Why I Certify

March 17, 2014 - 7 Comments

I’m a addicted to certifications. I’ve always been good at taking tests, but I didn’t realize how rewarding it could be until relatively recently. I had been in IT for 15 years as a sysadmin and certification had never seemed valuable to me. In 2009, I made the shift from working primarily as a System Engineer to working primarily as a Network Engineer. In 2010, I had the opportunity to attend my first Cisco Live. Attendees of Cisco Live! have the option to take a certification exam for free, so I figured I would take the CCNA composite exam while I was there. I borrowed the Cisco CCNA Official Certification Library from a coworker (all 1500 pages or so) and proceeded to spend the months before the conference reading them. (I took an earlier version of the exam and read an earlier version of the books, but the links are to the current versions).

Career Certifications4

As a System Engineer, about 25% of my time was handling Network Engineer tasks, but I thought I was pretty knowledgable and skilled at the networking aspect of my position. Then I read the books. I learned a lot more from them than I thought I should have, given where I thought I was. With hindsight, I can tell you why. I knew my environment well. I knew the technologies and designs that I used, but I only knew the ones I used. When I began studying for the exam, I was learning new technologies and new ways of using the technologies I already knew. I also started learning how the technologies I thought I knew actually worked, instead of how I thought they worked. These discoveries resulted in an attitude change towards certification.

I hadn’t seen the value in certification before. I had done a few certs in the past, but they were online exams and I didn’t put much stock in them. I knew how to do my job, why did I need to spend money on an exam to prove it? I valued experience not certifications. But after I passed my CCNA exam I was psyched up. It was my first proctored exam, I knew it was challenging, and I had discovered some of the value in certification. It can validate your knowledge.

Then I discovered another value of certification; certification provides a clear path for continuing education. What do you do after you obtain your CCNA? You continue on to the next level and start studying for your CCNP. With the Cisco certifications, as you move from Associate, to Professional, and on to Expert, the depth of knowledge required increases. So when you upgrade to CCNP, you dive deeper into routing, switching, and troubleshooting and you take one exam devoted to each. The CCNP certification is a natural progression from the CCNA and provides a straight forward learning path. Since the Cisco certifications are broken up into areas of focus, such as routing and switching, wireless, and security, it provides you path for learning these areas and for advancing your skills in these areas.

As an aside, the exam for troubleshooting (TSHOOT) is my favorite Cisco exam. It’s fun! You should check out the demo if you haven’t looked at it before.

I’ve also discovered that pursuing certification can be personally rewarding. Taking and passing a challenging exam is very satisfying. I will say it’s more satisfying when you crush the exam than when you barely pass, but a pass is a pass. You are still certified and you can still move on to the next thing you want to learn. You receive a nice certificate you can put on the wall. It’s satisfying to receive your official certificate in the mail, especially if you’ve been working on it for a while. I frame mine and hang them in my office. I worked hard for them and I like seeing them there. It’s disappointing when you don’t pass, but then you know where you are weak. You can study a bit more and try again. In a way, it’s more satisfying to pass an exam that has previously beaten you. It’s a sort of redemption.

I pursue certification because I love to learn. I want to become more, to become better, to become the best. That is my drive. Certifications provide a convenient path to channel that desire. Anyone serious about IT as their profession must have this love of continuous learning. The industry moves far too quickly for you to sit on your laurels. Find what you are passionate about. Use certifications as a learning path. Maybe you are just starting and you really want to be a CCNP, or maybe even a CCIE. It’ll take a while, but you will eventually get there! Just keep at it. Even if you don’t want to pursue any certifications, keep learning! Keep studying!

If you aren’t constantly learning, you aren’t doing your job.

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  1. Well said Scott! I have exactly the same attitude towards learn and pursuing certifications. I have explained my reasoning to my peers on many occasions in hopes to inspire them to better themselves. Sadly the message sometimes does not make a dent and is met with a deaf ear. I went as far as to take and pass the 4 major CCNA exams (Network, Voice, Security & Wireless) just to get a broad knowledge base and to see which area I really wanted to pursue. I find I want to learn them all, but I decided to stay with Route/Switch for the time being. Even though I am a certified VoIP expert on another vendor’s product the networks that I deal with the most use Cisco and I find myself constantly reviewing router and switch configurations to support Enterprise level VoIP environments. Adding that skill to my technical arsenal has not made me a better voice engineer, but a much better overall engineer. Once I had knowledge of the network side of what possibly could be causing voice problems reduced downtime and helped me to offer alternative issues to explore in the network. That in itself is quite satisfying!

    Someone once told me “the more you learn, the more you earn” and I have found that is very true statement! Since I have attained my first Cisco CCNA certification I have seen my paycheck increase easily by 30%! There really are fringe benefits to continually learning and certifying! (Personal satisfaction notwithstanding.) I will take my first CCNP level exam (Switch 642-813) in late April and, if all goes well, hope to have my full CCNP certification by the end of October. Then I will see what other challenges I will pursue next.

    For those who wonder it it is worth the time and investment, I offer this to think about:

    If you invest in your career you are also investing in your future in more ways than you know.

  2. amazing post

  3. Nice post Scott.

    On SDN, who do you think is automating the network – some are certified professionals given the opportunity based on certifications.

    Even I’m doing it myself… It’s happening but if you don’t understand what’s going on under the sheets you probably won’t get invited to bed.

    On salary, a properly seasoned and certified CCNP can earn upwards of $120-150k plus these days base pay and say 15 per cent bonus etc as W-2 employee. I’d suppose CCIE’s earn better.

    Maybe a college graduate can earn that but a 3-7 year certified Cisco professional can still afford a nice vehicle if the drive is there. And does not mind working from his/her home office to get it.

    The job opportunities are literally endless. A CCNP can expect maybe 1-5 opportunities a day to cross his or her inbox and I can count the number of in-direct opportunities for a skilled and motivated professional. Pick and choose.

    Choosey certified professional certify with Cisco.

    Darby Weaver

  4. Anyone who is serious about being in IT needs to certify but more importantly needs to continuously learn. I ensure I put training and certification dollars into my budget so my team can pursue the training they require. I’m now in to management so certification is a lot less of a requirement for my me, it’s more personal growth and executive education.

    The only thing I will add from my experience getting certifications earlier on in my career is sometimes by the book isn’t the only solution. There is always more than one way to solve a problem and sometimes “by the book” isn’t always the best way from what I’ve learnt.

    Either way, to certify proves something not only to yourself but to your peers in the industry and future employers. You’re qualified 🙂 (just so long as your not a paper certified IT person)

  5. Not sure why you are so happy about your certifications… SDN will make them irrelevant in less than 1 year.

    • SDN technologies still utilize the underlying network and the need for knowledge of said network will never pass. Going forward, I think we can expect SDN technologies to be incorporated into IT certifications, including Cisco’s. The certifications aren’t really the goal. They are merely a milestone along the path. It’s the journey that is of value, the knowledge gained on the way, not the certification in and of itself.

  6. Great post Scott, very happy to see you diving into the certifications now! I hope you’ll enjoy using the Cisco Learning Network and the Premium content to go with it!