Be a Certified Cisco Network Administrator: Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a Certified Cisco Network Administrator (CCNA). Research the education and experience required for starting a career in Cisco network administration.

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Should I Become a Certified Cisco Network Administrator?

A network administrator is a computer specialist who installs and maintains local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and Internet networks and is certified by the computer systems company, Cisco. Among administrators' job duties is the determination of a computer network's needs prior to set-up, setting up necessary hardware to build a computer network, the delegation of tasks as is appropriate for the establishment of a computer system, and the maintenance of said system once it is up and running.

Network and computer systems administrators, including those that hold Cisco certification, work full-time, although overtime is common in order for meet deadlines for projects or maintain their networks. Such workers often work within team frameworks, collaborating with network architects and computer systems managers, in order to design systems.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree typically required, some employers only require associate's degree with experience
Degree Fields Computer or information science, computer or electrical engineering
Experience 3-5 years of experience with bachelor's degree; more may be required with certificate or associate's degree
Certification Certification through product vendor
Key Skills Communication skills, analytical skills, problem-solving skills; networking hardware, switches, routers; technical troubleshooting and support experience, scheduling experience for maintenance, security
Salary (2015) $55,302 per year (Median salary for network administrators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings, Payscale.com

Step 1: Complete an Undergraduate Degree Program

Most employers look for network administrators with a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, no matter their certification level. These degree programs require courses in topics like computer programming, operating systems, architecture and networks, systems security, algebra, calculus and statistics, along with some general education requirements.

Step 2: Complete Cisco Certification Training

To help would-be network administrators pass certification exams, Cisco offers on-site and online training courses in network administration. For entry-level certification, the 10-day, 2-part online course called Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices training is recommended.

Success Tip:

  • Invest in additional study materials. Additional resources are available through Cisco to help students study for certification examination. Take advantage of the Cisco Marketplace Bookstore and Cisco Press offerings to ensure readiness.

Step 3: Pass the CCNA Exam

The CCNA is the entry-level certification and has no prerequisites other than the training courses. This 90-minute exam tests the candidate's ability to install, maintain and troubleshoot wide area networks (WANs). Other specific tested areas include network types, security basics, routing and IP addressing. Once granted, the CCNA is valid for three years.

Step 4: Gain Professional Experience

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports most often a bachelor's degree is required of network and computer systems administrators; however, some positions require certification and related experience (www.bls.gov). In addition, experience may be required for additional certifications or to advance to higher positions.

Step 5: Consider Advanced or Specialized Cisco Certification

For career advancement, the network administrator should consider the advanced certifications Cisco offers. The next credential after the CCNA is the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP). This certification requires at least one year of experience in addition to the CCNA requirements, and it tests complex network routing, switching and troubleshooting.

Success Tip:

  • Continue pursuing training and available certifications. There are also Cisco certifications available for those looking to specialize in network design, security, wireless networks and service providers, among others. These exams all require significant training and experience. The BLS reports that network administrators need to keep up with new developments through continuing education and training due to the constant changes in technology.
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