First Step: CCNA Certification

When I started down the certification path, I had almost no background in technology at all.  In high school I had been a prolific programmer, mastering now-obsolete languages like BASIC, FORTRAN, and COBOL.  My self-imposed senior project was writing an interpreter (program that executes instructions one by one) based on a language I developed myself.  When I entered the high-tech workplace again some sixteen years later, I was like a fish out of water, but I climbed the steep learning curve all the same.

I was well into my second year in the industry (about 1999) when I decided to try my hand at Cisco certification, beginning with a borrowed copy of Todd Lammle’s CCNA book (talk about low budget!)  In those early years of the CCNA certification there were no simulations, but plenty of factual questions on stone-age topics such as IPX, Appletalk, ISDN, ATM, and Token Ring (one ring to rule them all!).  I had some limited opportunities for hand-on learning, but in my case it was just about all reading and memorizing the material.  Anyone attempting the exam today trying that approach would go down in flames!

There is a lot to be said about knowing the basics, and even though I (finally) earned a CCIE, those foundational elements are still critical to know and understand.  For one thing, when you work on live production networks, troubleshooting issues is a lot easier when you know the right places to look.  Every time I lead a CCNA class, it reinforces those important facts all the more, and helps me understand the nuances of even deeper topics, creating a sense of consistency.  Speaking of consistency, here are a few suggestions for preparing/studying for the CCNA:

1. Know yourself.  If you learn by reading like I did, then by all means read.  Then read again.  Then read some more.  It was not unusual for me to read the certification study books half a dozes times.  If you respond better to audio, get a book on tape, or maybe even read it out loud.  No one is a better expert on you than you, so leverage your strengths rather than fight your weaknesses.

2. Practice Using Hands-On Exercises.  Book learning is great, but experience is even better.  I built my own labs from old equipment at work or bought on eBay, which let me get that experience.  There are even IOS-Based emulators such as Dynagen ( and GNS3 (, which is the second best way to do this. 

3. Study Every Day.  I am amazed at how fast information can get fuzzy in my mind.  Reviewing and learning on a daily basis, even for a short period, can help prevent that.

– Joe

One Response to “First Step: CCNA Certification”

  1. Nana Wiafe Says:

    I love this quote” leverage your strengths rather than fight your weaknesses.” what audio books can you recommend??? I do best by listening and doing.. I get too confused with the reading.

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