I first acquired a Cisco certification back in 2004, and have held a professional level certification since 2014.
As I mentioned when interviewed for The Art of Network Engineering podcast, I wouldn’t have got into networking or IT for that matter without the Cisco Networking Academy which I completed in high school. Being Cisco certified has allowed me to forge a career and progress through roles with having them. I learned a significant amount of knowledge, and will look fondly upon doing some of the exams like the old TSHOOT exam.
But both myself and the industry has changed during the period since my first certification.
Where’s the industry at now?
The current networking landscape and it’s breadth is significantly larger and more complex compared to when I started my networking journey. The amount of network vendors and constructs has resulted in Cisco losing its market share and control over the network industry.
As a result, holding a Cisco certification has less gravitas than it once did. One has to question, whether making a time or financial investment in Cisco networking certifications are going to give you that return on that investment.
The last Cisco certification I gained was the Cisco Certified DevNet Associate in early 2021. I thought that the exam was fair in terms of assessing your knowledge of the topics.
I was disappointed, but not surprised to see a disproportionate amount of Cisco product focused automation knowledge which had to be learned in order to pass the exam. In my view, this time could have been better allocated more generalised concepts like data modelling, data validation, inventory management and other concepts transferrable across their journey as a practitioner.
Cisco isn’t alone in promoting products through certifications, and I’m not naive to think it will change for them or other certification providers, which gets us to the topic of certifications.
What are we trying to achieve with certifications?
I’ve thought about this topic for some time, it’s clear that there are three parties involved in the certification ecosystem:
- Certification provider
Starting with certification providers, they provide certifications as a way to provide mutually agreed verification of an individual skills at a point in time. They’re created and promoted to perform the following:
- Improve the understanding of a providers products or services
- Improve the practical skills in operating the providers products or services
- Improve the perceived legitimacy of the provider to potential companies.
- Provide a pipeline of potential workers for companies to evaluate their technical acumen regarding a product or service
- Motivate increased sales of products/services through partner certification levels
It’s important to understand that while we think certification providers are altruistic in providing “agnostic” skilled certifications, in reality this is more a happy accident than anything intentional.
Their goal is to remove reasons for adopting their products and services, so they can sell more product. Sorry my certification provider friends!
Companies rely upon certifications for varied reasons and some are provided below:
- An third-party verification of a potential employees skills, used to either augment or replace performing technical due diligence on the potential employee
- An initial method of vetting out potential employees in the application or shortlisting process
- A tiebreaker between two similar potential employees in the interview process
- An indicator of a companies legitimacy or maturity in a particular field during the procurement process
- An arbitrary way to measure personal development during an employees time at a company
This leaves us with the individuals, who use certifications some or all of the following reasons:
- A third-party verification of their skills, to current or future employers
- A bargaining tool for increased remuneration or benefits for current or future employers
- A structured way to learn a product or service, and increase their technical and operational skills
- An indicator to measure up someone’s initial technical skills, or display their skills to fellow colleagues
Although the list isn’t exhaustive, you can see that the motivations for each party overlap in some areas and not in others.
What should also be clear from this list is that certification providers, companies and individuals can all achieve their goals without certifications.
However, this is current status quo and a happy medium for all involved. I’m not saying that certifications are dead, and I can understand that their need within the IT ecosystem, but I think we should regularly question what we’re trying to achieve with relying upon them.
Where am I at now?
These days, apart from personal lab experiments, the days of using my Cisco skills are few and far between. When I do need them, the muscle memory kicks in, or I can fill in the gaps using search engines. If I’m being realistic about my future, I don’t see that being in a Cisco-specific or network-only role.
Over the last four years, I have had to build some automation solutions for which their hasn’t even been a book on the matter, let alone a certification. I acknowledge that this would be difficult to validate without a third-party to verify. As I move more into software development and automation, there is less working from a certification exam guide and more usage of principles to design and implement solutions.
Naturally, this will lead to having a portfolio of work, rather than any one or two certifications. I can see this being an issue for others like myself, particularly when trying to convey the skills and value you bring to others.
The software field is more abstract, and requires a more interactive assessment of peoples skill sets.
Recently, I have designing and building out infrastructure constructs using Pulumi with Python. Pulumi doesn’t have a certification program, however some of the concepts from my previous experience in Terraform have allowed me to adopt the technology relatively quickly and build out some tooling for my wider team. I believe it’s a well thought out alternative and is an example of an ecosystem doing well without a certification program.
For a variety of reasons in the post above, I am choosing to go CCNP emeritus. Most of the reasoning is about my future intentions, but hopefully you’ve read all the way to the end before forming an opinion either way.
Finally, I am aware that CCNP emeritus isn’t a real thing, but a good clickbait title never hurt anyone!