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Who is an associate?

One of my readers made an interesting observation in response to my “Knowledge or recipes” post: maybe network associates need recipes more than knowledge. My first reaction was to disagree; in my understanding, technicians work with recipes, engineers need to know what they’re doing and why. But then I tried to figure out what the term “networking associate” really means.

Cisco’s website is not much help. Reading the definitions of “associate” and “professional,” I get the impression that Cisco needed three levels and had to name them somehow. In this scenario, the term “associate” is highly appropriate. However, Cisco’s CCNA and CCNP marketing descriptions compare “associate” with “apprentice” and “professional” with “journeyman.” I guess this makes me an Internetworking Master Craftsman. If we stick to this definition (and I understand that it would be inopportune to call someone a “Cisco Certified Networking Apprentice”), associates don’t need in-depth knowledge because “apprentices” usually are told what to do.

On the other hand, Cisco uses the certification structure to validate the competence of Cisco partners. The requirements for the “Premier” partner are one CCNA (field engineer) and one CCDA (system engineer). Would you want your systems to be handled by someone who doesn’t know what s/he’s doing? I doubt it. Therefore, my initial assumption was correct: network associates need to know why they’re doing what they’re doing.

If you’ve recently completed your CCNA certification, take a second look at your training courses and the exam. Did they force you to understand what you were doing, or were you just memorizing facts and recipes? Would you be confident applying that knowledge in a network-down situation as a field engineer? Please let us know your thoughts.

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