One pro’s journey: from first exam to CCNP Collaboration and beyondSharing high points, a few doubts, and lots of smart decision-making, Eric Taylor explains how he has put certifications to work building expertise and gaining the rewards that come with it.


“I've worked in the IT field for about 15 years now and am currently a VoIP network administrator,” says Eric. “I started out working at a web development company but my real interest in technology was always networking.”


"Just starting out in my career, I didn’t understand the value of the certifications enough to feel comfortable spending my own money gambling on tests I wasn’t sure I would pass."


It was while working as a system administrator managing a remote campus for a community college that Eric heard about Cisco certifications. But his employer didn’t require them, and he admits, with characteristic candor, that he wasn’t yet able to focus and commit the necessary time to getting certified. Only when he joined a larger organization with dedicated functional groups did Eric’s Cisco story began to take shape.


Taking the First Step: Commitment 


Working in the group that managed the Cisco VoIP phone system, Eric gained substantial exposure to Cisco network gear. That was what it took to really inspire and ignite his career. He decided the time was right to “get serious about certifications that I had always wanted to pursue.”


“I decided to follow the two-part exam route and obtained my CCENT, and six months later earned my CCNA Routing and Switching certification. My thought process was that everything in the Cisco realm was based around routing and switching knowledge anyway, so this seemed like a logical path to follow. Once I completed this goal, I discovered that the Cisco voice path had been turned into the new Collaboration track and didn’t require the CCENT as a prerequisite.” But Eric is glad he gained the knowledge, which expanded his value substantially. “The traffic still needs the network; understanding how that should be configured really makes life easier for me when we have issues to eliminate or pinpoint the source of problems very often.”


"The knowledge I obtained while chasing the Routing and Switching certification has helped me

tremendously with my troubleshooting ability with VoIP issues."


Changing directions “every time I see the squirrel”


Though he wins his goals eventually, Eric is not above humorous self-reflection, “I tend to wander around a bit with focus on any given goal. I typically change direction every time I see the squirrel, I guess you could say.”


He discussed pursuing his Collaboration certification with colleagues, but also signed up for the Cisco Cyber Ops Scholarship program. On being accepted, he wryly comments, “I’m always up for things that someone else pays for, so of course I had every intention of doing that.” Up for the challenge, Eric joined a group and began the trek toward an ambitious goal. “It was a two-exam certification, and I took the first exam in November 2017 and passed. I passed the second exam to complete the certification in January 2018.”


Exam studies fortify on-the-job skills and value


“I really focused in on the Collaboration certification path after getting the CCNA Cyber Ops Certification because it’s my primary role where I work,” Eric observes. “My first exam was the CICD, and I learned so much while studying for the exam that it helps me every day in my current role.”


“It took me about 3 months to prepare for the exam, and I was pleased to pass it on my first attempt. That was almost a year ago now, and my path from that point dances around a bit. I had taken and passed the CCENT and Routing and Switching exams around the end of 2016 and then the Cyber Ops in early 2018.” 


Going all-in: prepping for an exam while at Cisco Live


“I was a little nervous about preparing for the CIVND exam since we don’t have Cisco telepresence gear where I work,” Eric recalls. “I knew I was going to be attending Cisco Live US in 2018 and planned to take a certification exam while I was there. I didn’t want to flush that attempt down the drain. I only had a few months to prepare, so I decided to pursue the CCNA Security certification while at Cisco Live. I had some background and access to firewalls to study so I went for it. I’m happy to say that I passed that cert exam as well while at Cisco Live US in Orlando last year!”


The climb delivers decisions, deviations—and a cliff-hanger


“Another slight deviation from my intended path was bound to happen, but this one isn’t quite as far off the rails in my mind,” says Eric. “My employer had sent me to training for some of the CCNP-level Collaboration material. Part of that training included a voucher for a CCNP-level exam. The voucher was due to expire at the beginning of October, 2018. This was a tough situation for me, as I did eventually plan to pursue the CCNP-level but wanted to complete my CCNA Collaboration first. I decided to focus on the material for the CCNP-level exam and decided to take the CIPTV1 exam with my voucher. As it turned out, this was a great boost to my knowledge level for the CIVND exam prep. I took and passed my CIPTV1 exam three days before my voucher expired. I was really pleased with that.” 


Buckling down for the CIVND challenge 


“At this point I had serious momentum, and I buckled down hard to study for my CIVND exam. As I said, the material I already covered included a lot of telepresence information for the CCNP-level exam, so my studying progressed very quickly. I took my CIVND exam at the end of November and passed with a very solid score. It felt really good to prove what I had learned to this point."


Employer rewards, promotions, and the fun of the chase 


Reaping the rewards of his effort, Eric notes, “My employer has been very impressed, and I believe that my certification pursuit helped me get a promotion last year. I’m currently studying for the next CCNP-level exam in the Collaboration track. I believe my organization benefits from all this work just as much as I do. I am able to work closely with our voice engineers and understand what we are working on when they are looking to implement something new in our environment. Hopefully someday I will even be ready to move up the engineering side based on everything I learn while pursuing my CCNP Collaboration certification. It’s been a fun ride chasing certification, and I plan to keep going with it for my entire career.


Wisdom of a winner: “Certification differentiates you from the pack—but don’t just cram to pass the test.”

Feeling appreciated in his current job, Eric pursues certifications now “as a challenge to myself to show that I’m actively learning new stuff.” For those seeking certification as a way to change career path or win a particular job, he advises that certification differentiates you from the pack and may help you get an interview. But job seekers should really understand the concepts and be ready to answer the tough technical questions. “Take the time to be sure you learn the right things and don’t just cram to pass the cert. A little extra time invested to really get it will make all the difference, and you should see yourself excel in your career."

Primary photoLinda Boroff is a technical and marketing writer with more than a decade of experience in areas including network security, analytics, virtual data center, and SDN.