Sometimes the path is more important than the destination ...

I received an interesting comment on one of my knowledge/certification-related posts:

I used to think that certifications were a useful indicator of knowledge or at least initiative, but I’m changing my mind. [...] I feel like I’ve gotten a lot out of studying for certifications, especially CCIE, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s the exception.

I guess a lot of prospective internetworking engineers are thinking along the same lines, so here’s my personal perspective on this issue.

The answer most commonly heard in the Cisco ecosystem applies here as well: “It depends.” If you’re pursuing certifications purely to enhance your career chances, increase your salary or get access to better jobs, using any means necessary to get there (including brain dumps), you won’t get a lot of knowledge out of that process.

Maybe you’ll remember some of the memorized answers long enough to be able to serve them during a job interview, but unless you’re a hidden genius (in which case you wouldn’t have to cheat anyway), you won’t be able to arrange the building blocks covered by the certification topics into a meaningful picture that would help you to understand the underlying principles needed to design, configure and troubleshoot networks.

However, if you want to build your long-term career around the internetwork technology, pursuing a relevant certification is a good way to increase your knowledge. I like to compare certifications to academic degrees: they provide a comprehensive roadmap that gives you well-rounded knowledge in multiple areas that you can later enhance with on-the-job experience and further focused study. As with the academic degrees, some of the topics will be highly irrelevant, some of the others covered only sporadically or not to the depth you’d like to see, but that’s the reality of any structured curriculum; it cannot address all personal needs and wishes. Plenty of material and learning aids are available to help you increase your knowledge, including classroom training, e-learning, virtual labs, webinar recordings and books. If you approach these learning materials with the attitude “I want to understand what’s going on,” instead of “I want to pass the exam at any cost,” you’ll increase your knowledge dramatically while getting the certification almost as a side effect.

Let me conclude with a highly biased personal opinion: if you really want to gain knowledge (and you can afford it), don’t use the “exam preparations,” even if they come from reputable sources. If you go to a certification center and pass the exam without ever seeing a sample test question (which you should be able to do if you’ve invested enough time in your studies), you’ll dramatically increase your confidence and self-esteem. If you fail, you can still fall back to the “proven” methodology and prepare for the next try with hundreds of practice questions.


  1. I was really shocked whan I had a discussion with a CCIE security and he don't even known what is Bob & Alice...
    From this time my point of view of certified people is that they are just good copycat and Cisco world learner by heart but with poor background and skills.
  2. Francois,
    I really don't think that Alice & Bob are measure of knowledge, but I agree with the rest. CCIE is easy to "brute force" nowadays and that certificate definitely lost his prestige,challenge and authority.
  3. Ivan I keep saying the only way that changes is when people and recruiters stop being slaves to the certification grindmill.

    If people hope to get hired now, they need some sort of letters behind their name.
  4. hi agree with Roger.

    now everyone will have the luxury to take the scenic route.. passing the exam will generally give you a quicker route into the job where you can gain experience (and subsequently knowledge)..

    in reality at the lower level of certs.. knowledge is limited anyway.. its only at CCIE+ that knowledge comes into its own with or without the cert and that means several yrs of experience and learning down the scenic route.

    promoting worst practices as ever
    bad designer :-)
  5. @Roger: You wouldn't believe what my next "Fragments" post is about :))

    The point I wanted to make was "if you have to go through the motions, make sure you gain something from the process".

    And last but not least, (as always) I have to disagree with the bad designer. I would draw the line between CCNA and CCxP, not between CCxP and CCIE. CCNP and CCIP cover some pretty advanced topics (BGP, OSPF, IS-IS, MPLS ...), where knowledge becomes beneficial ;)
  6. im sorry you disagree with me BUT..

    1) The fact is that even CCIE level BGP is not enough to design an Internet policy

    2) QOS learned for CCxP and CCIE is not enough to be able to build a multiservice backbone with tight SLAs.

    3) Where is inter-as MPLS and MPLS TE (and reasons for tactical vs strategic) in the certifications?

    I would suggest you redefine your definition of advanced because upto CCIE level OSPF/ISIS et al are to intermediate level and moreover, pretty much implementation.

    What I am trying to say is that in my own experience I really started to learn advanced topics (and therefore deep knowledge) after my CCIE, which was once I started getting the jobs offered giving me exposure for this.

    However, I understand fully why we disagree..

    You are saying that BGP is an advanced topic perse. I am saying that BGP can be basic, medium and advanced.

    And lest I forget :-)// You promote best practices while I promote worst ;-)

    Bad Designer
  7. On Bad Designer's point

    I am of the opinion that I will never truly understand some things until I really do them.

    Like building a fully functionally, well architected spanning tree topology or something to that effect.

    Fact is I dont have a whole bunch of switches lying around to do that. Experience is the greatest teacher and no one gives you chance to get experience without the letters.

    Slight off topic note: Why does it feel like Cisco asks you questions on exams in the most vague way possible. :) :)
  8. I tend to agree with Ivan. I've definately taken the scenic route towards a CCIE and I've got the CCxP's certifications with the experience for each. I'm not sure how marketable a CCIE is, but my CCxP's and experience tend to get me most if not all CCIE interviews in my state when I'm in the market.

    To me the CCIE has pursuit has been largely a cash drain. But some people study for free. My fault for taking the scenic route I suppose. No other way for me.
  9. My comments still hold true... who knows maybe more so now that I'm fully immersed in the Data Center and even more so than that with the advent of being very well read, experienced (trial/error/hands-on/training/internal issues/etc.) with the Nexus series, ASRs, and other devices like WAAS for example, not to mention a nice breadth and depth with WLAN and SAN in general.

    No time for the CCIE per se at the moment due to all of the above, but the scenic route sure has a lot of pretty scenery and I for one am taking the time to smell the roses. Still get invited to interviews, consulting engagements, and other misc. stuff so it's not all bad not being a CCIE yet.
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