General Overview of Cisco Certification Paths – CCNA, CCNP & CCIE

Cisco is widely known for its networking and communication technologies, products, and services. Besides the routing and switching products, Cisco also specializes in storage networks, unified communications platforms, collaboration, telepresence, and product support solutions for data centers and cloud storage.

Given that, the company created the Cisco Career Certification portfolio to equip IT professionals with the skills necessary to support its myriad of services and products. The Cisco certificate pathway begins at the entry-level, followed by the associate, professional, and expert ones, and finishes with the architect level.

Every Cisco certification level has specific credentials that involve passing one or more exams. Pearson VUE delivers a majority of the Cisco tests. Additionally, some high-level certificates require prerequisites with increasing requirements the higher one climbs up the Cisco credentials pathway.

Cisco Certifications

There are the following IT credentials in the Cisco certification pathway:

  • Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)
  • A Cisco Certified Technician (CCT)
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • CiscoCertifiedDesignAssociate (CCDA)
  • Cisco Certified NetworkProfessional (CCNP)
  • Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP)
  • Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
  • Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE)
  • Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr)

Cisco Career Paths From ExamSnap

Potential candidates can use different certification paths for a career as a Cisco professional. However, Cisco has two major pathways: network operations and network design. Typically, the candidates begin their pathway with an entry-level CCENT credential, then receive CCNA, move up to CCNP, and finally get the CCIE certification. However, if you’re design-oriented, consider beginning with CCENT, moving to CCDA, then professional CCDP, CCDE, and CCAr to cap your career.

Moreover, the Cisco certification program includes various specializations and result that validate the professional’s skills in specific technologies. Similarly, there are two categories of Cisco specialization: technical specialists and digital transformation specialists. Overall, both categories have 18 practice areas. Technical specializations include:

  • Security
  • Collaboration
  • Service Provider
  • FlexPod
  • The Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Network Programmability
  • Operating System Software

On the other hand, the Digital Transformation specializations focus on customer success and business architecture. For any credential, you must pass one or two exams. The CCENT, CCNA, and CCNP certificates have a validity of 3 years; the CCIE credentials, 2 years; and the CCAr, 5 years. However, Cisco requires that professionals recertify a certification or advance to a higher level to retain validity.

  • Entry-Level Certifications

The CCENT and CCT credentials include Cisco entry-level certifications. Like most entry-level IT certificates, this level requires no prerequisites. However, candidates must pass a single entry-level exam to obtain any of these credentials.

The CCENT certification is intended for professionals who install, maintain, and troubleshoot small or enterprise-wide networks with the goal of implementing network security. This is a prerequisite for the associate-level CCNA and CCDA certifications. The relevant exam is 100–105 ICND1 (45–55 questions within 90 minutes).

The CCT is certified to diagnose, repair, and replace network equipment. Typically, these specialists work onsite at a client’s location. CCTs have the option of choosing between the Data Center and Routing and Switching certification paths.

  • Associate-Level Certifications

Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) comprise the Cisco associate-level certifications. Typically, the candidates must pass one or two exams to gain these credentials on either side. CCNA validates a candidate’s ability to install, support, and troubleshoot wired or wireless networks. In this pathway, the specialists can choose between nine tracks: Cloud, Collaboration, Cyber Ops, Data Center, Industrial, Routing and Switching, Security, Service Provider, and Wireless. You are required to have the CNA credential to obtain the CCNP certification. Even so, the CCNA prerequisites vary depending on the chosen pathway.

The CCDA certificate examines one’s ability to design wireless networks that incorporate voice and security solutions. You need the CCDA credential to be certified as a CCDP professional. To sit for the CCDA test, candidates must have valid CCENT, CCNA Routing and Switching, or any CCIE credentials plus pass one additional exam. The relevant test for this Cisco certification is 200-310 DESIGN (55–65 questions within 75 minutes).

  • Professional-Level Certifications

There are two credentials in the Cisco professional level certification track: CCNP and CCDP. The CCNP certificate recognizes a candidate’s ability to design, implement, and troubleshoot LANs and WANs. It has similar tracks to CCNA except for its Cyber Ops and Industrial options. The CCNP certification is the next step to obtaining Cisco’s Certified Internetwork Expert credential.

You must pass three exams to obtain the CCDP credential. Also, the candidates must hold both CCD and CCNA Routing and Switching certifications, and either the CCIE or the CCDE credentials. Apart from the Routing and Switching track (three tests: 300-101 ROUTE, 300-115 SWITCH, and 300-135 TSHOOT), all other CCNP pathways require the student to pass four exams.

The CCNP prerequisite includes either the CCNA or CCIE certifications, though the CCNP Service Provider track accepts the CCIP credential. The CCNP Collaboration accepts only the CCIE Collaboration or CCIE Voice credentials as its prerequisite.

The CCDP credential demonstrates one’s ability to design and deploy scalable network infrastructure as well as multilayer switched networks. From CCDP, the candidates can proceed to study for the Cisco Certified Design Expert credential.

  • Expert-Level Certifications

This level has two credentials: Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) and Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE). Interestingly, none of them has any prerequisites. However, the candidates must pass two exams: one written and one practical. Attaining CCIE is the apex of many Cisco networking professionals’ careers. CCIE certification equips one with competencies in Cisco network products, services, and solutions. CCDE proves one’s expertise in the design of large-scale enterprise network infrastructure.

  • Architect-Level Certifications

The architect-level certificates are for IT professionals who desire to work as network architects or data center architects. CCAr is similar to a Ph.D. in the Cisco Career Certification pathway. It is the highest qualification one can obtain from Cisco. With it, the candidates have the proficiency necessary to plan, design, and implement network infrastructure based on business strategies. The CCA candidates are required to design and implement a network solution to meet the objectives of an assigned strategy. Additionally, one must appear before a Cisco panel to present a rationale for the solution.


No matter which certification track you choose, the Cisco credentials uniquely position you for the job market. With the Cisco certification, you have the confidence to deliver quality service in any job role related to Cisco.

To top that, Cisco’s dedication to your success is evident from its extensive collection of study and training resources from Cisco Press. What’s more, all the candidates have free access to the Cisco Learning Network. Besides, one can opt to join the CiscoPlatinum Learning Library.

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