Mapping Your IT Networking Career Pathway

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The path of an IT pro can be a winding one, but it doesn’t have to be! If you recall your middle school geometry class, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. This week we’re helping you get from Point A as an entry-level IT pro to Point B as a seasoned professional, having achieved all you hope and dream in a straight line. We’re mapping your IT networking career pathway, giving you the easiest, most direct path possible.

IT Certification Pathways – from the Trainers

We took some time to ask our trainers what they thought the ideal certification pathway might be for an IT pro building a career in networking.

Trainer Anthony Sequeira suggests IT pros follow this path:

  1. CompTIA A+ – Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CompTIA A+.
  2. CompTIA Network+ – Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CompTIA Network+.
  3. Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching – Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CCNA R&S.
  4. Juniper JNCIA-Junos – Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: Juniper JNCIA-Junos.
  5. Cisco CCNP Routing and Switching – Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CCNP R&S.
  6. Juniper JNCIS-ENT
  7. Cisco CCIE Routing and Switching – Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CCIE R&S.

Anthony explained, “I really think [CompTIA] A+ is the ideal first step, along with participating in networking communities online. CompTIA’s A+ and Network+ are considered the best and most trusted vendor-neutral certifications.”

Trainer Keith Barker recommends a similar certification path for your IT networking career:

  1. CompTIA Network+ – Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CompTIA Network+.
  2. Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching – Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CCNA R&S.
  3. Cisco CCNP Routing and Switching – Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CCNP R&S.

Keith’s recommended path may appear shorter, but he suggested that following the Cisco CCNP certification, learners “look at whatever systems or technologies are used in [their] workplaces and continue their studies at the professional and expert level for those technologies.”

Keith went on to say that whatever path you follow, “continue to learn and stay current in the technologies that are being used, gaining popularity, or that you are considering using. Never stop learning.”

Trainer Jeremy Cioara advocates for a slightly different path, based on his admitted bias toward all things Cisco!

  1. Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching – Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CCNA R&S.
    • Jeremy suggested, “If you get stuck and run into something you don’t understand as you work through Cisco’s CCNA, then go back to CompTIA Network+ to fill in the gaps.” – Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CompTIA Network+.
  2. Cisco CCNP Routing and Switching – Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CCNP R&S.

Jeremy strongly recommends hands-on experience to help you really understand what you’re learning. “Start going through CCNA and begin building a network in your home based on the concepts you’re learning,” he said. “Turn your home into a ‘learning cave’ (a la the ‘man cave’).”

New IT Professionals

Whether you follow Anthony’s, Keith’s, or Jeremy’s map, making a commitment to ongoing learning throughout your IT career is critical to your success. For those just starting out in IT, Keith recommends that you “learn the fundamentals and get hands-on practice. Network with others who are in the field, either in person or online.

Make a commitment to study, learn, and grow every week.” Learn more from Keith about building good IT training habits from his webinar. As Jeremy says, “there’s no shortcut to excellence!”

In addition to certifications, you should be active in communities of IT pros who are pursuing similar career or training goals. Join the CBT Nuggets Learner Community or other online communities to develop a network of colleagues and professional resources who can help you throughout your professional journey.

Mid-level IT Professionals

After you’ve been in the field for a couple of years and have developed the experience and expertise to manage enterprise networks, what’s your next step? This can be a tricky moment in your IT networking career. Mid-level IT pros often feel some tension between further developing technical expertise and working to develop new skills that could potentially take their careers in a whole new direction.

First and foremost: Follow your passion and your curiosity. If a new technology emerges that fascinates you, learn more! If developing others, managing projects, and high-level decision-making are areas of passion for you, management might be for you!

Anthony recommends that mid-level IT pros “should think about taking project management, including ITIL® and PMP®, courses and learning more about soft skills if students are interested in advancing into management or CIO roles.”

But Keith cautions that “only those who really like to manage others should go into management.” Jeremy argues that “once you go down the path of IT, it’s hard to see anything else as satisfying. IT can truly be a lifelong adventure!”

Take time to carefully assess where your passions and talents lie in order to fully understand the appropriate next steps for your IT networking career.

Wrapping It Up

As you work to advance your networking career, IT certifications will help you develop the knowledge and skills you need. The certification pathways our trainers recommend can help get you where you want to go in your career, but remember that your path is your own! Diversify your certifications as needed. Follow your curiosity and passion as you continue to learn new skills. But whatever you’re learning, work hard to ensure that you complement your training with hands-on practice.

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