The Value of Specialization – Why the new CCNA is a disaster

The end of the year is near, and it’s time to reflect a bit about what happened in 2019 in terms of Certification in the Industry of Networking. And there was some shocking, almost ridiculous news this year. Some of you might have heard it – Cisco “Re-Designed” their Certification Track for the CCNA, which will become active in 2020, and they will also introduce a “Cisco Specialist” between the CCNA and CCNP. I wonder whom they try to copy with this “CCNS” 😉 However, they seem to have failed.

How you might ask? Let me explain this a bit. If you look at the new Certification Path it looks like this:

Noticed something? The CCNA and “CCNS” are spanned over ALL the 5 Topics. We live in a world where AI will sooner or later dominate the “Allround-IT-Guys,” and Cisco is trying actively to make new network engineers allrounders… When I heard the news, I was shocked that they seem to forget where they came from and why everyone pursued the CCNA Tracks – because the Tracks started at the very basic in every Topic.

Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten the benefit of specialization. Specialization is essential and needed because that’s where the difference between “I know the basics” and “I KNOW the Basics in my field” will happen. Who needs an engineer that knows all topics “at the surface” up to the Specialist Level? This is what a good AI can do (and replace) today – I don’t need someone to tell me that OSPF is down, I don’t need someone to tell me that my phone is not working because a VLAN is missing somewhere… And most of all: I don’t care about collaboration if I work inside a SoC with no Telephony or WiFi at all – instead, I want to learn about the Security-specific Topics to build my Security career from the very beginning.

It makes the CCNA “worthless”, in my opinion, and that’s the main reason why I let my CCNA expire earlier this year – because it tells you NOTHING about my actual knowledge inside the area that I work in.

Network Engineers need to take a step back from “I know everything a bit” because allrounders are no longer demanded and needed because we have software for that. Even a monkey can operate such software – we need to make the shift towards “I’m a specialist in my area, and no one can fool me there.”

That’s what Juniper, for example, is aiming at with the introduction of the Career-Tracks at the Associate Level. They start basically where your Career starts without all the possible other areas and technologies. At Cisco, you now need to learn stuff that you will never have to deal with, and that does not give you any benefit at all to get your CCNP with a specialization active – Ridiculous if you ask me. I don’t know about you but my time is way too valuable to learn stuff that I will most likely never use – there are too many other interesting, specialized things to learn about to improve myself.

That’s why in 2020, the CCNA will most likely be “worthless” because putting 5 Tracks into one Exam just for the sake of reducing the exams is just not the right way, in my opinion. I’m curious about your opinion. Do you think that allrounders are better than specialized Staff? What’s your daily experience? Feel free to leave a comment because I’m very, very interested in that.

5 thoughts on “The Value of Specialization – Why the new CCNA is a disaster

  1. Miguel

    You are a juniper guy and I have been a Cisco guy. (Very willing to learn juniper though)

    The explanation of this certification change I believe was valid as you know the CCNA is associate level certification and it won’t allow you to operate a full network.

    I do not agree with your post and that’s why I am writing to debate =), I believe that companies will benefit more of someone who has a grasp of many technologies instead that knows only one medium well (CCNA level). The companies do not have Only one technology , they expect you to handle and juggle with several tasks and this certification is for that it also to give you a clear path of where to look in the future remember that this is a junior entry level cert and to be professional you need study MUCH more.

    I strongly believe that knowledge such as wireless , python , rest api , SD Wan are very useful nowadays and it will allow the engineer to dig more if they really want .

    What would you do with someone CCIE in voice if you have a wireless problem? At least the CCNA will be able to know where to find Information and have an idea of what is happening, at the end is also cheaper for companies to hire people with multiple skills (such as these new special certification ) than one engineer very expert of each topic but useless in others.

    Don’t you think? 😛

  2. christianscholz Post author

    Hi Miguel,

    thank you so much for giving feedback – I appreciate it and I also like to learn 🙂

    Right – I’m a Juniper guy, but also a Cisco guy (even without an active Certification) and an Aruba guy and a Linux Guy 😉

    I agree that, in general, having a broad understanding is not wrong; however, for certification, I believe this is not the right way to take. I hope that a CCIE Voice never has to troubleshoot Wireless issues regarding access point placement or similar – that should be looked at by the Wireless BU 😉

    What I see as a big problem here is that you have to learn a ridiculous amount of technology that you probably never use again. And you have to learn all that to get an entry-level exam – that’s very unfair, I think – it should be more specialized so that even the A-Level matters and shows that you know the concepts of this particular topic.

    With 5 or 6 topics put into 65 questions, this only indicates that you are either very good at learning questions and answers (or are dumping) or that you have taken a 2 to 3-year ride to understand the concept of every topic out there to get an associate-level Certification that in the end at the P-Level results in specialization anyways – that’s where Cisco is inconsistent in my opinion. Still, all you wanted is to start a career as a security engineer, for example.

    I agree with you that knowledge of various topics is essential and valuable, and gaining experience in multiple topics is never wrong – but do you think that it helps to ask ALL of this in one Exam? Shouldn’t it at least be various exams that can result in a certification instead of one exam for all? That, however, would result in specialization 🙂

    How is your experience in the daily Job or your Customer’s site? Do they have multiple BU’s here for every technology, or is there one big BU for all technologies?

    Best Regards

    1. Miguel

      Hey Christian,

      Thanks for replying.

      You are right and I guess it all always end up in that word that everybody hates “It depends”. I think it will depend on the size and scale of the company that you work for, previously I worked in a mid size company around 10.000 employees where the network team was everything, wireless, routing and voice, thanks god at least security was handled by a different team, so in those cases an engineer that knows several technologies is better than one that is really good in only one.

      Now working in a much bigger company, I am more dedicated in cloud networking BUT in this big company the network teams are more specialized and less focused on solving problems of anything that breaks.

      Following the idea above I guess we have to do a quick study field (HAHA) ,of which is the most common needs for companies nowadays which I believe is how Cisco prepared the material for this new certs.

      Anyway thanks for replying, I really enjoy people that share technical content thanks for your time.


      1. christianscholz Post author

        Thank you as well 🙂
        Have a Nice Holiday and a happy new year 🙂

  3. Arnkot

    To be honest, I don’t think this is a “new” CCNA problem. I got my CCNA in 2018 and after a year of job searching I realized I should give up on getting into the networking/systems admin side of IT as that ship has sailed – the jobs are far and few in-between and competition is fierce. I got 3 interviews and the pay wasn’t even that much more than desktop support which is what I was doing previously (going from mid 50s > 60k) for the amount of knowledge/experience required. They wanted experience in Palo Alto, F5, ASA etc.

    I then started searching for ‘less technical’ roles like app support, project management, and Business Analyst. It’s funny how those roles pay as much if not more than those “entry level” networking jobs, require less demanding hours (no 24/7 rotational NOC shifts), and are actually in demand.

    I’m going to let my CCNA expire next year – and I never would have thought I’d say such a thing a year ago! I can’t even say the CCNA has been useful for the non network interviews I went on. Ah well, this is just me regretting the 6+ months I spent locked in my room studying/learning CCNA topics after work. That time could have been spent better on cloud or learning to code – I digress. Enough blogging about me and back to your topic!

    I think specialization is extremely important and the all rounders are part of the reason networking jobs are not in demand. After all, why hire a CCNA to manage some of your network when your Systems guy can do the same and a consultant can do the specialized things? There just isn’t enough work to justify a jack of all trades – where as a specialized person can at least get hired as a consultant/contractor in their area of specialty.


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