would need at least $100/hour to forego my CCNA R/S studies.” His Buddy Barney who is less motivated, and might prefer a fun job, might tweet “I’d take the job (at the bowling alley) for 10 hours a week at $10/hour instead of studying for CCNA, for sure”.
By the way, that’s a literal question. Write it down, post your thoughts, and include X (hours per week), pay rate, and the cert you would forego if you took that job at that rate. Post here, or just tweet it with #CiscoChampion at the end (or to me at @WendellOdom), and I’ll see it.
Background: Time Spent Studying
Before discussing a second way to put a value on a Cisco certification, I need to lay a little groundwork. To do that, let’s drill down a bit on a fictitious hopeful networker named Fred. Like many folks getting started, Fred has excitement and energy about starting out in networking, and sets his goals high, planning to run straight through the Routing/Switching track, as shown in Figure 1:
Figure 1: Cisco Routing and Switching Certification Track
Like many people just starting out, Fred has questions, like how much time and effort these exams will require. Without getting into why/wherefore here, Figure 2 shows some estimates of the total study time required to pass each certification, as shown in Figure 2. (Note that I’ve combined CCENT and CCNA R/S study into one category, just to align more clearly with the upcoming discussion.)
Figure 2: Additional Study Hours Per R/S Certification
To be clear, here’s a little explanation of the figure:
- Starting with no Cisco certifications, I estimate about 250 hours of study to achieve CCNA R/S.
- After getting CCNA R/S, the additional study time to achieve CCNP R/S is 450 hours.
- After getting CCNP R/S, the additional study time to achieve CCIE R/S is 1000 hours.
So, to march through these certifications takes a total 1700 hours of study.
Yes, feel free to comment away at my estimates! While these estimates are not the purpose of this post, they’re here, so feel free to comment. I know you have an opinion. For the purpose of this post, we need a reasonable number to start, so we’ll use the numbers in Figure 2. Your mileage will vary.
Valuation 2: Value of Study Time
What is the value of those estimate 1700 hours of study from having no Cisco knowledge to getting a CCIE? Not the value once you achieve CCIE, but what’s the value of that time? That’s the question that this next method attempts to answer to give us another value to put a value on Cisco certifications.
This method uses a few contrived scenarios that let us include part-time job income as a way to put a numeric value on a certification. To study for a Cisco certification means that you take time away from some other part of your life. It’s hard to quantify the value of spending time with family and friends versus spending that time studying. However, if we again compare that study time to working a part-time job, we can quantify the value a little better. What’s the opportunity cost, in lost wages, if instead of studying you spent that same time working a part-time job?
This next method quantifies the value of a cert by looking at the entire CCENT through CCIE R/S track, based on that estimated 1700 hours of effort. It revolves around this question:
How much money could you make by working some part-time job instead of studying?
That’s a simple question if you compare only two options: working all 1700 hours versus studying 1700 hours (and getting your CCIE R/S at the end). But it’s also interesting to compare the person who gets CCNA R/S and then stops, or the person who gets CCNP R/S and then stops, to the person who gets their CCIE R/S.
For this exercise, instead of asking you to choose the numbers, I’ve made up some numbers for four scenarios using four workers. All four workers devote 1700 hours to their combined study and work effort (because my estimates total 1700 hours of study to go from CCENT to CCIE R/S). Each worker must transition to a part-time job when they quit their certification study. In the end, each of the four workers has a different certification level, with a different amount of money earned, but all four have labored for 1700 hours.
Finally, one last twist: the lesser the certification lever, the less pay in the part time job, at least in the numbers I choose to use. You can repeat the math with your own assumptions.
Summarizing the four scenarios:
- Worker 1 only works; gets no certification; makes $10/hour.
- Worker 2 gets a CCNA R/S and then works; makes $20/hour.
- Worker 3 gets a CCNP R/S and then works; makes $40/hour.
- Worker 4 gets a CCIE R/S but only studies.
Figure 3 shows the end result: the ending certification, and the total wages earned over that timeframe:
Figure 3: Opportunity Cost of Study Labor
Now pick any two workers, and compare them for your own goals. Which worker would you prefer to be? Some examples:
- Worker 2 versus 4: Would you prefer to have a CCNA R/S with $29,000 extra cash, or a CCIE R/S and no extra money?
- Worker 1 versus 3: Would you prefer to have no certification and $17,000, or CCNP R/S and $40,000 cash?
- Worker 3 versus 4: Or the toughest choice: would you prefer to have a CCNP R/S and $40,000, or a CCIE R/S and no cash?
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that anyone would go out and follow the plan of getting a cert and then getting a part time job. It’s just a mechanism to put a value on the time you spend. If four people spent 1700 of their precious time, away from the more fun parts of life, where would you want to land? Which of those workers would you choose to be?
And if you like the mechanism but don’t like my assumptions for time spent studying and pay rates, feel free to change the assumptions for yourself. (I’d be curious as to what/why you choose your numbers, so post away!)
In all my years writing books and blogs about Cisco certifications, I’ve never written about this particular perspective on the value of Cisco certifications. These mechanisms don’t attempt to give some sort of absolute value of a certification, but rather one objective comparison that might help you choose. I’d love to hear your thoughts about these tools – good or bad. And if you work through that first exercise, do let me know what the hours/week, rate, and cert that you chose. Thanks for reading!