Cisco CCNA or CompTIA Network+? 4 Steps to Help You Decide!


Doing a certification is a time-consuming process. It’s a good idea to do some research to see if the certification you are planning to do is the one you actually need. I have personally invested and wasted a lot of time into the wrong certification so I am writing this article to make sure you are not doing the same.

Are you confused about which certification to take? Try following these steps to make the decision

  • Step #1: Decide if you really need a certification.
  • Step #2: Research your job market.
  • Step #3: Choose a career path.
  • Step #4: Make a decision and go for it..!

Cisco CCENT and CompTIA Network+ are both beginner level network certifications, both are trusted worldwide, and both cover the same syllabus/curriculum, which includes the basic networking concepts. But they do differ in terms of possible career paths you can take once you have completed the certifications. Also depending on the country and region you want to work in, industries in that region usually prefer one over the other.

In this post, let’s discuss these 2 certifications and several factors you should keep in mind before you can make a decision on which one is appropriate for you! 

Step #1: Decide if you really need a certification

Do I even need a certification if I already got a Computer Science degree?

This is a famous question among all students entering the job market. Let’s see why to do a certification in the first place. We can take a look at the reasons through 2 perspectives, your’s and your possible future (or present) employer.

Certification taker’s perspective

I can think of 2 reasons to actually go for a certification

  1. Universities around the world have designed their own curriculum and design it in such a way that they include concepts if they feel it is best for their students. There is no definite standard to what a Networking class and syllabus should look like if you take a look at it from a global perspective. Also, these courses are usually not updated for ages and with rapidly improving technology, there is a possibility of you falling behind your peers in the field. Thus globally accepted industry-oriented certifications are the only way of knowing your own strengths and weaknesses so that you can improve upon them as you go forward with your career.
  2. If you are someone like me, this certification exam can be a good motivator for you to learn the skills involved for you gain more knowledge to take a step up on your career!

Employers perspective

The most important reason anyone ever does a given certification for is to level up their careers. But first, let’s take a moment to look at certifications from an employer’s perspective. 

 To the employers, someone with a certification demonstrates these 2 qualities

  1. The person is actively involved in learning and improving their skills, a sign of motivation to learn the technology. 
  2. The person has already demonstrated the skills needed to do the job to a trusted certifying authority (Cisco or CompTIA in our cases), hence they are better options to be shortlisted and taken into the next round of the hiring process.

Both CompTIA and Cisco are equally trusted by the industry, so it all boils down to what knowledge is actually covered as part of the certification and how appropriate it is for the job you are applying for. In order to get to know these certifications better let’s have a look at the prospective career paths that these certifications can lead to.

If you have a college degree in Computer Science, the odds are you will probably still be able to land a job without going through these certifications. But there is no denying that certification will only improve the odds in your favor!

So back to the question, if you think certification is a good idea for you, then proceed to step 2!

Step #2: Choose your Career Path

I would highly recommend you to not look at the salaries of a job you would get from a given certification as the primary motivating factor. Instead, think about it from a long term perspective about the type of career that this job is gonna lead to, as you are likely to spend anywhere from 10 to 30 years on this job and it better be something you find interesting and make a lot of money in at the same time!

Cisco CCENT and CCNA

Cisco is a big player among the manufacturers of networking equipment and they have contributed to the networking field a lot through research and development. They started to provide certifications for networking professionals as a way to train them to use their equipment, which soon gained popularity and these days their certifications cover all the way from basic to advanced networking knowledge.

According to Cisco’s website on CCENT certification

“The CCENT certification validates the skills required for entry-level network support positions, the starting point for many successful careers in networking. CCENT certified professionals have the knowledge and skill to install, operate, and troubleshoot a small enterprise branch network, including basic network security.”

What this means to us is, this certification is usually targeted at someone with zero networking knowledge and it aims at making them employable in the networking industry at an entry-level support position. 

To be on par with CompTIA’s Network+ you need to have Cisco’s CCNA certification. According to Cisco’s website on CCNA certification

We designed the new CCNA program to prepare you for today’s associate-level job roles in IT technologies. CCNA now includes security and automation and programmability. The program has one certification that covers a broad range of fundamentals for IT careers, with one exam and one training course to help you prepare.
Newly retooled for the latest technologies and job roles, the CCNA training course and exam give you the foundation you need to take your career in any direction. CCNA certification covers a breadth of topics, including:
Network fundamentals
Network access
IP connectivity
IP services
Security fundamentals
Automation and programmability

This means that after this certification you will be ready to take the job role of “Junior Networking Engineer” which is one step further that a role you will be hired in if you just have the CCENT.

Cisco Certification path

Let’s take a look at the Cisco certification path. The image below is from Cisco’s website about the type of career you can make taking their certifications.

cisco career path

The first certification in their path is geared towards the job title “Junior Networking Engineer” and the final one is geared towards the job title “Network Architect”.  As you can see all their certifications are networking centric and they progress very nicely on a narrow specialty of a network engineer. 

Being narrow has its pros and cons. Pros being the fact that instead of going towards a “jack of all trades” path, you will be focussing on becoming an “expert in networking” path. The industry needs experts and this can make it easy to switch companies if you decide to do so at some point in your career.  The cons of taking a narrow path are that if you get interested in something else sometime in the future, like say for example if you want to get into IoT development in the future, then the switch from such a narrow path will not be very easy as you will need good basics of the other areas of computer science to make the change in career path easier.

Let’s take a moment to discuss the vendor specificity of Cisco certifications.

Is Cisco certifications vendor specific?

You need to keep in mind that their certification is, in fact, vendor-specific, that is, they teach you how to use their own products. That does not mean that the skills you learn are not transferable. Say, for instance, tomorrow cisco goes out of business, then the experience you get from being a Cisco certified networking engineer is still going to be very useful there.

The transition will be similar to moving from an iPhone to an Android smartphone, that is even though the User interface is extremely different, the underlying principles remain the same, they are both in essence smartphones that you can use to make calls, text, do social networking, see videos and play games on!

Similarly, if your company moves from Cisco to some other manufacturer for their networking equipment, all you need to do is master the learning curve and get used to the commands and UI and then it is gonna feel like second nature.

CompTIA Network+

CompTIA stands for the Computing Technology Industry Association, it’s a worldwide association of academics and industry professionals aimed at improving the IT industry.

According to CompTIA’s website

Network+ ensures an IT professional has the knowledge and skills to:

* Design and implement functional networks

* Configure, manage, and maintain essential network devices

* Use devices such as switches and routers to segment network traffic and create resilient networks

* Identify the benefits and drawbacks of existing network configurations

* Implement network security, standards, and protocols

* Troubleshoot network problems

* Support the creation of virtualized networks

As you can see the knowledge level is a bit more than what you saw with Cisco’s CCENT, its more on par with the Associate level in the Cisco’s certification path. So it is basically equivalent to taking the first 2 certifications of CCNA in one go.

CompTIA Certifications path

Comptia’s certification paths are more general in nature, compared to Cisco which is more geared towards networking professionals. 

Take a look at the CompTIA certifications path in the figure below. 

comptia career path

As you can see the certification path is focussed first on learning the core skills by doing their IT Fundamentals, A+, Network+ and Security+ certifications and then you can either take their infrastructure pathway or their cybersecurity pathway. 

In the infrastructure pathway, you can learn Linux+(system administrator), server+(server administrator) and cloud+ (cloud administrator) skills.

In the cybersecurity pathway, you can learn in-depth network security by learning Pentest+ (penetration testing engineer) or CASP (advanced security practitioner, a specialized role on big organizations that focuses on network security)

So it all comes down to your own personal preference, based on which career path you find interesting you can pick either one!

So now you got a favorite certification. Let’s proceed to step 3 and see if the job market matches your personal goals.

Step #3: Research your job market

One of the activities you should do is research your job market to see which certification will be most useful for you if you really want to land a job as soon as you can. Employers in different regions of the world are interested in different certification (based on the popularity of the certification in your region). Knowledgeable recruiters will have no problems with either one as they know that CCNA and Network+ are equivalent, but you cannot always count on that.

One method I would suggest is to go to the job advertising websites like Glassdoor and monster and search for jobs using the keyword “network engineer” and have a look at the requirements section of the job posting to see what certification the employers in your area are interested in.  

Another method of getting this information is by connecting to the recruitment agencies in your region. You can talk to them to see which of these 2 is the more popular certification in your region. If you have any friends in the networking field you can have a talk with them. LinkedIn is also a good resource for this.

It will take a couple of hours at most to do the research but it will prevent you from a lot of headaches in the future.

I hope after this research you got a good idea of which is better for you. If the one you picked from step 2 and step 3 matches, that is if your career goals and market needs are the same then you are in luck! If they do not match then proceed to step 4!

Step #4: Make a decision and go for it..!

Okay if you have to take this step, then you are still confused! Let’s address another question certification takers usually, have that prevents them from making a decision. 

Can I switch certification paths in the future?

The answer is Yes you can! Say for example you have a CCNA, which is level 2 in Cisco’s certification path, then you want to get some Linux admin skills as your company wants you to wear both hats of networking engineer and a Linux administrator (of course they will probably give you a raise as your responsibilities have increased!). This is common in many small companies with limited resources. Do you need to take CompTIA Network+ again before going for the Linux+ certification? No, It’s just a recommended prerequisite, not a mandatory one.  Even if you are switching companies, a knowledgeable recruiter will know that CCNA and Network+ are equivalent so you will not face any problems there either.  

As long as you have the prerequisite knowledge you can take any certification at any point in time. Even if you don’t have the prerequisite knowledge all it means is that the learning curve will become a bit steeper and challenging and you may need to take the exam more than one time to clear that particular level, but it’s certainly not impossible. 

If you are still confused then just choose one and go for it, wasting time thinking about it is not going to help your career. If you want to change your career path in the future, then you can always take whatever certification you need at that point in time..!

Hence the decision on which one to take should be made based on 2 factors 

  • your career goals 
  • the region you would like to work in.

If you want to go for a narrow career path that focuses on networking then I would suggest you go for Cisco and if you want to keep your options open so that you can switch to some other area of your field in the future then I would suggest CompTIA. 

The decision should also be based on where you live and what skills does your job market actually need. 

Related Questions

Should I take CompTIA IT Fundamentals+ and A+ certifications before taking the Network+ exam? No, it is only a recommended prerequisite. If you already have a college degree in Computer Science then you can skip it, else I would recommend you to take the ITF+ and A+ before going for Network+

What is the validity in years for CompTIA Network+ certification? It is valid for 3 years from the date of your exam. You don’t have to relearn everything and give the exams again, you can simply take part in CompTIA’s continuing education program to extend it to another 3 years.

What is the validity in years for CCENT and CCNA certifications? It is valid for 3 years from the date of your exam. But unlike CompTIA, here you need to retake the exam to extend the validity.

Why do certifications expire? The simple answer is that since technology is changing, the certification will start to lose its value, that’s the reason these certifying organizations continuously update their certifications with the latest relevant industry needs in mind.

But for both Cisco and CompTIA if in this 3 year period if you have given another higher-level certification, then the lower level one will automatically extend its validity. But practically speaking, if you got 3 years of relevant job experience after your certification, employers are probably not going to care if your certification is valid or not!

Hope this post was helpful and I was able to help you make a decision.

You can email us or contact us through this link if you have any questions or suggestions.

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All the best to you and your career!

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