June 23, 2019 - 8 minute read

New Cisco Certification Program

During the last Cisco Live in San Diego 2019, Cisco announced a complete restructuring of their certification program . The intention is to target audiences and add value to the program for each level of experience.

There’s continued education and flexible combinations for all levels for recertification. Unified CCNA. DevNet. Specializations. New training materials, including Cisco Press, are being prepared. All that for the go-live of Feb 24th 2020.

So much information at once is overwhelming. Some people got scared, some got excited, but most of us just got confused and wanted to know what exactly changes. The goal of this article is to paint a clearer, simpler view of what’s to come for folks pursuing a Cisco certification.

If you want to know directly from the source, access cisco.com/nextlevel

Disclaimer: according to Cisco, this is a completely new program. So do not compare it to the letter with the current program, as some standards may not apply.

There are a few scenarios, you may identify yourself with one of them: Let’s get to each one:

“I am new to IT. I have no certifications or experience.”

What’s changed?
Cisco Certified Technician (CCT) will be the one and only Entry level certification. This cert is much more to prepare field support than anything else.
People tend to skip it and go straight to the Associate level, as it has more market value. That turned the CCNA R&S into the unofficial Entry level certification, which is kinda unnerving.
But it’s nice to know that Entry level still exists and people may give it more credit now.

What’s next?
It really depends on how are you planning your career. Want to be a Network Engineer? Try CCNA. Want to develop software? Try DevNet associate. Don’t know what to do yet? Check out the blueprints of the new program, see what suits you better.

“I’ve been around for awhile or have an Associate level certification under my belt.”

What’s changed?
One exam to rule them all. Cisco decided to “snap” 10+ certifications out of existence and only one exam remains: the CCNA . That’s it.

It makes sense, though. What employers and the industry expect from a Junior Network Engineer? That s/he understands the fundamentals well. That is to know subnetting, basic TCP/IP, basic routing and switching, a little bit of security, a little bit of wireless, maybe some automation. You don’t need to specialize at a junior level but you need to master the basics.

Redefining what “basic” means, the domains on the exam are:

CCDA is dead. All the other CCNA flavors are dead. Design got much more space upwards in the program as Specialization. The basics of security, wireless, etc., are embedded into the new CCNA exam. What is not so basic stays on the Professional level.

So, if you’re already a certified associate, by Feb 24th 2020 you will have 3 things:

“But, what about CCENT?” CCENT is dead. No equivalencies, no migration. Since all the other flavors are gone, there’s no need for two-part certification or an “entry-level exam”. CCENT is no more! If that’s all the certification you have so far, better hurry up or by Feb 24th 2020 you will have NOTHING. NetworkChuck said it better than I ever could.

Access to the Continuing Education program (CE). It has been available for CCIEs for awhile. It is a catalog of online courses, instructor-led training, authoring of content, and Cisco Live training offerings. Those items can be used to earn credits toward recertification. The success of the program played important part in extending it for the entire community.

What’s next?
You can :

“I want to get more into this network stuff but I’m a software developer.”

What’s changed?
Cisco sees you, Cisco recognizes you. The technical specialty of Network Programmability evolved into an entire separated track, DevNet.

“Do I need to know network to get into DevNet?” Not the same amount a network engineer would, but some.

The idea here is to advance the industry, enabling more automation and programmability. To achieve that, Cisco adopted the strategies:

At least 10% of the new CCNA will be about the basics of automation and programmability. The DevNet Associate , as CCNA counterpart will be no different. It will also expect some level of network understanding, as well as mastery of some APIs and automation products.

What’s next?
Depending of your skills and experience, go for the DevNet track certifications. There are Associate and Professional levels available, with a bunch of specialties. Expert level is still to be announced.

“I have lots of professional experience but no certifications.”

What’s changed?
No prerequisites! No need to pass the CCNA exam beforehand. If you are already a professional, you can prove it in the professional level, right?
Specialist badges play a big part here. You may test the skills you are most proficient in first. Already experienced in Cloud? Take the Cloud Solutions exam and became a specialist.
Needless to say some self-assessment is in order. Don’t aim for a CCNP if you can’t deliver.

What’s next?
Depending on your skill or experience, you can go for an exact Specialist exam and then build up to a CCNP, if desired.

“I’ve passed one or more CCNP exams.”

Before anything else, go to the Migration Tool and see where you stand. Cisco made it clear that they want to recognize effort where is due. So you may not have a CCNP badge yet, but chances are you are already qualified for one or more Specialist badges.
Again, the old and new program are different beasts. This serves to smooth the transition between the programs while the exams organically expire.

What’s changed?
Modularity. The professional level will have only 5 technology tracks (and a DevNet track , on the side):

Each track have a Core exam that consists of the basic knowledge required of that technology. Additionally to that, each track has a catalog of Concentration exams . There’s the well known Design and Implementation realms, but new stuff like SD-WAN and Automation got their own exams now. Cisco also confirmed this modularity will allow new technologies to come to front and obsolete ones to be retired more easily.

More value, faster. CCNP certification will only require two (2) exams. Not 4, not 3. Two. One Core and any one Concentration exam of the same track, and that’s it. Thank you, Cisco.
But even better than that, for any exam you take you receive a Specialist badge. So you don’t have to wait to pass the two exams to get some recognition.

Flexibity. You can finally build your own personalized profile, showcasing your skills and experience. Taking exams across tracks or within the same track, at any order you desire (no need to take Core first). You’ll be able to prove how much of a generalist or specialist you are. Pursue the recognition that matters to you now. Make your resume pop-up to companies hiring to meet their specific needs.

CCDP is dead. Well, kinda. The CCDP badge is no longer an option but all the tracks have a least one Design specialization. Continuing Education program will be available to keep you updated if you are not keen to take exams.

What’s next?
No doubt the professional level became the most flexible with the changes. The sky is the limit here. You can :

Speaking of CCIE, the expert level follows the same 5 tracks from the professional level. In doing so, it replaces the CCIE written exam by the Core exam from the professional level for that same track.

“Wait. So if I have a CCNP, I’m half-way through my CCIE?” YES! No more CCIE written exam!

“I’ve passed the CCIE written exam.”

What’s changed?
CCIE Routing & Switching and CCIE Wireless are now both part of the CCIE Enterprise track.

The new names are CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure (RS) and CCIE Enterprise Wireless. They do have a common Core exam, ENCOR, but they do still have separate CCIE lab exams.

The big change is the lab structure. The candidate now has to show understanding of the network lifecycle, end-to-end. The new format consists of 2 modules:
  1. Design: 3h module, like the CCDE practical. This module is mandatory for all the tracks. Which means Cisco expect CCIEs to have some form of design skill from now on. Like the current setup, there’s a minimum cut score to proceed to the next module.
  2. Deploy, Operate & Optimize: 5h module, similar to the old format. Expect automation and troubleshooting being integrated here.

What’s next?
If you are pursuing a CCDE , go for it. Nothing changed there.“But, isn’t the Design track dead?” Cisco incorporated design in the lab exam for all the other tracks, yes, but did not retire CCDE yet. It will still be around for a few more years.

For CCIE , the older written exam will be migrated to the matching Core exam. But do yourself a favor and don’t wait for Feb 24th 2020 if you spent the last months (years!) studying for the lab.

“I have completed one or more CCIEs.”

What’s changed?
The cert is now valid for 3 years and there is no suspended status. So you’ll need to keep track of your date because if you don’t recert within that time frame, it expires!

If your cert status is Active, the suspended year converts into an active year. But if it is Suspended, the remaining time of your status turns into Active. The new deadline to recertify is the 3-year anniversary of the conclusion of your last cert. This will all happen by Feb 24th 2020 automatically.

What’s next?
If you are a CCIE and wants to pursue a CCDE or CCAr certification, go for it. Nothing changed there.
If you want to dive into the DevNet track , start checking out the associate and professional level certs. Cisco will launch something on the expert level soon, but no release date yet.

Check the Recertification Policy page for specifics but to keep recertifying, do any of the following: If you maintain your status (Active or Emeritus) for 20 consecutive years you’ll receive the CCIE Lifetime Emeritus Benefit. No renewal fees.

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