IT pros skilled in the many areas of networking are in high demand in today's job market. Those serious about their IT careers should consider one or more of these best-of-breed networking certifications to set themselves apart from their competitors.
When it comes to the care and feeding of modern networks, there's quite a lengthy list of tools and technologies that qualified IT professionals must master – especially those who aspire to work as network administrators. In addition to the servers and clients that make up the endpoints in such environments, there's a lot of network infrastructure to worry about. This includes switches and routers (both physical and virtual), plus a raft of appliances and services, such as unified threat management (UTM), next-generation firewalls (NGFs), software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions, virtualization (NFV) components and WAN optimization, as well as spam, email, and content filtering.
Wrapping your head around all these certification options and specialties can be challenging, but knowing where to start can help. We looked at five networking certifications (in their order of appearance in the job boards table that follows) that we consider leaders in the field of networking for 2019 and beyond.
To pick our leaders, we looked at the state of networking certification, examined various market and salary surveys, and performed an informal job board survey that revealed the number of job posts across the U.S. in which our featured certifications were mentioned on a given day.
Making its first appearance on the leader board this year is the SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP). It replaces the Juniper Enterprise Routing and Switching, Expert (JNCIE-ENT) credential. While the JNCIE remains a great credential, job board numbers for the SCP were stronger, earning it a slot in the top five. The other featured credentials include the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), CompTIA Network+ and WCNA Certification for Wireshark (WCNA).
Job board search results (in alphabetical order, by certification)
SolarWinds Certified Professional
The featured certifications represent all major tiers of networking job roles, from the entry level (Network+) to the expert level (CCIE). According to Glassdoor, a person just starting out in networking, most likely as a technician or junior administrator, can expect to make about $67,000. Midtier network administrators and engineers make an average of $79,000 to $90,000, while CCIEs average around $119,000.
CCIE: Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert
An evergreen and high-value networking certification is the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), which comes in several tracks. The annual production of CCIEs remains small enough that Cisco can still claim itself able to hire all of them itself, with demand and appreciation for this difficult and rewarding certification always stratospheric. Over the past few years, the Storage Networking credential gave way to Collaboration, and a Data Center credential made its debut, as well as other new certification tracks.
Although the road to obtaining a CCIE is long and hard, it is well worth the effort, time, and money. This credential opens doors to plenty of job opportunities and high salaries for networking professionals.
CCIE facts and figures
Prerequisites and required courses
Cisco recommends eight years of relevant job experience.
Number of exams
Every CCIE track requires both a written and lab exam. Written exam scores are valid for 18 months. Lab exams must be attempted within 18 months of the written exam. CCIE candidates may not schedule a lab exam until receiving a passing score on the written exam. Candidates must retake the written exam if they do not pass the lab exam within three years. All written exams are 90 to 110 questions, 120 minutes.
Note: New CCIE Collaboration Written and Lab Exams will be utilized beginning on Feb. 24, 2020, though candidates' progress to date before the cutover will be transferred to the new program.
Note: New CCIE Data Center Written and Lab Exams will be utilized beginning on Feb. 24, 2020, though candidates' progress to date before the cutover will be transferred to the new program.
Note: New CCIE Security Written and Lab Exams will be utilized beginning on Feb. 24, 2020, though candidates' progress to date before the cutover will be transferred to the new program.
Note: New CCIE Service Provider Written and Lab Exams will be utilized beginning on Feb. 24, 2020, though candidates' progress to date before the cutover will be transferred to the new program.
Note: New CCIE Enterprise Wireless Written and Lab Exams will be utilized beginning on February 24, 2020, though candidate's progress to-date before the cutover will be transferred to the new program.
Cost per exam
Written exam: $450 or equivalent worldwide
CCIE learning opportunities include study documents, recommended reading, test examples, training opportunities, online communities and study groups, all available through the Cisco Learning Network.
CCNP: Cisco Certified Network Professional
The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) takes aim at platforms and products from a leading networking equipment vendor found at most communications and internet service providers, not to mention enterprises and businesses of all sizes, including government, research, and academia. It's hard to go wrong with Cisco certification nowadays, and the CCNP is its most important midrange credential across a wide variety of specialties.
Cisco offers several flavors of the CCNP: Cloud, Collaboration, Data Center, Routing and Switching (the most popular), Security, Service Provider, and Wireless. The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) is a required steppingstone to the CCNP. What usually comes after the CCNP for networking professionals could be another CCNP (different specialty), one or more Cisco Specialist certifications, or the advanced Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), also available in numerous specializations.
CCNP facts and figures
There aren't that many entry-level networking IT certifications around, probably because CompTIA's Network+ credential more or less owns this niche. Many IT and certification pundits, including us, believe the Network+ to be an important early checkbox element in any savvy IT professional's basic certification portfolio. If you're just starting out, this is a certification for you.
CompTIA Network+ is also a vendor-neutral certification and a steppingstone to a variety of more advanced networking credentials. Some vendor-specific certification programs even include it as a prerequisite.
Network+ facts and figures
SolarWinds Certified Professional
Our sole newcomer to the top five this year is the SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP). Headquartered in Austin, Texas, SolarWinds makes simplicity its business. At SolarWinds, businesses and IT professionals will find tools, products, and solutions to improve performance and monitoring and to solve real-world problems easily and efficiently. SolarWinds offers solutions across six areas: network management, system management, security, database management, IT help desk and the cloud.
SolarWinds currently offers a single credential, the SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP), designed to validate a candidate's skill, knowledge and expertise in using either the SolarWinds system management or network management product portfolio. Candidates can choose to test for the SCP on either the Network Performance Monitor (NPM) or Server and Application Monitor (SAM) path. Either way, a single exam is required to earn the credential.
SolarWinds is committed to ongoing education and ensuring that SCP credential holders maintain skill currency as new products and technologies are released. To accomplish this, SolarWinds requires SCP credential holders to maintain a SolarWinds subscription and attend events and training. The subscription provides SCPs with webcasts, online training, invitations to in-person and online events, enhanced support, opportunities to study with SolarWinds experts, and more. An annual subscription fee of $200 is required. Credentials expire after three years if a candidate fails to maintain a subscription and attend training.
SCP facts and figures
WCNA: Wireshark Certified Network Analyst
Founded in 2007 by major networking geeks Gerald Combs and Laura Chappell, Wireshark University offers only a single certification but makes it worth your while. The WCNA for Wireshark Certification (WCNA) recognizes knowledge of network packet and protocol sniffing and analysis using Wireshark, as well as TCP/IP network communications, network troubleshooting, and network security. To achieve this credential, candidates must pass one multiple-choice exam, which is DoD 8570-certified.
The WCNA is good for three years, but certification holders must obtain a total of 20 continuing professional education (CPE) credits each year to maintain their credentials in good standing. These CPE credits must focus on activities related to the WCNA exam objectives (sniffing, analysis, etc.) and not be tied directly to job tasks. For example, attending a Sharkfest or Black Hat conference, or even reading the Wireshark Network Analysis Study Guide, can net some CPEs.
Along with administering the WCNA program, Wireshark University offers self-paced, instructor-led and customized training options for anyone who wants to learn about Wireshark and packet analysis. An All-Access Pass is a one-year subscription to all WCNA for WireShark training courses and costs $699.
WCNA facts and figures
Beyond the top five: More networking certifications
There are lots of other choices for networking professionals to investigate and pursue outside of these five.
Another interesting and upcoming Open Linux Networking focused credential comes from Cumulus Networks – namely the Cumulus Networks Open Networking Professional (CCONP).
While it didn't make the top five this year, the Juniper Enterprise Routing and Switching-Expert (JNCIE-ENT) remains an excellent credential for candidates interested in Juniper technologies.
Many other major networking vendors, including F5 and HPE, offer networking-focused credentials that ascend all the way to advanced or expert credentials. Serious network professionals will also want to check out the certifications from Avaya, Citrix and Extreme Networks.