As the demand for skilled networking professionals continues to surge, choosing which networking certification to pursue can be daunting. In this article, we provide you with an in-depth overview that will help you navigate the labyrinth of networking certifications.
Our curated list of the top eight networking certifications has been divided into two distinct streams: career-focused and knowledge-centric. So, whether you’re looking to bypass HR gatekeepers or deepen your existing expertise, we’ve got you covered.
If you are asking, “What networking certification should I get?” – look no further. We delve into the intricacies of each certification, including requirements, cost, and why they are valued. Whether your passion lies in network engineering or cyber security, this article will help elevate your career to new heights.
Career-Focused Networking Certifications
The networking certifications in this section are among some of the most in-demand IT qualifications that hiring managers are currently on the lookout for. These are the certifications that are specifically designed to help you land your dream networking role.
Our list of the top career-focused networking certifications shines a spotlight on the qualifications that will directly enhance your employability and jumpstart your career:
1. Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) qualification is an entry-level certification that validates your knowledge of networking and security fundamentals, IP services, and IT automation. The CCNA training and exam give you a solid foundation to take your IT career in any direction, whether this is down a pure networking route or into specialty sectors such as cyber security.
The current CCNA 200-301 exam is 120 minutes long and available in English and Japanese. The exam tests your knowledge and skills related to:
- Network fundamentals (20%)
- Network access (20%)
- IP connectivity (25%)
- IP services (10%)
- Security fundamentals (15%)
- Automation and programmability (10%)
You should expect a range of questions relating to the installation, operation, and configuration of basic IPv4 and IPv5 networks.
There are no formal prerequisites to taking the CCNA exam, but Cisco recommends you have at least one year of experience implementing its networking solutions. In our opinion, a strong training course and use of practice tests is more than sufficient to stand-in for the recommended experience.
Why It Is Valued
The CCNA qualification is a more ‘hands-on’ than its main competitor, CompTIA Network+ (see our Network+ vs CCNA article for details), and will equip you with the foundational skills needed for a networking role.
Although CCNA is more focused on the implementation of Cisco solutions, the certification will have candidates performing more command-line actions and is generally deemed to have a more in-depth syllabus than the other entry-level networking certifications on the market.
Overall, the CCNA is well respected as being a solid baseline certification on which you can further develop your IT career. It is a proof of knowledge and aptitude that is trusted by hiring managers, regardless of whether their organization makes use of Cisco products or not.
2. Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
Building on the solid foundation provided by the CCNA certification, Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) is an intermediate-level qualification that demonstrates your networking expertise and aptitude across a range of specialty concepts and products.
CCNP goes beyond the foundational concepts covered in the CCNA, delving deeper into networking technologies, protocols, and other domain areas that together demonstrate your ability to maintain and scale enterprise networks.
Possible job roles for those looking to obtain the CCNA networking certification include:
- Network administrator
- Systems engineer
- Network support technician
- Mid-level network engineer
To obtain this professional-level CCNP certification, candidates must pass the Core exam (350-401 ENCOR) and one Concentration exam.
Delving deeper into the learning path, the Core exam tests your knowledge of core enterprise network technologies, including dual stack (IPv4 and IPv6) architecture, virtualization, infrastructure, network assurance, security, and automation.
The 120-minute CCNP Core exams test your networking knowledge of following:
- Architecture (15%)
- Virtualization (10%)
- Infrastrucutre (30%)
- Network Assurance (10%)
- Security (20%)
- Automation (15%)
The Concentration track, meanwhile, allows candidates to focus on one of several specialty areas of interest. This includes advanced routing infrastructure and VPN services, SD-WAN architecture, enterprise network design and WAN security services, wireless network design, and enterprise automated solutions.
CCNP Concentration exams are 90 minutes long. Both exams are available in English and Japanese.
There are no formal prerequisites to take the CCNP exam - you do not need to pass the CCNA before moving to this certification. Still, Cisco recommends that candidates have between three and five years of experience implementing enterprise network solutions.
CCNP Core exams are $400; CCNP Concentration exams are $300.
Why It Is Valued
Building on the fundamentals covered in the CCNA, CCNP is a more advanced certification that is highly sought after by hiring managers. In addition to allowing you to focus on specific areas of interest, this exam will significantly enhance your career prospects. The demands of this certification are high, but you will be rewarded by the fact that even companies not using Cisco products specifically ask for this qualification.
3. Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
The last in our trio of Cisco networking certifications, Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) is an expert-level certification that validates candidates' leadership in enterprise infrastructure and related technologies.
CCIE is a suite of Cisco expert certifications that include the following:
- CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure
- CCIE Enterprise Wireless
- CCIE Collaboration
- CCIE Data Center
- CCIE Security
- CCIE Service Provider
- Cisco Certified DevNet Expert
Regardless of which certification you pursue, the consensus is that the CCIE exams are among the most challenging in the world. Your determination will be well rewarded, however, as a CCIE certification tells the world in no uncertain terms that you know your domain like the back of your hand.
Unsurprisingly, the expert-level nature of CCIE certification encompasses a grueling, multi-stage examination process. This begins with a qualifying exam and ends with an on-site laboratory exam at Cisco facilities and mobile lab locations worldwide.
Once certified with this prestigious qualification, networking professionals are entitled to numerous benefits, including a CCIE certification plaque, dedicated case routing for technical support requests, discounted merchandise, and enrolment into the Cisco CCIE Emeritus program.
CCIE candidates must first pass a written exam before tackling the hands-on lab exam.
As with the CCNA and CCNP certifications, there are no formal requirements to take a CCIE certification exam. However, given the expert nature of this qualification, candidates are expected to have an in-depth understanding of the topics covered by the exams and three to five years of job experience are recommended.
- CCIE Lab and CCDE Practical exams at testing facilities – $1,600
- CCIE Cisco Kit Mobile Lab exams – $1,900
- CCIE BYOD Mobile Lab exams – $1,600
Note: Core exams in each CCNP technology track also serve as qualifying exams for CCIE lab exams.
Why It Is Valued
CCIE is the most advanced networking certification on the market and a testament to your networking expertise. As a CCIE certification holder, you will be considered a leader in your field.
The certification is globally recognized for its rigorous, multi-stage testing process that represents the pinnacle of Cisco networking expertise. Moreover, recipients of the coveted CCIE certification are also granted numerous benefits that validate their position in the networking community.
See Our Other Certification Lists
4. VMware Certified Professional – Network Virtualization (VCP-NV)
The VMware Certified Professional – Network Virtualization (VCP-NV) certification validates your knowledge and skills in configuring, deploying, and managing VMware’s proprietary Networking and Security Virtualization (NSX) environments.
The NSX suite enables organizations to build secure cloud networks with consistent policy, operations, and automation across numerous environments. As with other VMware certifications, the VCP-NV qualification verifies IT professionals’ skills and experience in using the vendor’s solutions efficiently. This is an asset for existing or prospective employers who use VMware products.
Careers associated with this VMware Certified Professional certification include network administrators, virtualization administrators, and consultants.
The exam itself is 135 minutes long, with 70 questions divided into five sections. Candidates should be able to demonstrate proficiency across IT architectures, technologies, and standards, along with the ability to plan, design, install, configure, and administrate VMware environments.
Under the VMware Network Virtualization certification path, the VCP-NV qualification follows the VMware Certified Technical Associate certification (VCTA-NV). The entry-level VCTA-NV certification validates your foundational knowledge and skills in network virtualization and sets you in good stead for the more advanced VCP-NV certification.
For those looking to obtain the VMware VCP-NV certification without any prior VCP certifications, the vendor first recommends you gain some hands-on experience with NSX solutions. Once you feel comfortable with this, you are required to attend one of VMware’s many relevant training courses before taking the qualifying exam.
Why It Is Valued
VMware is a market leader in network virtualization solutions. Corporations operating on-site or hybrid cloud models are increasingly using VMware products. The VCP-NV certification gives you a demonstrable understanding of VMware’s software, and when a company is using the vendor’s products, this is the certification they are looking for.
If you are interested in pursuing these certifications, you may benefit from the following courses offered at StationX.
Knowledge-Focused Networking Certifications
The networking certifications in this section will deepen your understanding of core networking principles and equip you with the skills needed to excel in different areas of networking.
While these certifications alone are unlikely to get you hired, they are a means of proving to yourself that you have a strong knowledge base from which you can further develop your networking skills and experience. Combined with other certifications, they help solidify you as an expert in your field:
1. CompTIA Network+
CompTIA Network+ is globally recognized as one of the best networking certifications for those looking to demonstrate their knowledge of networking fundamentals. It is a common starting point for a learning pathway that can branch off in multiple directions, including network administration and cyber security.
The Network+ certification demonstrates a candidate's proficiency in essential networking concepts, practices, and technologies. As a vendor-neutral credential, it prepares candidates to support networks on any platform.
As you study to take the CompTIA Network+ exam, you will learn the following skills:
The Network+ exam is 90 minutes long and includes no more than 90 questions. The exam is available in English, German, Portuguese, and Spanish.
There are no prerequisites to take the Network+ exam, but CompTIA recommends you have at least nine months of hands-on experience working as a junior network administrator or network support technician role. As with CCNA, we believe proper study and utilizing a complete training course will suffice for the suggested experience.
Why It Is Valued
While the Cisco networking certifications teach you a lot about a few things, Network+ casts the net wider by focusing on more networking concepts but going into less detail. This is ideal for candidates looking to grow their baseline knowledge of core principles and terminology without being so hands-on.
Examples include individuals looking to get into cyber security. These candidates won’t need to be able to program a large enterprise router, but it will be important for them to understand key network engineering principles. This is where a Network+ certification can really help you shine.
2. SolarWinds Certified Professional
Becoming a SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP) is a tried-and-tested indicator that you have the technical expertise to use and maintain SolarWinds network and systems management products effectively.
The SolarWinds Certified Professional program offers certifications for the vendor’s major products and concepts, including:
- Architecture and Design
- Access Rights Manager (ARM)
- Database Performance Analyzer (DPA)
- Diagnostics and Troubleshooting
- Hybrid Cloud Observability Network Monitoring
- NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (NTA)
- Network Configuration Manager (NCM)
- Network Performance Monitor (NPM)
- Security Event Manager (SEM)
- Server and Application Monitor (SAM)
- Service Desk
Given SolarWinds’ prominence in the IT management software sector, many of the above SCP courses have a strong networking focus.
It’s worth looking at each of the modules to see which best suits your needs, but the Network Configuration Manager (NCM) and Network Performance Monitor (NPM) exams might be a good starting point for those looking to demonstrate their proficiency with the vendor’s products.
SolarWinds NCM is a comprehensive network management system that helps organizations reduce costs, save work hours, and remain compliant. The SCP NCM certification encompasses everything you need to use the platform effectively. Expect to be tested on areas including NCM installation, configuration management, features, and settings.
SolarWinds NPM, meanwhile, is the organization’s multi-vendor network monitoring platform. The syllabus for this SCP exam includes modules on NPM agents, alerting, capacity planning, custom polling, dependencies, node management, and reports, among others.
There are no eligibility requirements to take any SolarWinds Certified Professional exam.
Note: Members of SolarWinds’ THWACK community can exchange 60,000 points for the exam fee.
Why It Is Valued
When it comes to network management software, SolarWinds has a large market share. While organizations might not cite the SolarWinds Certified Professional certificate among their list of candidate requirements, this qualification will help you stand out from the crowd. For those who know they will be using SolarWinds products, this certification will ensure you know how to use the vendor’s products quickly and effectively.
3. Microsoft Certified: Azure Network Engineer Associate
The Microsoft Certified: Azure Network Engineer Associate certification gives you demonstrable knowledge of Azure’s networking capabilities, including how to optimize the performance, resiliency, scale, and security of the platform.
While studying for this certification, network engineers will learn how to design, implement, and maintain Azure networking solutions. Subject areas also include Azure hybrid networking connections, load balancing traffic, network routing, network security, and infrastructure monitoring.
The knowledge you gather to obtain the Azure Network Engineer Associate certification will be put to the test through the Microsoft AZ-700 exam.
The exam measures your ability to design, implement, and manage the following:
- Core networking infrastructure (20-25%)
- Connectivity services (20-25%)
- Application delivery services (20-25%)
- Private access to Azure services (5-10%)
- Secure network connectivity to Azure resources (15-20%)
The exam is offered in the following languages: German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional).
Students in the US may be eligible for ACE college credit if they pass this certification exam.
According to Microsoft, candidates for the exam should have experience creating and managing computing, storage, and networking resources in Azure. They should also understand networking fundamentals including network protocols, network address management, and name resolution.
Potential candidates can test their skills with a free practice assessment.
The cost of the AZ-700 exam is $165.
Why It Is Valued
Given its huge global popularity, Microsoft Azure barely needs an introduction. Employers are often on the lookout for the Azure Administrator Associate certification, but the Azure Network Engineer Associate is a fantastic way for you to demonstrate specialist knowledge of the platform’s networking capabilities.
Put another way, the Administrator Associate appears in job boards, but building a resume that establishes you as an Azure expert, particularly in networking, requires specialty certifications like this one.
If you are setting up cloud networks, working towards the Azure Network Engineer Associate certification will give you the skills needed to undertake your duties quickly and efficiently.
4. AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty
The AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty certification is tailored to network engineers who have at least five years of hands-on experience architecting and implementing network solutions.
Candidates for this certification are expected to be familiar with advanced networking architectures and confident with automation scripts and tools spanning routing architectures, multi-region solutions for a global enterprise, and highly available connectivity solutions such as AWS Direct Connect and AWS VPN.
The AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Speciality certification also requires knowledge of CIDR and sub-netting, IPv6 transition challenges, and network security features including AWF WAF, intrusion prevention/detection systems, and DDoS protection.
The ANS-C01 exam is 170 minutes long and with 65 questions. It features a combination of two question formats: multiple choice and multiple response.
There are no requirements to write this exam.
Why It Is Valued
The clue may already be in the title, but the AWS Certified Advanced Networking certification is a notoriously difficult exam. However, this also means that it is an extremely valuable asset for you to hold.
Although the AWS Certified Solutions Architect qualification is the one that’s often listed in job specifications, many prospective employers will expect you to be able to build and maintain a cloud-based network as part of the job. Obtaining the AWS Certified Advanced Networking qualification will act as proof that you know how to do exactly that.
To learn more about these exams and technologies, take a look at some of our course offerings, including:
In the realm of career-focused networking certifications, Cisco’s offerings, including the CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE, stand out as industry standards. These certifications provide a pathway to enhancing your employability and, in our opinion, are unmatched by other certifications.
At the other end of the spectrum, knowledge-focused certifications like Network+, along with other vendor-specific credentials from SolarWinds, Microsoft, and AWS are designed to bolster your understanding of networking fundamentals and learn the ins and outs of specific platforms.
When deciding from our list of the top eight networking certifications, consider your own career goals, existing skill set, and the specific areas of networking that interest you the most. Each certification on our list offers unique benefits and opportunities for career advancement or simply improving your own productivity.
If you are interested in a Networking or IT career, our StationX Community Accelerator Program provides you with a custom career roadmap laying out training and certification paths to help you meet your goals.