Revolution or evolution?

How Cisco has changed their certifications for tomorrow.

The biggest news at this summer’s Cisco Live in San Diego was not one of the usual kind. Where Cisco has been known to save the launch of new equipment, new technologies and new concepts for Cisco Live, this summer’s news was a different beast: Cisco used the opportunity to introduce their new certification program.

Cisco’s certification program, which has been around for more than 25 years and has always been synonymous with high integrity and an equally high level of professional competence, has seen some changes before. What started as a pure CCIE certification in ancient platforms like the AGS and MGS, has evolved into multiple levels with the CCNA and the CCNP, and branched out across multiple technologies, as the world of networking grew to encompass more and more. The latest evolution was in 2008, where Cisco launched the CCDE and right after that the CCAr. The latter has an almost unicorn-feel to it due to the extremely limited number of people going for it and obtaining it.

I am sure only a few would disagree with me when I claim that this summer’s announcement could be considered one of the largest changes to the certification program ever. Some might even call it a revolution instead of just an evolution.

The CCIE is dead – Long live the CCIE!

First, Cisco has finally put the previously coveted CCIE in routing and switching into the grave. This was the very first type of CCIE you could go for, but considering the way the world is categorising competencies today, it did feel a bit old school. This CCIE has been replaced with a new one called CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure. Core competencies like routing and switching will still be part of the exam, but software defined networking and programmability plays a large part in this new certification, and as that certification evolves my guess is, that we will see even more of that stuff in the future. While the entire routing and switching track is simply called Enterprise Infrastructure now, the CCIE wireless still holds a unique place within this area. All existing CCIEs in routing and switching will be transformed into CCIEs in Enterprise Infrastructure in 2020.

CCNP revamped

Second, Cisco has killed off several of the professional level certifications and instead swapped them with new specializations also called concentration exams. No longer do you take a specific CCNP in routing and switching, wireless, datacenter, or perhaps the CCDP, but instead everyone gets to take the same core exam and then choose one or more concentration exams. Topics include:

  • CCNP Enterprise
    • Advanced routing and services
    • Enterprise networks
    • SD-WAN
    • Designing or implementing wireless networks
    • Automating and programming enterprise solutions
  • CCNP Data center
    • Designing data center infrastructure
    • Troubleshooting data center infrastructure
    • Implementing ACI
    • Implementing SAN
    • Automating and programming data center solutions
  • CCNP Security
    • Firepower
    • ISE
    • Securing email
    • Securing the web
    • Virtual private networks
    • Automating and programming security solutions
  • CCNP Service Provider
    • Advanced routing solutions
    • VPN services
    • Automating and programming service provider solutions
  • CCNP Collaboration
    • Collaboration applications
    • Call control and mobility services
    • Cloud and edge solutions
    • Automating collaboration solutions

This means that you can easily expand on your CCNP by adding additional concentration exams.

DevNet gets the attention it deserves

Third, Cisco has announced a whole new area of expertise to become certified in. The new DevNet certifications will test individual’s ability to understand and leverage all the new tools of the modern networking world. From Yang and RESTCONF to Python and REST API calls, no stone will be left unturned. For now, Cisco has announced an associate level (CCNA) and a professional level (CCNP), and according to Cisco we can expect to see an expert level (CCIE) for this area as well. All the other technology areas will also hold some sort of focus on the same topics, but these DevNet certifications are expected to be hardcore programmability to the bone. A testament to this is that each automation and programming concentration exam from each of the five “ordinary” CCNP areas, can also be used as a concentration exam for the DevNet Professional certification, you just have to add the DevNet core exam as well.

What about design?

The CCDA and CCDP are dead. The CCDP has been replaced with design-oriented concentration exams in the CCNP for Enterprise infrastructure and the CCNP Data center. Only the CCDE and the CCAr remains untouched and thank god for that. Otherwise this blog post would have had a lot more bile thrown in. We might see some changes there as well, but I doubt it. The CCDE and CCAr can still stand on their own, the contents of the exams will just need to evolve to encompass all the new stuff the networking world and Cisco is throwing at us.

Lifetime equalization and the road to happiness

Last, the lifetime of the individual certifications has been equalized. Where certifications like CCNP used to last for three years, CCIEs only had two years before they needed to re-certify. Now, things are lined up in equal fashion. Every certification will last for three years, no more, no less. To be fair, the CCIE used to have an extra grace period of one year if you missed recertification within your two-year limit, but essentially your CCIE-status was halted in the meantime. No longer will this be the case.

Recertification has also changed somewhat. Once you hold a certification and get closer and closer to the expiration date, your stress levels increase, and eventually you breathe a sigh of relief, once you have passed the requirements for recertification and are good to go for another few years. As always you can recertify by taking exams for all levels, but you can no longer just recertify by passing a single exam. You will also need to throw in extra Continuous Education points. Calculating how many points vs. how many exams you need to take is too cumbersome to write here, but if you are interested, Cisco has an excellent overview here: The road to happiness (and recertification) has definitely changed, but not necessarily for the worse.

When will reality set in?

All these changes are scheduled to go live on the 24th of February 2020. Until then it is business as usual. I know people who are hurrying their CCIE training to get it done before the blueprint changes. Personally, I’m aiming to recertify my CCIE and CCDE by use of continuous education points before the number increases from 100 to 120 🙂