Certification and experience are great ways of showing an employer you're motivated and comfortable with a body of knowledge. But vendors and organizations offer so many certification options it's sometimes difficult to know where to turn when you're ready to take the next step.
This article discusses six networking certifications. It begins with two fundamental certifications that lay a strong foundation every administrator should have. It then explores certifications that are more specialized or oriented to particular products. Note: All costs are specific to the time of writing. Don't forget to consider Department of Defense (DOD) 8570 requirements for any job roles you pursue via these certifications.
1. CompTIA Network+
The CompTIA Network+ certification is a longtime standard. CompTIA is notable as a vendor-agnostic certification body. Download the objectives for free, but the topic highlights include IP addressing, the TCP/IP stack, network devices and media, general cloud and security concepts, and more.
Certification name: CompTIA Network+ (N10-008)
Objectives/skills: Network foundations, security, operations, implementation and troubleshooting
Prerequisites/recommended experience: CompTIA A+ certification and nine to 12 months of networking experience
DOD 8570: Level 1
Likely job roles for certified CompTIA Network+ candidates include networking team members, those looking to move up on or from the help desk and entry-level network administrators. Sys admins benefit from more networking knowledge, too.
After Network+, consider CompTIA's Security+, Server+ or Linux+ certifications.
Recertification requirements: CompTIA Network+ certification is valid for three years from the date you pass, and you may renew it via continuing education (CE) credits.
Recommended training: You may choose from various course formats to cover the objectives of the CompTIA Network+ certification exam. Some academic institutions include the content as part of their curriculum, or third-party training providers offer five-day intensive sessions. CompTIA also offers training opportunities, so be sure to investigate its options. Finally, self-study is a valid choice, too.
Cisco needs no introduction to the networking world. As one of the premier network device vendors, Cisco's certification track emphasizes its own products but delivers a solid understanding of network essentials. Details on TCP/IP packets, switch and router configurations, security, automation and more make this a well-recognized credential.
Certification name: Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) (200-301)
Objectives/skills: Cisco network fundamentals, access, security, automation/programmability, IP connectivity and IP services
Prerequisites: None, 1+ years of experience with Cisco products recommended
DOD 8570: Level 1 (CCNA Security only)
Network administrators -- especially those managing Cisco-based networks -- can learn a lot from the CCNA content. From there, consider additional Cisco certifications around security, collaboration, CyberOps and other topics. Possible job roles for CCNA-certified individuals include help desk technicians, entry-level network engineers, network support technicians and network administrators.
Recertification requirements: The CCNA certification is valid for three years from the date you pass. You may renew via CE credits or by passing an authorized exam -- usually, a more advanced exam related to Cisco networking.
Recommended training: Cisco offers various training options, including in-person and online training, self-study materials and online resources. Third-party vendors also provide training. One consideration is the certification exam is centered on Cisco products, so access to physical or virtual Cisco network equipment is essential.
Once you have a command of the basics, such as TCP/IP protocols and network services, you might opt to specialize. This is particularly true if your company focuses on a particular vendor, such as Juniper Networks or SolarWinds. However, more generic bodies of knowledge, such as troubleshooting with Wireshark or managing wireless networks, are also important. Consider supplementing CompTIA Network+ and CCNA certifications with the following choices.
3. Juniper Networks certifications
Juniper Networks provides essential network components worldwide, and its JNCIA certification proves a holder's knowledge of the basic configuration and troubleshooting aspects of its products.
Juniper's certifications are divided first by topic into areas like cloud, security, data center, etc. Each topic area is then divided by a level of knowledge: Associate, Specialist, Professional and Expert. The JNCIA-Junos certification kicks off the Enterprise Routing and Switching track. It covers network fundamentals and the basics of Junos OS, Juniper's Berkeley Software Distribution-based network OS.
Certification name: JNCIA-Junos (JN0-104)
Provider: Juniper Networks
Objectives/skills: Networking fundamentals, Junos OS fundamentals, UIs, configuration basics, operational monitoring and maintenance, routing fundamentals, routing policies and firewalls
Network professionals who work with Juniper products regularly will benefit from the vendor-specific knowledge covered in training and the certification exam.
Recertification requirements: Jupiter's certifications are valid for three years and may be renewed by passing a higher-level Juniper exam.
Recommended training: Juniper offers live, instructor-led online training. Review the schedule online. On-demand training options are also available, as is a combination of the two.
4. CWNA wireless certification
Wireless networking is a way of life for many organizations. From hospitals to schools to business parks and beyond, wireless networks support our workstations, laptops, tablets, phones, printers and more. Much of the focus is on wireless security, but there's more to cable-free networking, including proper site design, radio transmission, architecture and troubleshooting.
Below are the relevant details for the Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) certification. Note that the Certified Wireless Network Professionals (CWNP) organization offers various introductory and advanced certifications. The CWNA certification will refresh in September 2023.
Certification name: Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA-108)
Provider: Certified Wireless Network Professionals
Objectives/skills: Radio frequency technologies, wireless LAN hardware and software, security, troubleshooting, site surveys and others
Level: Administrator (intermediate)
Wireless networking is everywhere, and larger organizations need technicians and administrators to manage security, coverage and design needs. The CWNA certification provides this skill set, making it an interesting and valuable option that can help differentiate you from job-hunting competitors.
Recertification requirements: CWNA certification is valid for three years. Repeat the exam -- probably a newer version -- or a more advanced CWNP exam to renew it.
Recommended training: You can prepare for the CWNA certification exam via official self-study materials or in-person training offered by the CWNP organization.
5. Wireshark certification
Wireshark is probably the most ubiquitous packet sniffer -- I mean, protocol analyzer -- out there. It is an incredible network troubleshooting and security tool. While it's fairly simple to grab a basic capture and filter the results, that capability barely skims the surface of what Wireshark is capable of.
Wireshark can follow streams, analyze specific communications -- Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, DNS, Address Resolution Protocol, etc. -- provide network performance baselining, aid in forensics, handle VoIP and more. The WCNA Certification -- formerly Wireshark Certified Network Analyst -- is compliant with DOD 8570, a critical factor for many government and enterprise employers.
Certification name: WCNA Certification (WCNA-200)
Provider: WCNA Certification
Objectives/skills: Wireshark functionality, TCP/IP network communications, network troubleshooting and network security
Prerequisites: Strong familiarity with IP networking and protocols
DOD 8570: Yes
Anyone from help desk technicians to network support personnel to network administrators can benefit from the detailed information Wireshark provides about whatever is moving across the network. Though Wireshark is often presented as a security tool, it's much more, and network troubleshooters can learn a great deal from its output.
Recertification requirements: The WCNA Certification is valid for three years and does not require CE credits. To update your certification, pass the Wireshark recertification exam.
Recommended training: Learning options include various books, online training resources and live classroom training. Hands-on experience is critical for this certification, so be sure to use Wireshark.
6. SolarWinds certifications
The SolarWinds Certified Professional program provides expertise across the wide range of SolarWinds products. These products cover performance monitoring, automation, network traffic analysis, architecture and design, and more.
For general networking, I suggest the Network Performance Monitor (NPM) certification. It covers Simple Network Management Protocol monitoring, cloud services, Orion Platform, hardware monitoring and more. Orion Platform centralizes the management of SolarWinds products in an organization.
Certification name: SolarWinds Certified Professional, Network Performance Monitor (NPM)
Objectives/skills: Varies depending on the certification
Administrators who regularly use SolarWinds products to manage network services, servers and nodes will benefit from knowing how to get the most out of these tools. SolarWinds offers a broad range of products, and many enterprises rely on administrators who can manage devices using these utilities.
Recertification requirements: The SolarWinds Certified Professional certification is valid for three years, and candidates must retest for recertification.
Recommended training: SolarWinds offers some interesting learning options. Product documentation, virtual classrooms, e-learning and lab opportunities are standard, but SolarWinds also has an active online THWACK community.
Whether you're beginning your network certification journey or looking to move up to more advanced offerings, this list of certifications will help you decide your next best step. From security to performance, networking is a critical function. Show your knowledge and experience by including certifications for the job roles you want.