Ultimate Guide

Ultimate Guide to Networking Certifications

Jess Feldman

Written By Jess Feldman

Last updated on August 18, 2021

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Eager to break into network engineering but overwhelmed by the list of networking certifications? NGT Academy instructor and CCIE-certified Network Architect Rob Riker is here to break down the top four most-recognized network security certifications, what to expect on the exams, and the networking job opportunities and salaries that correspond with those certification levels. Plus, learn how NGT Academy’s two in-house networking certifications give students the hands-on networking knowledge they need to pass the CCNA and be job-ready. 

Meet the Expert: Rob Riker

  • Rob is an instructor and mentor at NGT Academy and a Network Architect at Staff Ninja.
  • Rob became CCIE-certified in 2015, making him one of only 65,000 CCIEs in the world!

Do You Need Networking Certifications?

No, you don't need to be certified to work in networking. In fact, 60-70% of the people I have personally worked with on networking teams did not have any certifications. Being certified doesn't exactly mean that you have the knowledge or experience necessary to do the job well. I’ve seen folks get “paper” certified, where they learn the material for the exam and become certified, but they aren’t able to apply those skills on the job. 

At NGT Academy, we tell students to get their certifications because it will differentiate them in the field. If a hiring manager is looking for someone certified, they will pick you over someone with more experience and no certifications. However, if that experienced person is also certified, they would be the top pick. Becoming certified in networking swings open the door for job opportunities. 

The 4 Most Common Networking Certifications

1. CompTIA Network+

  • Level of difficulty: Entry-level
  • Who’s it for: Someone brand new to networking
  • How long does it take to study for the exam? A few months 
  • What’s in the exam: Net+ offers a high-level theoretical baseline understanding of all the different areas of networking that you'll likely see in the field. Net+ is designed to help you understand core competencies and theories, but does not require any hands-on practice. Exam content covers hardware and software, mainly focused on Microsoft since it’s most commonly used in networking environments.
  • Certifies you to: work in a network operations center (NOC); also sets you up to take the CCNA
  • Typical salary range after becoming certified: $60-$70K

2. Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)

  • Level of difficulty: Entry-level
  • Who it’s for: Someone with 1-2 years experience in IT, has the CompTIA Net+ certification, and wants to level-up. CCNA certification requires that folks have more hands-on experience prior to taking the exam. The CCNA is Cisco’s entry-level but it’s a step up from CompTIA Net+. 
  • How long does it take to study for the exam? About a year 
  • What’s in the exam: CCNA is a written, multiple-choice exam that covers networking fundamentals, routing, and infrastructure. If you haven’t covered the fundamentals of CompTIA Net+, the CCNA exam can be challenging. 
  • Certification needed to become: Entry-level networking positions but keep in mind that people who are CCNA certified are able to do more practically compared to those people just certified in CompTIA Net+. 
  • Typical salary range after becoming certified: $60K - $75K on average, but keep in mind that salaries may be higher in big tech cities with some CCNA folk making over $100K.

3. Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) 

  • Level of difficulty: Mid-level
  • Who it’s for: Someone who’s been in a CCNA position for a few years and wants to deepen their understanding of networking.
  • How long does it take to study for the exam? About a year
  • What’s in the exam: CCNP is a written, multiple-choice exam that focuses on a deeper-level understanding of concepts introduced in the CCNA; such as building bigger networks with more complicated solutions, and determining more effective troubleshooting. 
  • Certification needed to become: Mid-level roles like Network Manager and Cisco Network Engineer
  • Typical salary range after becoming certified: $75-90K

4. Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) 

  • Level of difficulty: High level, extremely difficult
  • Who it’s for: People with years of networking experience who want to get the highest certification possible. There are not a lot of CCIE-certified folks in the field for a reason — it’s a difficult certification to secure!
  • How long does it take to study for the exam? 1-2 years
  • What’s in the exam: The CCIE exam is completely different from the CCNA and CCNP exams. Test-takers are required to travel to a Cisco location (currently, there's only one test location in the US and it’s located in Texas) for an 8-hour exam. The exam is split into two parts. The written exam requires test-takers show comprehension of technologies and theories. The lab exam asks test-takers to configure an enterprise-grade network from the ground up and assesses how accurately you implement the solution. There are multiple tasks in each question and all tasks must be completed correctly to receive credit for that question.  
  • Certification needed to become: Senior networking roles, like Senior Network Engineer, Senior Network Support Specialist, Senior Network Security Engineer, and Network Administrator.
  • Typical salary range after becoming certified: $110-$225K depending on your location

NGT Academy's Real-World Networking Certifications

NGT Academy offers two levels of networking certifications that students can achieve during the bootcamp: Full Stack Network Associate (FSNA) and Full Stack Networking Project (FSNP). The FSNA and FSNP certify that a student has gained fundamental networking competencies through our curriculum’s hands-on learning. The FNSA and FSNP certifications prepare students for the CCNA exam. Students typically take the CCNA after graduating from the bootcamp. While a student could go for their CompTIA Network+, it’s a bit irrelevant because NGT Academy's FSNA and FSNP certifications cover that material. Once you are able to put CCNA and NGT Academy certifications on your resume, your employment opportunities are boundless. 

Full Stack Network Associate (FSNA)

NGT Academy's FSNA includes a written exam and a practical test. In the first 8 weeks of the Networking Engineer bootcamp, we cover topics seen in the CCNA exam and pull it together so a student learns how to operate technical tasks, like how to build a network between layers. With the FSNA, students focus on implementing and testing configurations rather than just learning about them. Students learn how to apply their networking skills to real-world deployment.

Skills learned for FSNA certification: 

  • Deploy a switch 
  • Deploy a router
  • Deploy internet connectivity 
  • Set up phones online 
  • Basic networking 
  • Some wireless 
  • Learn how the network operates from start-to-finish, on a small scale

Full Stack Networking Project (FSNP)

The networking theory students learn during the FSNA portion of the bootcamp translates later to NGT Academy's FSNP. With the FSNP, students receive training in working as a project-based consultant on bigger environments. The FSNP is totally skills-based, and there is no written exam.

Skills learned for FSNP certification:

  • Advanced troubleshooting 
  • Real-world deployment scenarios, such as mid-level assignment 
  • Hands-on lab work 
  • Practical implementation 
  • Practical, hands-on experience in a networking job

Studying for the Network Certifications Exams

NGT Academy’s Network Engineering Bootcamp has a “soup-to-nuts” approach to networking certification. We ensure that bootcamp graduates are experienced and ready for real work when they leave the program. While we prepare students for certification exams, we are getting them job-ready by teaching them crucial skills like assessing the needs of a client, strategizing solutions, deploying their strategy, and being there after deployment to ensure client satisfaction.

When preparing for your certification exams, you should look for training programs with: 

  • Structure - Instructors should have practical, real-world, hands-on networking experience. 
  • Curriculum -  For example, the Network Engineering bootcamp curriculum prepares you for the exams and the job.
  • Accountability and motivators to keep you learning
  • Practical, hand-on networking experience 
  • Feedback from your instructors and peers to help you grow as a networking professional
  • Community 

The Certified Network Engineer Career Path

Do you need to have a STEM degree or previous tech background to get into networking?

You do not need a STEM degree, but coming from a STEM background is hugely advantageous because that means you already have the analytical mind for networking. If you understand basic math, like exponents and the power of two, then learning binary and IP addressing and subnetting will be a piece of cake!

Some students that move through the NGT Academy networking program have a background in electrical engineering. These students understand how power flows through a circuit board, and  that previous knowledge can be useful in some cases.

Are there benefits to having other skill sets besides networking?

The broader you can be in your skill sets, the more marketable you'll be in the field. The more cross-functional you are long-term, the more resourceful you'll be. If you’re pivoting into networking from another field, figure out how to leverage your previous experience.

What are the benefits of taking contract work as a new network engineer?

Contract work allows you to switch companies every 3-6 months, which is important to maintain a challenging environment and help you gain experience that will advance your career. Taking contract work is beneficial because it offers you exposure to different aspects of networking within different companies. If you stay somewhere too long when you’re just starting out, it’s easy to get bored. 

Should network engineers also have cybersecurity certifications?

Network security and cyber security are different fields. Cybersecurity is figuring out vulnerabilities in web servers, and network security deals with firewalls, VPNs, and identity management to control who’s doing what between point A and B. That said, it is helpful for those working in cyber security to understand network security. At NGT Academy, we recommend that our students all learn network security first and specialize in cyber security after the foundation of network security is laid.

Find out more and read NGT Academy reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with NGT Academy.

About The Author

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps. With a background in writing, teaching, and social media management, Jess plays a pivotal role in helping Course Report readers make informed decisions about their educational journey.

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