Many universities and colleges offer degrees in computer science, but IT managers know that these courses sometimes cover theoretical concepts instead of IT practices. Networking certifications tell IT managers that team members or potential applicants understand the basics of networking and how to apply them in practical IT environments.
Below are nine of the most valuable certificates to demonstrate mastery of IT networking skills. They will fall into two general categories: Vendor-agnostic and vendor-specific.
Only a few certifications cover a broad range of fundamental principles. Instead, most programs provide specialist certificates that demonstrate mastery of that specialty. Keep in mind that specialist certificates do not generally help in other specialities. For example, a certificate in wireless networking will not illustrate any competence in cloud networking.
Once a networking certificate is earned, it is important to keep it up to date. Many certificates require proof of ongoing education to prevent the certificate from expiring. When considering which certificate to pursue, these renewal requirements should be one of many factors to consider.
Vendor-agnostic Networking Certification
Vendor-agnostic networking certification programs cover basic theory and application of networking principles. The holder of the certificate will understand networking tasks independent of specific brands.
The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) provides vendor-neutral certification. The CompTIA Network+ certificate shows competence in the basic skills needed to establish, maintain, and troubleshoot networks.
This certificate is the broadest and most general certificate available and is often seen as the entry-level certificate for those starting out in the field. It can be used to apply to the broadest range of potential employment opportunities but cannot be used to show mastery of any specific sub-topic. To pursue Network+ certification, you should have an understanding of fundamental IT principles, but you do not need to have other certificates or IT degrees.
Certified Wireless Network Administrator
The nonprofit Certified Wireless Network Professionals (CWNP) offer the Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) certificate. Passing this exam means being verified as an expert in wireless networking who understands the technology fundamentals and who can design, troubleshoot, and maintain a wireless network.
The ubiquity of wireless networks makes this a very useful specialty certificate for a large number of potential employers. It is encouraged to have a solid foundation in general networking before pursuing the CWNA certificate.
ONF Certified SDN Associate
The nonprofit Open Networking Foundation (ONF) created the first software-defined networking (SDN) standard and certifies both products and networking engineers. Those who obtain the ONF Certified SDN Associate (OCSA) certification can demonstrate mastery of many different aspects of SDN technology and architecture.
Organizations continue to adopt SDN technology for a wide variety of networks, so this specialty certificate can open up many employment opportunities. You should have a strong understanding of networking fundamentals and are encouraged to have already obtained a fundamental or networking vendor certificate prior to attempting this program.
Vendor-specific Networking Certification
Vendor-specific networking certification programs cover the application of networking principles through the lens of the vendor. The holder of the certificate will understand specific networking tasks and how to implement them on the vendor’s products.
Most of these certificates focus on the specialties related to the vendor and fall into the following sub-categories: networking hardware, virtual networking, and networking service provider.
As the oldest networking technology, most networking engineers will need to deal with hardware at some point — even in the most modern networking environment. These technologies also tend to have the most robust certification programs, and some advanced specialty certificates offered by hardware vendors may also cover security or virtual networking.
Cisco Networking Certifications
Even though Cisco certificates are vendor-centric, the wide use of Cisco technology means you can apply to most networking jobs after obtaining one of these certificates.
Cisco offers a wide variety of possible certificates from the entry-level Cisco Certified Technician (CCT) to expert-level specialist options such as the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification. One of the more common certificates in the job market may be the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) which can be obtained in one of five different levels: Collaboration, Data Center, Enterprise, Security, or Service Provider.
No matter what certificate you may choose, the clear differentiation between different Cisco certificates makes it simple for an IT manager to compare certificates and understand your level of technical capability. The prerequisites are more stringent for the more advanced certificates, so you should choose the one that suits your current knowledge level.
Juniper Networks Certifications
Similar to Cisco, Juniper Networks offers a wide range of certificates encompassing a breadth of competence levels from the basic Juniper Network Certified Internet Associate (JNCIA) certificates to the advanced Juniper Networks Certified Enterprise Internet Expert (JNCIE) certificates.
Organizations worldwide use Juniper Networks products and holding these certificates makes it simple for IT managers to understand your capabilities quickly. Each certificate requires specific prerequisites and will open up employment opportunities specific to those certificates, so you should examine the details carefully.
Networking used to be made with hardware and wires, but now many organizations make use of virtual networks to connect virtual machines (VMs), cloud technology, or applications. While profiling the market leader in key categories, keep in mind that many of their competitors also offer certificates. You should consider what technology best fits your current career objectives when selecting your certificate program.
As the market leader in virtual machines, VMware also certifies technicians in VM networking. VMware offers five different certificates from the basic VMware Certified Technical Associate (VTCA) to the advanced VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP).
While the VTCA certificate may be more entry-level, you should probably be familiar with both VMs and basic IT networking before pursuing these certificates. Fortunately, with the huge adoption of VMs, obtaining one of these certificates would certainly help advance a career.
AWS Certified Advanced Networking
As the market leader in cloud computing, Amazon Web Services (AWS) certifies networking specialists that connect cloud resources using their platform. Currently, AWS only provides a certificate in advanced networking of cloud resources, so you should be familiar with both networking and AWS solutions to pursue this certificate.
F5 Networks Certified Technical Specialist
F5 Networks provides an advanced specialist certification based upon their products and application delivery networking. The five exams in this series (301A, 301B, 302, 303, 304) require the Certified Administrator (201) and Application Delivery Fundamentals (101) certificates as prerequisites.
These certificates verify that the technical specialist can build, deploy, maintain, troubleshoot, and secure application delivery networks. While this is one of the more specialized certificate programs, application delivery and resource allocation remains in hot demand, and these certificates will be very valuable for those jobs.
Networking Service Provider
SolarWinds Certified Professional Program
For IT professionals looking to work in the managed IT service provider (MSP) sector, obtaining the SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP) credential provides third-party validation in one of the most popular MSP tools. While this certification covers more than networking, SolarWinds recommends at least one year of experience in IT and six months of experience with SolarWinds products prior to enrolling. As with other vendor-specific certificates, the certificate will be of most value for jobs that use the tool.