Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) is Cisco’s most prestigious and most difficult certification to achieve, typically requiring years of industry experience and a deep understanding of networking technologies.
The lab portion of the exam alone is eight hours long and costs US$1,600, and candidates typically spend much more than that on preparatory courses.
But professionals with the expert-level CCIE networking certification are in demand, and the value is reflected in significantly higher salaries.
"It is a preeminent certification in the industry," says Nick Marentic, senior manager for IT infrastructure and security at cybersecurity training firm Cybrary. "It requires years in the industry to understand the concepts contained."
Getting the CCIE isn't something to do on a whim. "It relies heavily on hands-on experiences," Marentic says. He recommends seven to 10 years of industry experience before taking the exam.
The CCIE is one of the top 10 technology certifications that employers seek, according to staffing specialist Robert Half Technology, which surveyed more than 3,000 senior managers for its annual salary guide.
According to PayScale, the average base salary for a CCIE-certified professional is US$128,000 per year. It's the highest-paying certification on PayScale's list (a designation it shares with ISACA’s Certified Information Security Manager certification).
Networking certifications, on average, increase base pay by about 5 per cent annually, according to David Foote, chief analyst at Foote Partners, which recently released research for the first nine months of the year, based on data on more than 82,000 tech workers at more than 3,800 employers.
The CCIE comes in above that, at an 8 per cent median increase to the base salary. "The CCIE gained 14.3 per cent in market value in the third quarter," Foote says.
Cisco’s network certification lineup underwent a major overhaul in 2020, and one of the big changes is that there's no longer a separate written exam for the CCIE.
As of last February, the CCIE shares a written exam with the mid-level CCNP certification. The written test can be taken online. Then, to get a CCIE certification, the test taker needs to pass an eight-hour, in-person, hands-on lab exam.
That written core technology exam is good for three years, says Joe Clarke, distinguished engineer at San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems, and is a qualifying exam for both the specialised CCNP tests and for the CCIE lab-based exam. Someone who has taken the core technology exam as part of the CCNP certification within the previous three years doesn't need to take it again before doing a CCIE lab exam.
Unlike the written test, the lab exam has to be taken in person, Clarke says, and it takes eight hours in total. There’s a separate lab for each CCIE concentration.
“When you sit down with the lab, you’re first presented with a three-hour, low-level design,” he says. “That’s the first module. It tests how well you can understand the concepts and apply them on a design level.”
The second module takes five hours. “Can you walk the walk?” he says. “Can you implement, optimise, troubleshoot those technologies?
There are six main CCIE concentrations:
CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure
The CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure certification is designed to demonstrate expert-level skills with complex enterprise infrastructure solutions. The qualifying exam focuses on knowledge of enterprise infrastructure, including dual-stack architecture, virtualisation, infrastructure, network assurance, security, and automation.
CCIE Enterprise Wireless
The CCIE Enterprise Wireless certification is designed to demonstrate expert-level skills with complex enterprise wireless solutions. The qualifying exam is the same as that for CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure and focuses on knowledge of enterprise infrastructure, including dual-stack architecture, virtualisation, infrastructure, network assurance, security, and automation.
CCIE Data Centre
The CCIE Data Centre certification is designed to demonstrate expert-level skills with complex data centre solutions. The qualifying exam focuses on knowledge of data centre infrastructure, including network, compute, storage network, automation, and security.
The CCIE Security certification is designed to demonstrate expert-level skills with complex security solutions. The qualifying exam focuses on knowledge of security infrastructure, including network security, cloud security, content security, endpoint protection and detection, secure network access, visibility and enforcements.
CCIE Service Provider
The CCIE Service Provider certification is designed to demonstrate expert-level skills with complex service provider solutions. The qualifying exam focuses on knowledge of service provider infrastructure, including core architecture, services, networking, automation, quality of services, security, and network assurance.
The CCIE Collaboration certification is designed to demonstrate expert-level skills with complex collaboration solutions. The qualifying exam focuses on knowledge of collaboration solutions including, infrastructure and design, protocols, codecs, and endpoints, Cisco IOS XE gateway and media resources, Call Control, QoS, and collaboration applications.
CCDE and DevNet
There are also two new CCIE-level certifications, the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) and the Cisco Certified DevNet expert.
The CCDE certification is designed to demonstrate expert-level skills in designing and architecting complex enterprise network solutions and prepares people for expert-level jobs in network architecture and design. The CCDE has been recently revamped, says Clarke, to focus on higher-level design, business integration, and architecture.
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