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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Cisco CCNA Certification On A Shoestring: Can It Be Done?

The answer is a resounding YES! If, like many would-be networking professionals, you've been put off by the thought of expensive and time-consuming courses, not having access to good quality instructors and mentors and practice labs, I have very good news for you indeed.

The industry's very open secret is that there are large numbers of networking professionals delivering a very high standard of service who are primarily self-taught. While it is true that the advantages of instructor-led courses and live practice labs for a would-be certification candidate are obvious, taking the self-study route does have quite a few of its own advantages, a couple of them being you can work at your own pace, and can save a fair amount of money.

The biggest source of free and inexpensive resources is of course the Internet, which is absolutely heaving with information for the certification candidate. This is one area I've found where the "you get what you pay for" rule just does not apply. A lot of the information is very well written, accurate...and free! There's information for beginners, articles for gurus, exam tips, lab practice material...quite literally everything you need to prepare for and pass your exam.

Let us start with what total beginners can expect. By beginner I mean TOTAL novice. Perhaps you are making a fresh start from years working in a completely different field. Anyone falling in this group is particularly at a disadvantage because of how little they know to start with. If this describes you, here's the good news. A quick search on the Internet for articles and tutorials on basics such as OSI model, IP, routing, Internet and networking will yield a wealth of information. Here's one example: the computer channel of the very popular "HowStuffWorks" site is unbelievably good, while Webopedia is spot on for getting to grips with computing terminology and acronyms. Many sites will have free demos, articles, forums and discussion groups that will help the budget-conscious computing novice start to get a feel for the field.

Not-so-new beginners can move on to exam specific searches such as "CCNA certification", "CCNA exam tips", "CCNA tutorials", "Cisco self study", "online training", and the like, to get a feel of the scope of the certification exam.

Another group of people looking for free resources might be those who have some background in networking and would like to save on study costs, which can be considerable. When you add up the cost of tuition, course material, books, live labs and perhaps even the cost of setting up a private lab, it makes sense to consider making some savings. This group should try searching for articles on specific topics, such as IP Subnetting, VLANs, STP, WANs and Frame Relay, in addition to the above links suggested for beginners. A word of caution though -- not everything posted on the Net is always accurate. You will need to learn use your own judgment to discern which sites are credible.

The final group of people who might benefit from some free stuff are those very close to sitting for the exam. This group would be well advised to hunt around for the masses of practice resources, many of them free, that will help. We are talking simulators, practice questions, and the like. If this describes you, please do not forget to first visit Cisco's very own CCNA page, which has details of exam topics and format, particularly important if you are completely self-taught as this should help you stay on course.

Finally, let us not forget Cisco's own website, which is a huge resource of excellent material on protocols and computing standards that the certification candidate will be tested on. It will take a while to learn how to extract the best information from this massive site, but it certainly is a skill well worth learning.