Long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit (and long after it subsides), companies of all types have a need to keep their networks as resilient, scalable, and automated as possible. The situation becomes even more complex when you consider how many companies may shift their workforces to permanent work-from-home, which may distribute corporate networks over many hundreds or even thousands of miles. 

Many companies have opted to use Cisco technology for their network needs. Given that, networking engineers and other specialists should know which Cisco-related skills and certifications will put them in position for new jobs and promotion opportunities at those firms with a Cisco stack. 

Dice spoke with Udemy’s David Bombal, who not only trains students in Cisco technologies, but who participated in the development of Cisco engineer utilities such as the VPN Config Generator and other software.

Bombal noted top two entry-level Cisco certifications for 2020: 

“Want to get into networking and get a head start in your career?” Bombal asked. “Start with these two certifications. But don’t stop there. We live in an age of continuous learning—one of the worst things you could do to your career is to stop learning.”

Bombal explained that, with the move to automation and network programmability, the Cisco DevNet certifications will be much more in demand in the coming months and years. The CCNA certification will show you know how networks work; DevNet proves you’ve learned how to automate them. 

But that’s only part of the networking equation. “You also need to learn how to secure them—and this is where Cisco certifications like the Cisco CyberOps certification can help you, or other industry certifications like the Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP),” Bombal continued.

Once you obtain the CCNA and/or Cisco DevNet Associate, consider earning the next certifications in the proverbial chain:

“I would recommend starting with Network Automation ENAUI concentration, but everyone should take a look at their own preferences,” Bombal added. “Focus on core networking skills—focus on Linux, focus on the cloud, and focus on DevOps—and you will have a bright future.”

More Advanced Certifications

Bombal also noted that the CCNP ENCOR exam also helps you start your journey to expert certifications (CCIE), as it is the prerequisite for taking the CCIE lab exam. “If you want to be the best of the best in Cisco technologies, then go for your CCIE and continue to develop your skills at the highest levels,” he said. “Some advice however: You need to do what you enjoy. Life is too short to do what you hate.”

For years, the CCIE has been seen as the pinnacle of networking certifications. Bombal said that, because Cisco is also often the leader in new technologies and network standards, their certifications are highly regarded in the industry.

“My advice based on many years in this industry is the following: Want to get a job in networking? Get Cisco certifications,” he said. “Don’t stop there, but make sure you have them as they are a fantastic way to prove your knowledge and open doors—especially if you are starting your networking career journey.” 

Will Cisco Skills Land You a Job?

It’s worth taking a moment to crunch the data and see how many technology jobs actually demand Cisco skills. To figure that out, we turned to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country. As you might expect, the Burning Glass database features a huge collection of Cisco skills that it’s scraped from job postings, including (but certainly not limited to):

Jobs involving Cisco skills are projected to grow 32.3 percent over the next 10 years; the median salary for such jobs currently stands at $84,000, although that obviously rises with the right mix of skills and experience.

As you might expect, a significant percentage of jobs such as network engineer/architect and network/systems administrator request some combination of Cisco skills:

Keep that in mind as you consider how to best build your network-related career; fortunately, many businesses are very clear about their tech stacks—by examining their past and current job postings, you can see the technologies they expect their employees to know.