Information technology (IT) is a fast-growing industry with exciting career opportunities. For those interested in technology and innovation, IT networking allows working in a field full of problem-solving, development, and advanced technology.
Information technology (IT) is a fast-growing industry with exciting career opportunities. For those interested in technology and innovation, IT networking allows working in a field full of problem-solving, development, and advanced technology. When entering a career in this field, you will want to show your employers your IT knowledge and dedication to expand your skill set continually. Certifications are a great way to highlight your expertise and stand out when applying for positions.
Regarding IT certifications, Cisco CCNA and CompTIA Network+ are two of the most popular—despite being very different in their focus. Many IT professionals eventually obtain both certificates, but you may be wondering which one is best to get first. Read on to learn more about what each certificate represents, why different professionals chose each one, and how to take your next steps.
Read more: 6 Network Certifications for Your IT Career in 2023
Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) is a networking certificate that Cisco provides. This means the certificate deals exclusively with Cisco tools and products and is not considered “vendor-neutral.” While this may be a drawback when looking at companies that use platforms outside of Cisco, companies that utilize Cisco products may look favorably on a Cisco-specific certificate. When you take the exam, you will demonstrate your ability to run an IT network and your knowledge of IT networking. Many consider it an overarching accreditation, so you will only need the one exam to demonstrate your expertise.
You can take this exam anytime, as it has no prerequisites. Cisco provides a training course to help prepare you for the exam.
The CCNA certification exam tests your knowledge of core fundamentals in the IT area. The exam has a 120-minute time limit and covers topics such as:
Automation and programmability
Network+ is an IT certification offered by CompTIA. When you take the Network+ certificate, you will demonstrate baseline IT skills you can apply to any network or vendor. Network+ is a vendor-neutral certification, providing an excellent opportunity to prove your skills across the field, especially if your career spans different platforms and products. In addition to technical skills, the Network+ certificate goes one step further and covers relevant business skills that can apply to IT positions. This helps diversify your skill set, allowing you to grow into roles with additional responsibilities.
The Network+ exam is 90 minutes long and includes 90 questions. This exam will cover skills needed to design, manage, and maintain IT networks and networking devices, manage network traffic, and implement security measures. Because this isn't a vendor-specific exam, you will not use a specific platform or product. Core features of the exam include:
Network troubleshooting and tools
The most significant difference between the CCNA and Network+ certifications is that the CCNA certificate is network-specific (Cisco), and the Network+ certificate is vendor-neutral. This distinction is essential when entering the IT field, as the Network+ certificate will allow you to work in a wider variety of roles due to the breadth of the topics covered. However, if your chosen position uses Cisco, having experience directly with the platform can help you demonstrate how the role would fit your skill set.
Both certifications have performance-based questions designed around IT job responsibilities. However, the CCNA certification is a newer exam and asks questions in formats unfamiliar to some test-takers, while Network+ uses a more traditional approach in the question design and evaluation. Also, CCNA focuses solely on technical skills, while Network+ also includes business skills. Business skills may benefit certain employers, so show your business skills in other ways if you opt for the tech-only CCNA exam.
When you have a CCNA or Network+ certification, you can perform a broad range of exciting roles in the IT field. Often, IT professionals begin in an entry-level networking position and then move to more advanced roles as they gain experience and potentially additional certifications.
Deciding what position is right for you can give you an idea of which certification will be more practical and what additional skills you may need. In addition, looking at salary and benefit information can ensure your career choice is in line with your expectations. While CCNA and Network+ certified professionals can work in many roles, some common positions are:
Network and computer systems administrator 
Job responsibilities: Manage day-to-day network operations
Median annual salary: $80,600
Career outlook: 3 percent projected growth from 2021-2031
Computer support specialists 
Job responsibilities: Maintain computer networks and provide technical help to users
Median annual salary: $57,910
Career outlook: 6 percent projected growth from 2021-2031
Information security analysts 
Job responsibilities: Manage and design security measures for computer networks and systems
Median annual salary: $102,600
Career outlook: 35 percent projected growth from 2021-2031
Computer and information systems managers 
Job responsibilities: Manage, organize, and direct computer and information systems
Median annual salary: $159,010
Career outlook: 16 percent projected growth from 2021-2031
Computer systems analyst 
Job responsibilities: Assess and design improvements for an organization’s computer systems
Median annual salary: $99,270
Career outlook: 9 percent projected growth from 2021-2031
Many IT professionals start with Network+ because it provides a baseline certificate you can apply to any vendor or product. This helps expand your job opportunities and responsibilities and gives you security if the organization switches vendors. With this certificate, you can learn general knowledge and skills that you can later expand on with additional vendor-specific certifications.
Network+ also includes business skills in high demand by many companies. Having training on essential topics such as change management, incident management, and disaster recovery can give your employer confidence that you can bring valuable knowledge and skills to the team in multiple sectors. This could give you the edge over candidates who need practical business knowledge.
CCNA is also a common certificate chosen by IT professionals because of the in-depth technical knowledge it represents for the Cisco platform. If you are confident you will be working with the Cisco platform, the CCNA can be a great choice as it sets the framework to grow continually in your position. Many IT professionals working with Cisco take the CCNA exam and later grow their credentials by taking more advanced Cisco qualifications.
Employers working with Cisco seek candidates who demonstrate expertise in the platform, as they're less likely to make mistakes than those who have never worked with Cisco. While you can transfer your Cisco-certified networking skills to other vendors, IT professionals planning to grow into higher roles in companies working with Cisco platforms generally choose CCNA.
Read more: What Is the CCNA? An Entry-Level Networking Certification
The good news for those deciding between CCNA and Network+ certifications is that neither exam requires prerequisites. Some exams require years of experience or prior coursework, but you can take advantage of these certifications as soon as you have mastered the necessary knowledge. Many IT professionals have found it helps to have a few years of experience in entry-level networking roles to become comfortable with the material, but formal mandates are needed. For those taking the CCNA exam, the training course Cisco offers can be a valuable tool, but again, it's not a requirement.
Regarding cost, both certifications are around the same price, which is about $300 for CCNA and $329 for Network+. Each qualification is valid for three years, a timeline reflecting how quickly the technological field is growing and changing.
Many IT professionals take the CCNA and Network+ certifications, but your long-term career goals influence this choice. Both CCNA and Network+ certifications have different focuses, so you must decide whether each is beneficial. The Network+ exam provides a strong representation of your skills across technical and business-related IT tasks and ensures employers you have the basis to work with any vendor they choose. CCNA, on the other hand, also demonstrates strong IT technical fundamentals and provides a stepping stone for more advanced Cisco certifications.
IT jobs often focus on the latest technologies and software development techniques, so demonstrating a baseline knowledge across any platform can be beneficial to create a strong basis in your skill set and ability to work across vendors.
Because of this, taking the Network+ certification first is often recommended to IT professionals, especially at the entry-level. However, suppose you are confident you will be working with Cisco and would like to continue to move towards more advanced Cisco certifications. In that case, the CCNA certification may be the right first exam for you.
Because technology is a quickly growing field, employers want to know that you have a firm grasp of the fundamentals and can quickly learn and implement new technical skills. This often provides a fun challenge for IT professionals, and many people love their jobs because of the ever-changing nature and ample opportunities to continue learning.
Obtaining a certification is a great choice to show employers your commitment to keeping up with the changing technological field and that you possess the skills required for IT jobs. However, learning the skills assessed in these comprehensive certifications takes time, so starting with some introductory coursework can help you build your foundation. Educational opportunities on Coursera, such as Data Forwarding Across Computer Networks by Coursera Project Network and Information Technology (IT) and Cloud Fundamentals Specialization by IBM can help you gain your footing and start building the skills you need to launch into this exciting career.
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The Network+ exam takes 90 minutes, and the CCNA exam takes 120 minutes, but preparing for these exams will vary in length depending on your background knowledge. Generally, those with minimal background knowledge can expect to study part-time for 3-4 months to learn the required materials.
You don’t need any experience to take the exams, but having at least one or more years of experience working in a networking role can help you get comfortable working in this field
US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Network and Computer Systems Administrators, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/network-and-computer-systems-administrators.htm. “ Accessed January 8, 2023.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Computer Support Specialists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-support-specialists.htm. Accessed January 8, 2023.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Information Security Analysts, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm.”. Accessed January 8, 2023.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Computer and Information Systems Managers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/computer-and-information-systems-managers.htm.” Accessed January 8, 2023.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Computer Systems Analysts, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-systems-analysts.htm. “ Accessed January 8, 2023.
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