You passed CCNA! What now?

You passed CCNA! What now?
Photo by Tamas Tuzes-Katai / Unsplash

After receiving my CCNA and following up with the JNCIA certification, the next steps in my professional development as a network engineer have been anything but clear. In that I immensely enjoyed my Juniper studies, I initially thought the most natural next focus should be the JNCIS-ENT. But then there is always that interest in Ansible automation to keep tracking down. And don’t forget the next-level Cisco certification(s). Yes, there are multiple certifications paths within the professional level of Cisco certifications, some that have overlap and others that are much more niche. 

The CCNA is a great starting point, but without some real, hands-on experience, it is difficult to make much forward movement in continuing the education. Some of the best advice ever given to me was to stop digging many shallow pits and focus on plumbing the depths of a real well, lest I have nothing to return to when things dry up. Yet there is merit to the scatterplot approach in some regards. But those regards are on the foundational level where CCNA lives; the professional requires much more focused study for preparation.

If you are in search of what to study next, you could just “do what everyone else is doing” and get your ENCORE and ENARSI exams behind you as fast as possible and presto, change-o, congratulations, you are CCNP certified. Which is great if you are 100% certain you plan to work in the enterprise network engineering arena and are willing to compete with the masses for a position. But if you have any curiosity about the data center or the internet service provider tracks, you will need to pursue other exams and certifications. 

For information, should you need it, the CCNA can be earned after passing a single exam, however Cisco’s professional certifications demand a core proficiency exam and a specialty exam. Cisco market the exam structure as “1+1=CCNP.” Personally, I think that’s a great way to allow for differently talented individuals to shine their own particular skills and interests as it is applied to the daily work of a network engineer. 

The trouble comes in not having practical experience while still wanting to charge forward toward professional certification. It is difficult to know without a doubt which exam to prepare for. You could always take the Pokémon approach and try to “catch them all,” but that would get expensive in both actual dollars for the prep materials and exams as well as the time spent mastering the concepts. Knowing that there are multiple tests to get ready for and pass, you’ll want to just jump in and get some traction. The “spoilt for choice” feeling is much more the German sense of the same “Qual der Wahl” or “the agony of (too much) choice.”

There are so many ways to approach the question of “what’s next” and all of them are great. It can be a bit overwhelming without this link on Cisco’s website that I found most helpful. 

Where I was initially following the advice of a trusted friend and preparing for the 300-420 ENSLD exam, it wasn’t until the chart in the linked PDF revealed a particular overlap that I finally decided on the 300-435 ENAUTO exam as my next certification. More on that in a bit. 

The ENSLD is a solid choice for network engineers to answer a few lingering questions from CCNA in regard to network design. In the limited time spent evaluating the ENSLD, my appetite was stoked to learn more of “basics” and how to really, truly manipulate them to bend a network to my will. I will likely revisit ENSLD at a later point.

I want to be clear in that the ENAUTO has a reputation as a particularly difficult exam to pass do to the nature of its focus on network automation, but it was with automation in mind that my focus clarified.  The challenge is welcome, and I am looking forward to it. “We choose to go to moon…”? It was after all home automation that piqued my interest in network engineering to begin with. The overlap with the Cisco Certified DevNet Professional certification was the deciding factor for me. From what I understand, it is possible to couple the ENAUTO with the 350-901 DEVCOR exam, but taking it alongside the ENCORE as a more primary pathway to certification.

At some point in the next few posts, I want to mention the hurdles of getting ready to study the ENAUTO material. But for now I will leave you with the decision for my next course of study. If for nothing else, just putting it out there into the world before the eyes of others is enough to hold myself accountable to stay the course and drill deep the well of network automation. 

What is your next big step? Do you still need to gather the information necessary to make the decision? Need to get the books? Just announce your intentions to the world? Share it it in the comments below.