There are also intensive bootcamps, he says, for someone who is 50 per cent to 75 per cent of the way there because they've already been working in the space and have on-the-job knowledge.
"Typical bootcamps are a week long," Parsons says. "But if someone is starting from scratch, they probably need to find a longer program."
For those who prefer the self-study route, Cisco publishes official study materials through its Cisco Press online store. For example, there's the "31 Days Before Your CCNA Exam: A Day-By-Day Review Guide for the CCNA 200-301 Certification Exam," which costs US$40 (US$26 for the ebook version).
Cisco also offers an online exam review, with around 300 questions and 15 lab exercises, that costs US$79.
Cisco also offers an official course, led by an instructor, taught both in-person or virtually, called "Implementing and Administering Cisco Solutions," which costs US$800. The course has five days of classroom instruction and three days of self-study, or the virtual equivalent. According to Cisco, the only prerequisites for the course are basic computer literacy, basic Internet skills, and basic IP address knowledge.
Training classes and study materials are also available outside of Cisco from hundreds of other companies. For example, Udemy currently offers CCNA practice exams for US$30. And the highly-rated, self-paced Udemy CCNA course is just US$20. It's been taken by more than 120,000 people, with over 17,000 ratings averaging 4.6 stars.
There are no official prerequisites to taking the CCNA exam – or the study courses – but in general, test takers typically have a year or more experience with Cisco products and understand the basic ideas behind networking and IP addresses.
To find out if you're ready, Cisco offers some free practice questions.
How do you take the exam and how much does it cost?
The testing for the CCNA is handled by testing company Pearson. The CCNA exam is called "200-301 CCNA" and costs US$300. The tests are proctored, and can be taken either in-person, at a physical location, or online.
What's next after getting a CCNA?
Technology is changing at an exponential pace, and networking in particular is currently undergoing a major transformation, says Carl Fugate, managing enterprise architect at Capgemini's North American Cloud and Edge Center of Excellence. "The tools and platforms that are coming to market are fundamentally changing the way that we think about implanting and managing networks," he says.
That means that networking professionals have to continually invest in learning. For example, Fugate says, early in his career he held a CCNA, but today's that's not enough. "Networking today has become so broad that it really requires you to specialise in certain areas."
Cisco offers a number of higher-level certifications.
The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) comes next after the CCNA. There are a handful of specialisation options at this level, including CCNP Enterprise, CCNP Security, CCNP Data Center, CCNP Collaboration and CCNP Service Provider. Before 2020, there were eight different certifications at this level, but Cisco consolidated the CCDP, CCNP Routing and Switching, and CCNP Wireless certifications into one CCNP Enterprise certification last year.
The average salary for someone in the US with a CCNP certification is US$96,552, according to Payscale, about US$15,000 more than with a CCNA certification alone.
After CCNP comes the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE). There are six specialisations here: CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure, CCIE Enterprise Wireless, CCIE Collaboration, CCIE Data Center, CCIE Security, and CCIE Service Provider.
It's basically the same set of certifications as prior to 2020, except that CCIE Routing and Switching is now CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure and CCIE Wireless is now CCIE Enterprise Wireless.
The average salary for someone in the US with a CCIE certification is US$128,410, according to Payscale.
What are the alternatives to the CCNA?
Competing vendors also offer their own networking certifications. Juniper Networks offers its Certified Internet Specialist (JNCIS) certifications, for example, and VMware offers five certification tracks related to data centre virtualisation, network virtualisation, cloud management and automation, desktop and mobility, and digital workspace. There are also vendor-neutral certificates such as CompTIA's the Network+ certificate.
According to Fugate, professionals should also consider cloud certifications. Most of the major cloud providers offer cloud certifications for their platforms. AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional and Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect are two popular examples.
"Networking expertise is needed more than ever with the shift to cloud," Fugate says.