For most people who earn IT certifications, it takes time to get to the highest levels of certification available. Sometimes that means working in the industry and building up skills gradually before ever attempting a certification exam. Sometimes it means collecting a variety of lower-level credentials while working up to the big ones.
In either case, it's rare, if not unheard of, for a brand new computer networking professional to jump straight to an expert-level credential — the kind of cert that, in many cases, makes a strong argument for a six-figure salary all by itself. We can say with confidence that it's not unheard of, actually, because we have some data on that point.
A couple of the certified networking professionals who responded to our recent Computer Networking Certification Survey actually entered the networking certification realm more or less at the tippy top of the metaphorical ladder. In the case of those intrepid souls, Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) Routing & Switching was the first computer networking certification to land on their resumes.
That sort of achievement is almost certainly an extreme outlier. It's far more common that people climb aboard the computer networking certification express much closer to the first station or two on the line. As you might expect, networking giant Cisco's Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), along with it's more-or-less direct antecedent Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing & Switching, is a clear favorite. Those two credentials are the first computer networking certification earned by 38.9 percent of survey respondents.
Also making a strong impression is the Network+ credential offered by tech industry association CompTIA. Network+ was the first computer networking certification claimed by a solid 23 percent of respondents. For those who choose certification as their preferred path to computer networking knowledge, there's a strong likelihood of beginning that journey with either CCNA or Network+.
There are 21 other certs each claimed in our survey by at least one individual as their point of entry to the computer networking certification world. Only two of them rise above the pack: Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) — recently recast as Cisco Certified Technician — the first step for roughly 7 percent of respondents; and TestOut's Network Pro, the first step for 6.5 percent.
We also asked survey respondents to tell us how long they worked in computer networking before turning to certification. Here's what we learned:
Question: How many years did you work in computer networking before obtaining your first certification?
Less than 1 year — 24.4 percent
1 year — 13.1 percent
2 years — 11.4 percent
3 years — 5.7 percent
4 years — 8 percent
5 years — 10.2 percent
6 years — 4.5 percent
7 years — 1.7 percent
8 years — 1.1 percent
9 years — 0.6 percent
10 years — 2.8 percent
More than 10 years — 16.5 percent
More than half (54.6 percent) of those surveyed worked in computer networking for three or fewer years before getting a cert, and almost 25 percent weren't even in the game for an entire year before seeking certification. And at the other end of the spectrum, we see a not insignificant number of those who clearly entered the field by other means, and only got around to certification gradually.