The start of a new assignment, a career or any new venture is generally challenging as there is a lot of ground to cover and often a steep learning curve to climb. As one gains more experience, things begin to look familiar and the performance and quality of one’s work improves. The quest to gain expertise and a certification in the networking industry is no different.
My start in the networking industry was not pleasant and is a perfect example of a comedy — a bad beginning that results in a good ending. As a new employee working for a Cisco partner in the technical services industry, my first mandatory task was to achieve the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification. I had not planned on a CCNA, but it was a requirement for keeping my position, so, like they say in the Navy, I got on board.
I knew a bit about networks from my college days, but I never really understood or bothered about basic networking terminologies like LAN, WAN, IP address, and so forth. Somehow I was fortunate enough to be hired by my firm, not because I really knew anything, but rather because, as a fresher in the industry, I applied for every IT job I could find. Taking that into account, it was even more difficult for me to familiarize myself with the basic networking terminologies needed to clear CCNA certification and excel in the networking industry.
My first challenge was to understand the basics of IT networking, and then understand the Cisco version of it. I had lots of questions: how to understand the technology; what reference materials to use; what are the important topics needed to be covered to clear the certification; and, which of these will be beneficial to carry out day-to-day job responsibilities?
Puzzled by these questions, I began my networking journey as a CCNA certification aspirant. To succeed in my first task, getting familiar with CCNA basics and terminologies, I started searching for good networking study materials. I interacted with a few senior engineers from work; sadly all had different opinions about the books and study materials to reference. Now I was even more puzzled and nervous, as I had made no progress whatsoever. After additional research on the internet and further discussion with colleagues I came across a name, Todd Lammle, the author of the best CCNA guide that I have ever seen by far.
I was happy to get a good reference book, and I was finally making progress. It was only a matter of time before I realized exactly what I was lacking. While the other new joiners in my batch were getting ready to work with practice labs and solve some complex network problems, I was still finding my way in the basics of networking.
My problem was now a complete lack of time to prepare. We were supposed to crack the exam and get certified within two months of our joining the firm. I was at the halfway mark and had not made the expected progress. It was a Catch 22 situation. If I go too fast I might fail, and if I go too slow and learn the concepts by reading the book page by page, I may be kicked out of the organization for non-compliance on not clearing the certification within the allotted time frame.
I was in trouble and knew it. I spent a lot of nervous energy trying to decide my next move. At this stage I wasn’t interested in learning and building concepts, I just needed enough knowledge to clear the exam, in quick time. Fortunately, one of my coworkers suggested I check out a Video learning series by Jeremy Cioara, powered by CBT Nuggets. That’s when things started to finally roll in my favor. I made significant progress in one week and was now getting ready to move on to the next level: Lab simulations.
I was learning at an accelerated rate, but was it going to be fast enough? I was really feeling the pressure and struggling to handle all the demands on my time. The CCNA exam requires a high passing percentage to earn the certification and hence there is not much margin for error. I knew that the exam would cover at least one lab simulation where live troubleshooting and configuration would be required. If I blew that, game over. The problem was that I wasn’t sure on how to prepare for the potential simulations.
Not only was I nervous about my job being on the line, this was also my first online exam for a certification exam. While we were working on the certification preparation, ominous news had come down that one of our batch mates, who was also the first one to attempt the exam, had failed. Now I was really worried. This was very demotivating for me and instilled lot of negativity. I just didn’t feel comfortable about my chances.
Somehow, I stumbled across a few CCNA learning portals where I got just what I needed. They had a handful of lab simulations which other CCNA aspirants had posted and which were in line with the course material. With the use of simulation tools such as packet tracer I was able to practice these lab scenarios with a certain degree of proficiency.
I cleared these hurdles one by one and finally achieved my first Cisco certification — with a score of 98 percent! The added bonus of securing my job made my achievement even sweeter. Looking back on my time, I realize there were a lot of factors involved which made the whole process a not so pleasing experience. In fact, this is the worst experience I have had earning a certification. However, I also learned a great deal not just about the CCNA, but on how to prepare for a certification exam.
As I mentioned earlier, when starting off with a new technology or certification we may come across unfavorable experiences but when we succeed, we build confidence and motivation. It took me twenty more days than my batch mates to clear CCNA, but in the end I was happy to achieve this professional milestone.
I also learned that when you hit road blocks and difficulties in your certification preparations, and you will, it’s best to slow down and figure out your options to overcome the hurdles. If you try to rush up in an attempt to clear your exam in a hurry you may end up on the losing side.
I originally was very nervous and somewhat negative when faced with obstacles, but I knew my job was on the line and I had to learn the necessary materials. I studied as much as possible, asked for help, kept searching for more, and somehow garnered enough info and hands-on practice to clear my exam. I realized the truth spoken of by Samuel Johnson who eloquently said, “Nothing concentrates the mind like the prospect of being hanged at dawn.” The urgency of a deadline and a penalty can really force you to hustle along.