Diving In: Net+ or CCNA?

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Earlier this week, we stated our case for making CompTIA Security+ your first IT certification. Earlier this year, we talked about CompTIA A+ versus CompTIA Net+. Today, we’re going to take a look at whether you should make Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching or Network+ your first exam.

Here are a few things to help you decide between Network+ or CCNA R&S

What are your interests?

First off, are you interested in networking? (We hope this is an obvious first question to ask yourself.)

If not, there are tons of other certifications out there. You might want to enter the Microsoft universe. Maybe you have an unsettling interest in the inner workings of storage. (You, my friend, will be looked upon as a wizard.) Virtualization is on the rise as well, so you might be better suited for VMWare training. Cloud applications can initially be intimidating, but those skills are very much in demand as well.

If you think you are interested in any of these other topics, then you should start with Network+ certification rather than CCNA. Here’s why.

You should get a healthy dose of networking fundamentals, along with a taste of everything before specializing, and that’s what Network+ does.

CompTIA designed Network+ as a foundational networking course that also explores a number of specializations. Network+ starts with the basics: OSI Model, routers and switches, packets, dives into basic commands, ports, and troubleshooting, and then skims across virtualization, desktop support, cloud, and security. It’s like an IT career sampler platter.

If you’re interested in networking, then read on.

What’s your current job role?

If you’re starting with zero experience, then go for Network+. Or you might even want to start with CompTIA A+, if you’re completely new to desktop support or networking.

Here’s a quick test for A+ versus Net+: Have you ever built your own computer, installed your own OS, or messed up your registry because you were tinkering? Yes = Network+, No = A+.

Even with the Network+ certification in hand, you probably won’t be totally entrusted with diagramming a network or setting up a subnet. You’ll have a piece of paper that proclaims, “I know what you are talking about — mostly.” Unfortunately, you won’t be able to proclaim, “I know what I am talking about.” You have a lot of hands-on learning to do.

If you’re currently in a role where you are subnetting, surveying wifi networks, pulling and labeling cable, then head straight for CCNA.

CCNA is an entry-level certification that grants you access to the wide and robust Cisco world. It’s all Cisco, all the time. Not to say that it doesn’t also teach the basics. In fact, we encourage IT pros studying for Network+ to use certain sections of the CCNA training, too.

As a final thought, you might consider taking both,  just because you can. It can’t hurt.

If you take CCNA first, then there’s a good chance that you can go pass Network+ without much additional studying. (We don’t recommend it, but you theoretically could.) Conversely, studying for Network+ should make CCNA considerably easier to manage.

How much money do you want to make?

This important question is incredibly subjective. So, take this section with a grain of salt. Every person is different. Every career is different. Every hiring manager takes different factors into account. Geographic location also plays strongly into the salary equation.

CCNA will open more doors  with the right experience. Network+ will get your foot in the door.

Network+ can be the perfect entry point to any of the 10 Highest Paying IT Certifications. But, you’ll have to get your CCNA eventually to the achieve the three highest paying Cisco certs.

Here’s the upshot. You will probably make more money with just the CCNA. However, the CCNA or Network+ should only be the beginning of your certification path, leading you to the career of your dreams.

What’s your ideal job?

If you’re in the position to know your ideal job, then you’ve probably already started your career. Or, you’re way ahead of the game.

Start heading in that direction. Find a mentor with the same or similar position. Take on similar responsibilities at your current job. Take a look at the CBT Nuggets Learning Paths or Roadmaps to Success. These resources can help you determine whether Network+ or CCNA is the right choice for you.

I still don’t know where to start.

If you’re still undecided, here’s what you should do. Take a practice exam for each certification right now. Seriously, do it right now.

You don’t have to take the full practice exam. With Transcender® practice exams, you can select 5 to 50 random questions with the “Preset Exam” function, giving you control over how much time you spend on this little exercise. At the end of the exam, Transcender® will give you a pass/fail score, and also identify areas where you need to improve. The better score wins. That’s your baseline. Now get studying!

You should also join the CBT Nuggets Learner Community, find a mentor, take on every new responsibility you can manage, and never stop learning. You’ll find your path, whether it involves the Network+, CCNA, or even the A+ or MTA.

Good luck.

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