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A Certification Does NOT Make You a Network Engineer

kool-aid

Don’t Drink Too Much of the Kool-Aid

First let me see a show of hands of how many people know what a vendor certification is? … A vendor certification is created by a computer equipment manufacturer, like a Cisco, Juniper Networks or Microsoft to help train their minions to operate their gear and help sell network equipment. Common certifications are MCSE, CCNA, CCNP, or CCIE.

Many aspiring network engineers begin their venture into networking by obtaining a certification from a network equipment manufacturer. Some aspiring network engineers feel that without a certification they can’t become a network engineer. And further, some engineers obsess about certifications so much that they are more concerned about the number of certifications rather than understanding real world networking.

This is called “drinking too much of the kool-aid”.  They may know their way around a Cisco but put a redback, juniper, or brocade in front of them and you can see them begin to curl up into a fetal position.

Certifications can help – but they are NOT necessary

There are thousands networking professionals, engineers and architects who don’t have a single vendor certification and are just as good if not better than their certified counterparts. They have learned their trade through real world experience and the application of networking studies.

There are a lot engineers who don’t like certifications. After all learning how one manufacturers equipment works doesn’t really demonstrate that you understand networking concepts.  There are plenty of engineers who study the test and pass, but they pass strictly because they study the test.

Another argument against certifications is that they are only used as a tool for interviewing, getting past resume screens and lazy hiring managers who truly can’t judge a good network engineer without a certification.

Its not the end of the world – Its just a piece of paper

A certification can however shortcut your entry into networking, by giving you a venue or guide line to study. The key is to not stop there, but to continue to research, study and learn EVERYTHING about networking.

Zebra is an open source OSPF implementation that allows for dynamic routing to occur with using just a unix server. The fact is, most appliance based routers run on an underlying unix operating system.

Playing and building your own systems like these in your basement, garage, or spare bedroom is a great way to learn networking from a real world perspective. And all of this fun is free, requires only an old pc and doesn’t take a single certification… The best part is that you will be learning networking and that’s what matters!

About Joe

Senior Network Engineer, technology enthusiast, guitar and bass player. Joe Wilson is the creator of RouterFreak.com as well as other niche websites that can be found around on the Internets.

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37 comments

  1. Certs are great, but experience is what rellay impresses an interviewer. If you have very little or no work experience, you are likely to start out in some sort of support role.This actually makes sense for the employer. Why would they let you make design decisions before you’ve proven yourself? It’s especially important to them, considering you aren’t familiar with their network.Don’t worry about it, though. If you’re eager to learn and willing to take on responsibility, you will be noticed. Bosses do pay attention to who does what, although they also have to balance the personality of their team members. If the new young hot-shot gets promoted within a week of joining the company, or is hired into a very cherry position, it could easily anger the rest of the team that has been there for years. For that reason, sometimes the new hire is forced to spend some time in a more junior role. This lets the team see what he’s capable of.References :

  2. This is a very interesting discussion. Being a professional with 2 CCIEs and other certs. Here are my two cents.
    1. On a bad day best engineers fail the interview, regardless of certifications.
    2. Some interviewers only wanted to ask packet level questions without looking at the resume and last project an engineer was working on. No one knows packet level info all the time, so more chances of failure.
    3. Biggest abnormality of our industry is when ppl ask only technical questions, but not technical discussions and experience from senior engineers.
    4. Certs help and so does practical experience, but one should not compare both since both requires continuos professional/Technical reading to know inside out of the technologies and memory refresh for an engineer.
    5. Some people are born mechanics/Engineers they always do better than the rest of the crowd with in an environment but that doesnt mean they know everything.
    6. Any engineer should never give hope on his learning ability and keep trying to learn more and get better.
    7. Try to stick to one environment for good 4-5 years to carve out a proper career and try to learn your company’s network design inside out and pick up the books and do the certs that really helps to solving the hidden mystries with in the network.
    8. Lastly certs like CCIE teach you technology in a way that Juniper, ALU, HP, Extreme and all other vendors routers works the same way with standards with different command line. So its easy to adapt as long as you know technology.
    9. Always respect peers with certs and knowledge and dont be biased since we all can fail.
    10. Brian Denis once said that he ask engineers in the interview if they ever created an outage and if an engineer say he didn’t that means either he is lying or has less experience.

    ~Ahmad Rana

    • Thanks Ahmad!
      Great comment, I like particularly point #10, it’s so true!
      And it also check the human side of the candidate… admitting one’s shortcoming or failures is a great demonstration of humility and honesty.

      Thanks

  3. I was attracted to this article because I am 1. a new network engineer 2. have a number of “important” vendor certs, but am finding it difficult to BE a network engineer. Thumbnail: I got into this field as a career switch, beginning with A+,Net+, then CCNA,CCNP (assuming that there was more to learn, better for the future). I became a bit of an expert at GNS3, as well. Now, nearly 4 months ago, I was hired as a Juniper engineer! So, now, JNCIA, JNCIS-ENT, -SEC. I have since found that while I got the certs, can navigate around in Juniper routers, and firewalls, that I have a basic troubleshooting concept–in the production environment. Labs, GNS3, etc are nothing like the real world. Further, I had previously only heard about RADIUS servers, and didn’t know that I needed to know something about troubleshooting IP address assignments via RADIUS server, or that mySQL was involved in that, or that all my Juniper “training” wouldn’t help me with ScreenOS (the bulk of the VPN/firewall devices on the network). So, I was hoping that you were going to provide some knowledge (after the “stay calm, don’t hyperventilate, breathe” advice) that wasn’t quite as arcane as “Zebra/OSPF”. Most implementations are Cisco or Juniper, or some of the other big names, so that Zebra thing isn’t really relevant. My question is probably, “Then what DOES make you a network engineer?”

  4. I've been in networking for over 30 years, five years ago when I found myself out on the street because the company I worked for folded, I couldn't get an interview because the one certification I had (CCNA) had expired! Didn't matter that I had designed and built some of the largest networks in the world, or that my team had worked with both Nortel and Cisco to develop some of their interfaces and code. Without these certs, I couldn't get past the HR screening. Five years later, I have eleven certs with more on the way. I believe it's irresponsible for you to print an article stating that certs are not required when they are for this reason alone. Every fortune 500 company uses this "Lazy management" method to screen through thousands of resumes for each position. Regardless what your personal belief may be, these certs are required.
    Now having said that, I agree that having a cert doesn't prove much, no more than having a post graduate degree doesn't mean you'll be a good engineer or manager; but they are, and likely will be, required in our profession. SO what would be helpful to those young techs out there is letting them know which certs are more or less meaningful for their carrier growth and not pander to the ego's of the uncertified, or the certifiable.

  5. Great advice man! I was stunned! and I'm 100% thumbs up to this!

  6. Great advice Eric R.

  7. I've been reading through the replies on this post, it's my first visit to routerfreak. Coincidentally, I'm stumbling upon it by being in a class directed at firewall configuration. I'm a System Support tech, just dealing with workstations and reporting any network issues by sending the network team port and blade information. I'm still looking at getting certifications to help increase my marketability, but only after I understand the material. I'm a hands on learner, but can't afford router/switch hardware. So I'd like advice from both people with certs and people without certs, HOW can I get to learn and practice router configs and setups? I'm sorry if I'm posting this question in the wrong place, I'm very new here. I am taking classes for an associates degree in Network Security after having a B.S. in Environmental Studies (Not a career change, just realized I love tech more than any other field and luckily ended up with a job doing that.) How does one get QUALITY experience when they can't be hired because they can't GET experience? What kinds of things should I learn more about? I know troubleshooting is a large skill set for a network admin, but how do I get to practice troubleshooting situations? These are questions I hear around work and school, and questions I have myself.

    • If you cannot afford a real router/switch, there is a program from Cisco called Packet Tracer. Unfortunately, it is only available for Cisco Networking Academy students, but you can buy it from Cisco themselves. Get a Cisco Press book (start with the CCNA; look up reviews on your favorite shopping website, and make sure that it is recent; Cisco updated the CCNA exam, and I heard that they are coming up with an updated book), and study.

      Make sure that you understand every single piece of technology that is mentioned in the CCNA book: here are some of the important subjects for the CCNA exam; OSI model, port numbers, OSPF, EIGRP, binary and subnetting, security, RIPv2, static routing, VLAN, VTP, Router On a Stick, ACL's, and Frame Relay. Make sure that you understand each and every piece of technology.

      Also, practice your commands on the routers and switches. Trust me, configuration is a HUGE thing on the network world; it is strictly command-line. It's kind of scary at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's going to be second-nature.

      As for a degree, continue getting the network security degree. Once you have your A.S., try to transfer to a four-year to get a B.S. along with the certifications. The certifications and a degree will definitely help you in the long-run; it may not in the short-term, but in the long-term, it is going to help you in the long run the more experience you gain in the network security world.

      Here is a piece of advice when it comes to studying networking; take your time, break it down. Trust me, taking your time and breaking down the technology to small digestible chunks, you are going to be at the top of your A game. Keep studying, keep learning, and stay eager for the new technology that is coming. Glad that I could help.

      Eric R.

      • Thanks a bunch, that really helps! I have a CCNA study guide set that has everything for the CCNA in two books, I just didn't have a way to practice anything. I've seen some references to GNS3 and Packet Tracer. I have copies of both, so I'll try out Packet Tracer first. Thanks again!

    • Cisco Packet Tracer and GNS3.

      Cisco Packet Tracer (CPT) if you want a simple program. CPT is really designed for CCNA and CCNP study and is lacking in a lot of commands that you would use everyday. On the up-side, CPT is not memory intensive, fast and very intuitive. I was able to build a small network and have it functional within 45 minutes of installing the program.

      GNS3 on the other hand is quite the opposite. It actually emulates actual cisco IOSs. So you are truly working with Cisco IOSs and you have every command available to you. You do have to fake the funk a bit if you want to program a switch. You have to have the actual IOS' for GNS3 to work, for legality purposes, but they are not difficult to find them on your favorite P2P network. The program is a serious pain-in-the-butt to set up but once you have it working, its a beautiful thing. It took me 3-4 days to get it fully functional. routergods.com has some excellent videos on how to use GNS3.

      Use CPT is if you are just wanting to practice basic networking concepts; GNS3 if you really want to test out the nuts and bolts of your config files.

  8. Good post. I believe that certs are indeed a piece of paper. However, as one has stated here…that individual has gone the extra steps to learn a bit more than hands on. Hands on is a necessity in my book. But I have encountered Network Engineers that know how to "Cut-Copy-N-Paste (CCNP)" but have no clue of why it works, thus they are at wits end when it comes to fixing anything.

    I think it is needed to understand why and how. I good engineer knows and understands the communication that is occurs between the routers and switches in a networking environment. To simply copy what was done before does not denote that one is a “Good” engineer. An should engineer be the one who provides the solution and the fix. Not merely some puff of smoke explanation like…”it just works that way.”

    • I totally agree that hands-on is a HUGE necessity; especially in I.T. Understanding how the technology works is good, but gaining good and great troubleshooting skills is such a BIG necessity if you want to stand above the other people out there.

      As for 'paper CCNA's, paper CCNP's', and every popular I.T. certification out there (with the exception of a few, as companies who have certification programs like ISC2, Red Hat, Apple, and the list goes on) are now getting smart and saying "If you want to pass our test, you are going to need a lot of hands-on experience with a TON of specific configurations on firewalls, cryptography, and everything you need to pass this test."

      I know a guy who went for the CISSP certification; has TONS of security experience in configuration of physical and software firewalls, know how it works, and knows how to troubleshoot anything security-wise. He told me that when he went to go take his test, they had to sit in a classroom like setting with a scantron, a pencil, and there was someone who was sitting there watching over everyone who was trying to cheat. Five hours later (a six hour exam), he finished, and three days later, he got a letter in the mail saying that he passed. He has more than 10 years experience in I.T.; from network troubleshooting, server troubleshooting, and security troubleshooting and maintenance. He has certifications, but he told me that hands-on was more valuable than any other certification that he went for and earned; he earned more than a few.

      All and all, having good or great troubleshooting skills is SUCH a necessity than just a paper saying "Hey, I got the CCNA, hire me!" Yeah, but if I was to ask that same CCNA to write an ACL blocking TCP port 80, and that CCNA looked at me like I didn't know what I was talking about, I know immediately that CCNA is nothing more than a piece of paper.

  9. I agree that a certification does NOT make you a network engineer. I like to think of it like this: a person can get into an Ivy League school as a lawyer, get their Juris Doctorate, pass the state bar, and get hired as a lawyer, but the thing is that they have not argued on a case, and they have no idea on how to deal with specific situations. My point is this: just because a person has a J.D. and passed the State Bar, does that make them a good or great lawyer? No, it does not.

    Same thing with everything out there in this world. A person can have a CCNP, but does that make them a good or great network engineer? Nope. Being good or great at something requires HOURS and HOURS of practice, tinkering on your home lab equipment with EIGRP, multi-area OSPF, BGP, IS-IS, VLAN's, VTP, Router On a Stick, and ACL's. Knowing how it works is good, but troubleshooting a dynamic routing protocol on a MASSIVE scale like BGP, finding the problem, isolating it, and fixing it, that non-CCNP will stand above someone not only a good troubleshooting skills, but also the experience to figure out what lies before them.

    As for future network engineers out there, don't stop studying. If you want to earn certifications, learn the technology behind them, gain TONS of troubleshooting skills, and be the best at what you do. It doesn't matter what it is; security, voice, storage, design, it doesn't matter. Be the best, gain troubleshooting skills, and most of all; be the best network engineer out there. Network Engineers are not born, they are made.

  10. I'm a student and would like to be a network engineer. After reading all these stuff, I just confuse

    I'd like to suggest this.

    What will happen if we understand all of the networking concepts correctly? Because according to my knowledge, client is client, DHCP is DHCP, DNS is DNS (I mean concept)

    Then we should have vender certifications. It will easy to understand our knowledge to interviewer.

    Though we got our job we can't quit learning, because the technology is updating…

    • Exactly Supun,
      We can not quit learning! And what i'm saying with this article is to separate LEARNING from the certifications. Learning does not equal certifications. And having certifications does not necessarily mean that you have learned anything.

      You need to keep learning new technologies and growing in the industry.

      Thanks!

      • I'm agree with you..Personally I know some guys who are not engineers.They are working as assistants.But they have a good knowledge than their engineers .They got it from there own experience.unfortunately they are still assistants because they don't have any certifications which gave us to face the interview unhesitatingly.

        Thanks for the advice. !

    • Get the certificates then the experience. The certificates will get you in the front door, get you to the interview. Then after that, it is up to YOU to convince the hiring manager to hire you. Once you have experence under your belt, then you can use your resume in conjunction with your certs to show that you are a well-rounded network engineer.

      A certificate only means that you passed a test; a well rounded resume means you know how to apply knowledge to real life situations.

  11. Gd post.

    But at the same time, without a certification, employers don't believe that someone know much about knowledge they need (whatever ur year of experience is).

    So do have guts of hands on learning and at the same time earn a vendor certification too.

  12. Agree with you somewhat.

    My caveat is that certs are really good if they go hand in hand with real world experience. Certs allow you another way to look at the problem (old joke; right way, wrong way and the Cisco way) and, for me at least, uncover blind spots that I did not realize I had.

    Agree 100% with needing certs to get past gatekeepers of various sorts.

    LRP is pretty dead but there are others (IPCop is one that comes immediately to mind) that are really great projects to learn both routing and OS's.

  13. Eddie J. Hill Jr.

    This is an excellent post!

    I started iin networking while in the military long before the manufactuers figured out what a huge money maker certificarions are (especially when you don't pass the first time around). My post miplitary experience lead me into enterprise IT management as a hiring manager for some major corporations in the Atlanta area. Some of the best engineers that I hired didn't have a single cert. What they had was a myriad of hands on jobs in wide array of platforms, and an extremly strong work ethic. I have had the unfortunate experience as well of working with individuals who passed the Cisco CCIE certificarion (both written ands hands on), but were not to apply that knowledge to an enterprise environment. The reality is that certifications are what most hiring managers are looking for, and unfortunately bypass some real superstar engineers that don't posess a certification.

    • I find it pretty hard to believe that you can find many if any individuals who have the CCIE practical and can't apply that knowledge in an enterprise environment. I agree that certifications are certainly not the tell all however, all things being equal, I'd take an engineer that stays in the books anyday over the typical lazy individuals that settle into their jobs, learn their networks and nothing more.(particularly in the military and yes I was in and I've also worked as a contractor Network engineer with them). These are the individuals who are usually overwhelmed when a major upgrade comes down the pike…. Staying current and on top of new technology generally is assured when one continues to pursue and maintain certifications. I've seen both scenarios no certs, great engineer, lots of certs, clueless but honestly NEVER a CCIE…… bad personality? yes…. no ability at networking? NEVER… Obviously you don't know what effort and breadth of knowledge not to mention organization and speed it takes to pass that test. You cannot fake that one…… also based on your spelling ability, I can see you are also not an attention to detail type either…. Generally the folks I've found who degrade certifications and the continued pursuit of them, are the individuals who lack a professional work ethic. Part of being a true professional is continuing education. This is not required by your employer necessarily, but this is something that should be driven by love of your profession and your pride. As far as the article goes, he's playing devil's advocate and has invoked a lot of good dialogue but someone degrading a CCIE certification, rakes me….. I'm in pursuit of it and besides having a BS in Electrical Engineering, a CCNA, CCNP, CISSP, CISM, and several others….. that is the one true cert that I respect. I don't put any of my certs on my signature block but someday I WILL put my CCIE number on there I assure you…… Hiring manager? You want to look professional? Use spell check if you can't spell….LOL…

      • I have seen one CCIE who even though he's a good guy from Alabama, he is not a good hands on tech. There are individuals who can pass test after test and then dump the info. Its actually easier than you think for any individual to apply themselves for a brief amount of time and acquire these certs. Unfortunately, the interview process has been streamlined to certs with everyone buying into "if you don't have the cert then you don't know your job." Its always the best game plan to go after both without limiting yourself.

      • I agree with Kerry, I also have a BS in Electrical Engineering and hold a CCNA and working toward my CCNP, CCIE, CISSP, & CISM. It's the drive in you that push you to be the best you can be. You don't want to become relax and think that no certs will make you be a well round person. Yes, I know most people who are smart to a certain point, but not having a TRUE certification has limited them to certain commands. I can speak from experience, working with Cisco, Alcatel, Brocade, & Foundry is a plus. With my certification by studying, learning and with work experience and I have extended my experience beyond expectations. My co-worker who is CCNP can configure anything of top of his head without Google or Bing. That is because with his certs he has the broad knowledge to knowing of what to do comparing to someone without the certs who can do the basic. When it comes to the expert level they always come to us for question and we work for the military as contractors. So this article is just being bias for those who are lazy and just want to do enough to get by and call tech support to finish the job.

    • Thanks. I got a few flames from that one.

      I am one of those guys that has certifications out the yinyang and I find it offensive that you place so little value on education. I lost all respect for Routerfreak and unsubscribed.

      I basically just said this:
      Please do not misinterpret the gist of the article. It goal was not
      to place little value on education. By far an engineer must continue
      to study. However many people get caught up in believing that the only
      way to study, the only way to be an network engineer is through these
      certification programs and THAT IS NOT TRUE.

      I commend you for having your certifications. That is fantastic.
      However many new people who wish to become engineers feel that their
      only venue to network engineering is through certifications and that
      is a myth propagated by network equipment manufacturers like Cisco and
      Microsoft.

      I do not mean to under-value the certifications. But if all you work
      on are juniper, extreme, foundry, brocade, F5, and Citrix… what value
      does a Cisco certification really have?

      Similarly, if you are a systems engineer and only work on Lunix server, what good is an MCSE?

      Again the gist was to show another side, another way to become a
      network engineer that did not involve certifications.

      Thanks for your email and I'm sorry to see you leave.

      • "Another argument against certifications is that they are only used as a tool for interviewing, getting past resume screens and lazy hiring managers who truly can't judge a good network engineer without a certification."

        This statement right here is the main reason %80 of engineers seek out certifications. I know people with scholarly degrees from some of the best higher educational institutions, whom get denied employment because companies are only looking the vendor certifications to justify the money they spend on these positions. Saying that, I understand the purpose of this article.

        • “Another argument against certifications is that they are only used as a tool for interviewing, getting past resume screens and lazy hiring managers who truly can’t judge a good network engineer without a certification.”

          Vendor certifications indicate that a person has gone the extra "inch" to obtain a basic knoledge and understanding of a vendors equipment wiht basic networking concepts. Its not the hiring manager thats lazy, it's the interviewee that has failed to take a little time out of their hectic schedule to attempt an earn a small amount of recognition. If they are truly " a good network engineer" the test should be trivial to them. Is a college degree really worth anything more than the statement that says "I had the tenacity and persistance to do this?" I obtained mine so I could simply say I have it. Don' be a lazy interviewee!

          • No I'm sorry I disagree. I believe you are confusing having an education and educating yourself versus a "made up necessity" by these equipment manufacturers.

            Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against certifications. I have a CCNA, CCNP, and at one time had my CCDA, MCSE and Novel CNA.

            My point is that these "certifications" are not needed to be a good networker. They maybe required by an employer, or needed to pass an interview, but they are not an indication that a person knows the technology.

            There are lots of people who hold degrees and even, in some cases, hold several degrees… Yet they still feel that they NEED a CCNA to become a network engineer. And that is not the case. You can be a network engineer without a certification. But you will most certainly need an education.

          • Joe, I hear you and feel you are missing my point. As I quoted in my opening comments, more specifically on the line "lazy hiring managers who truly can’t judge a good network engineer without a certification.” No you don’t have to have certifications to be a good network engineer but it helps, a lot! Now back to my point…in today's world if you are seeking a job in network it is in ones best interest to get a basic level certification such as the CCNA or even the CCENT! If one feels its not needed, then I believe they are the ones that will be continuing the job search. Lets be honest since we're IT. Most up to date HR systems are automated and if the system looks for CCENT, CCNA, CCNP, etc, then that’s what the system will clue in on and discard the rest. Come on, we all know how the systems work today and those that don’t play by the rules may find themselves at a career decision. Get the little cert and be happy! Like I said before, if they are a good network engineer then the test will be trivial. Who doesn’t know their way around the Cisco IOS? Most of them are basically the same anyway.

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