There’s a new story being told in the networking industry. The CCIE isn’t what it used to be, and pursuing it doesn’t make as much sense as in years past. My initial response to this is simple: BALONEY.
My thoughts aren’t based on a formal research study, so please keep that in mind.
Over the last 18 months or so I’ve had more than a couple conversations with friends and acquaintances who believe the CCIE is not as relevant or meaningful in this new age of software defined networking and community-driven technology. The conversation usually centered around trends such as SDN, automation, open standards, and a community-driven networking development model.
The argument I’ve heard has several premises:
First, current trends in networking require network engineers develop new skills other than those found in Cisco certification curricula. Therefore, the CCIE in and of itself is less valuable.
Second, the CCIE certification is more Cisco-centric than it used to be. This means it is intrinsically less valuable as a validation of fundamental networking skills.
Third, we’re fast approaching the 60,000 mark of CCIE numbers making the certification more ubiquitous than it’s ever been.
Fourth, the proliferation of open standards in networking precludes vendor lock-in making any vendor-specific certification obsolete.
Yesterday, I tweeted this:
What I’ve found is that that I’m not the only one who thinks this way. I had a couple good interchanges with folks including this comment from Daniel Dib (@):
I also put the question out there for my CCIE study group and got a variety of responses that centered around a central theme captured succinctly by Nick Russo (@):
Current trends in networking require network engineers develop new non-Cisco skills, but hasn’t that always been the case? The most successful network engineers are those who have solid networking chops but also know a thing or two about Windows Server, Linux, VMware, project management and how to write a paragraph. Today we can add Python and Ansible to the list. For the vast majority of networking jobs, all of these skills are and always have been important; therefore, the need for engineers to develop programming skills doesn’t diminish the value of the CCIE.
Most networks I’ve worked on were Cisco-centric. Even during my short time working on GE’s infrastructure, all I did was work on Cisco gear. Maybe we need more vendors in the mix, but that’s not really the point I’m trying to make. Most networks run Cisco equipment, so it doesn’t bother me that the CCIE exam is Cisco-centric. Furthermore, I feel that I have a reasonable grasp of networking concepts, and most of my formal training has been through certification pathways. Though the CCIE is certainly vendor-specific, studying for it has also helped me learn more deeply the fundamentals of networking apart from specific vendor technology.
I don’t care too much what the current CCIE number is up to. Not all people who’ve earned it are still actually in the workforce, and of those that are, not all are practicing network engineers. Therefore I don’t believe the market is as flooded with CCIEs as some would suggest. This fast growing number of CCIEs is dispersed throughout the entire world which means there is currently little danger of CCIE saturation in a single geographic area. I understand the point that any certification has the potential to become so ubiquitous that it loses its value, but I don’t believe that’s where we are with the CCIE in 2016. Not even close.
Another friend in my CCIE study group, Katherine McNamara (@), explained that “the CCIE number used to crawl because there was only one kind of CCIE in the beginning, fewer testing centers, and fewer seats.”
In the early days of the CCIE certification, there was one track, very few testing centers and even fewer available seats for actual testing. As a result, the number increased slowly. Today there are multiple tracks, more testing centers, and a much greater awareness of the need for strong networking skills. To say that the number is too high or growing too fast is to suggest the climate for networking technology and the need for engineers with strong skills is the same now as it was in 1993.
The proliferation of open standards in networking doesn’t mean the CCIE is less useful and we all need to become developers in order to get a job. This just means that engineers need to adapt and learn some new skills. Logically, the need to learn Python doesn’t undermine the validity or relevance of the CCIE just like the need for a roofer to learn Excel to better manage his business doesn’t undermine his skills as a roofer. Ultimately this is a straw-man argument that presupposes that a CCIE knows little outside routing and switching. Sure, there are specialists who focus in on a specific technology, but generally speaking I believe that great engineers have deep and broad skills.
Vendor lock-in is not necessarily a concern for me. I don’t think people are truly as concerned about it as they say they are. I think the actual argument is more a matter of bitterness than a logical conclusion. For example, in my naive experience, many of those who wax eloquent on vendor lock-in also subtly and sometimes overtly make fun of those not using a Mac. I know they’re not exactly the same thing, but it suggests that they don’t really have a problem with a little vendor lock-in.
I don’t live in Silicon Valley, New York City, London, or some other global center of commerce and technology. I live in a small city with very few extremely large companies. Hiring managers in my area are looking for candidates with solid networking skills represented by project experience spelled out on a resume. The vast majority of networks are not webscale infrastructures, so pay attention to the hiring managers of smaller and medium-sized businesses where most networking jobs can be found. Sure – the largest and most progressive companies may thumb their noses at resumes and instead ask to see GitHub contributions as a means of vetting a candidate, but by and large this is simply not the case.
In the last two years I made a few job changes to increase my income. That means I have a lot of interviewing experience in my recent past. Every company I spoke with except one encouraged if not required I pursue the CCIE, and all but one said they’d pay for it. Never once was I asked for my GitHub information or a portfolio of open source projects. I’m not speaking against that sort of hiring process; I’m simply observing that it’s not the method espoused by the majority of companies. Maybe it will be one day soon, but it isn’t today.
Often, the arguments I’ve heard about the decreasing value of the CCIE were made by current CCIEs. These are people who have reaped incredible rewards for earning their number. This doesn’t logically negate the argument, of course, but it doesn’t sit well with me at all.
My early background is in academia, and I have a deep appreciation for formal, traditional education. I don’t value the CCIE over a college education or over real-world experience, and I’m aware that Cisco has developed vendor-specific certifications in large part to guarantee their strong presence in the marketplace. However, I disagree that the CCIE itself is becoming increasingly irrelevant or meaningless.
For us plebeians living in smaller cities and working on networks serving only a few thousand end-users, it still opens doors, and it still provides a convenient pedagogical framework to learn networking.
The CCIE is not becoming irrelevant.