Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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A Cisco Certified Network Associate's annual salary may exceed $79,000. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a Cisco Certified Network Associate is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Cisco Certified Network Associate Career

A Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) manages local area networks (LAN) and wide area networks (WAN) that use Cisco routers and switches. Read about the pros and cons of a CCNA career and find out if it's the right career move for you.

Pros of a Cisco Certified Network Associate Career
CCNA certification can lead to good earnings (most network administrators with CCNA credentials earn between $40,064 and $79,823 per year)*
Opportunity to specialize your CCNA certification in security, voice or wireless**
Can work anywhere that utilizes networking technologies (telecommunications providers, manufacturing companies, educational institutions, computer firms, financial institutions, etc.)***

Cons of a Cisco Certified Network Associate Career
Many positions require a technology degree, work experience and other certifications***
Unusual hours and overtime are sometimes needed***
Handling network problems and multitasking can be stressful***
Continuing education and training are needed in order to maintain certification and pursue more advanced Cisco credentials**

Sources: * (2015 figures), **Cisco.U.S., ***Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

CCNAs usually perform the job duties of a network technician or network administrator. As a CCNA, you may install, configure and maintain networking equipment, such as routers and switches. This can involve setting up network hardware and typing commands into Cisco IOS software, which is used to configure network devices. Network security responsibilities are also common and include setting up access control lists for firewalls and monitoring intrusion detection systems for potential security breaches.

You may also identify and solve issues that affect network performance, which can require unusual work hours and overtime. While CCNAs solve some issues themselves, complex issues may require communication with outside vendors or help from more experienced personnel. Those who are network technicians, for example, may get help from upper-level information technology professionals, like network administrators. Juggling the responsibilities of maintaining a network infrastructure and dealing with multiple technical problems can make this career stressful.

Career Prospects and Salary Info

Since a CCNA usually works as a network technician (also referred to as a computer support specialist) or network administrator, career prospects depend on your specific job title. Network technicians were expected to have a lower than average 7% employment growth, while network administrators were expected to have an average 12% projected employment growth from 2012-2022, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

As of 2015, reports that most network administrators with CCNA credentials earn salaries between $40,064 and $79,823. However, keep in mind that your salary may vary according to your job title and industry. According to the BLS, network administrators earned a median salary of $75,790 as of 2014, while network technicians earned a median salary of $61,830 per year.

What Are the Requirements?

Earning the CCNA Certification

The CCNA certification has no prerequisites and doesn't require formal training to pursue testing, which can consist of a single exam over all the material or two exams that each focus on specific exam areas. Exam topics include network installation, wired and wireless network configuration, routing and switching, IP addressing, network security, Cisco IOS and troubleshooting. If you take the two-exam path, you can earn the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) credential after passing the first part. You can either study on your own or take classes at a training center, vocational school or university.

Some colleges offer CCNA preparation courses that can be applied to a degree program or result in an undergraduate certificate. After earning the CCNA designation, you need to meet recertification requirements every three years by taking the most current CCNA exam or earning a different Cisco certification that meets requirements.

Education Requirements and Skills

Network administrator and network technician positions often require a bachelor's degree in computer science or another computer-related field; however, some employers may hire you with only an associate's degree or some college coursework. If you're an experienced networking professional, employers may disregard the degree requirement if you have enough work experience and technical skill. In addition to knowing how to install, configure, maintain and troubleshoot networks that use Cisco technologies, you need to understand LAN and WAN technologies, Internet services, data communication protocols, computer operating systems, information security and desktop applications.

CCNAs need strong customer service and communications skills to handle support ticket requests, deal with outside vendors and communicate technical issues clearly. The tasks of designing networks, choosing equipment, determining connectivity issues and implementing security methods require strong problem-solving and analytical skills. Since networking professionals may deal with many issues at once, it's important to be patient under pressure, self-directed and effective at multitasking. A willingness to learn is also beneficial, since CCNAs need to stay current and get recertified.

Job Listings from Real Employers

Employers generally don't just look for candidates with the CCNA credential. Many positions require other Cisco or networking certifications, work experience and a computer-related bachelor's degree. Some employers also look for an understanding of operating systems, desktop applications and network hardware from other vendors. The following are some May 2012 job postings that emphasize the CCNA credential:

  • A technology consulting firm in Alabama seeks a Cisco network administrator with a computer science degree, the CCNA designation and the CompTIA Security+ certification. A candidate with a bachelor's degree needs three years of experience, but one with vocational school training needs at least eight years.
  • A technology consulting company in Colorado advertised for a network technician with the CCNA certification, a bachelor's degree and at least two years of experience in networking. The candidate should be able to design networks and have an understanding of Alcatel, Fujitsu, Ericsson and Nortel equipment. An ideal applicant will know how to use Microsoft Office and will have the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) credential.
  • An Illinois florist is looking for a network operations center (NOC) technician who has a computer science bachelor's degree, the CCNA credential or a certification from Microsoft. The candidate needs to understand Cisco IOS, firewalls, switches and routers, as well as having at least two years of work experience. An understanding of Microsoft applications, operating systems, network connectivity options and network communications protocols is also needed.
  • A Georgia staffing firm seeks a junior network administrator with CCNA certification and at least two years of Cisco experience. The candidate should understand security, TCP/IP, network protocols and WAN technologies. The company prefers experience with Cisco VoIP, Cisco Access Control Server (ACS) and Solarwinds Orion. No degree requirement is mentioned.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Pursue Advanced Cisco Certifications

Earning additional Cisco certifications can help you stand out and specialize in an area of networking that interests you. If you'd like to further your knowledge in routing and switching, you can pursue the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) credential, which is a step up from the CCNA and requires three exams in routing, switching and troubleshooting. If you're not ready to pursue this advanced certification, you can get a specialized CCNA credential. Options include the CCNA Security for network security, the CCNA Voice for Voice over IP (VoIP) technologies and CCNA Wireless for wireless network administration.

Get Certified in Other Technologies

Since companies sometimes use technologies from other vendors, you can expand your skill set with certifications from CompTIA and Microsoft, which generally require passage of an exam or set of exams. You could pursue the CompTIA Security+ credential, which demonstrates your expertise in non-vendor-specific IT security. Microsoft also provides a wide range of certifications, like the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist credential. This lower-level certification is available in various specialties, like SQL Server, Exchange Server, Visual Studio, Virtualization, Windows Client and Windows Server. You could also earn the Microsoft Certified IT Professional credential, which requires passing multiple exams in a specific technology, such as Exchange Server, SQL Server or SharePoint Server.

Alternative Careers in Information Technology

Network Architect

If you want to work with networks but would rather focus more on design than maintenance, consider becoming a network architect. In this position, you consider an organization's goals to engineer an effective network layout, recommend the best hardware, install hardware and software and implement network security measures. The requirements for this career are similar to other networking roles and may include a computer science bachelor's degree, industry certifications and at least five years of networking experience.

This profession offers slightly higher earning potential than that of CCNAs; according to the BLS, network architects earned a median salary of about $91,000 as of 2012. These professionals were also expected to have faster-than-average job growth of 15% from 2012-2022.

Database Administrator

If you want a job that deals with networking, but you want to focus solely on security, database administrators are often paid well and have favorable job prospects. Some database administration duties include creating databases, preventing data loss, making modifications and changing who has permission to access database contents. Requirements include a computer-related bachelor's degree, work experience in databases and knowledge of database languages. According to the BLS, jobs for database administrators were expected to increase by 15% from 2012-2022, and the median salary for these professionals was about $77,080 as of 2012.

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