CCIE* vs. Network Automation

* or JNCIE or any other expert level network certification.

You may be at the point, when you need to decide on the next big step in your career. As I have experience with both challenge, I’d like to share my thoughts and look at what can you gain either becoming a CCIE or diving deep into network automation.

Key takeaway:

  • If you’re in the middle of your CCIE studies and you feel you have the energy to finish it, go for it. Networks still need to be designed in the future. It will help you to get recognised. You can look at network automation later.
  • If you’re just thinking about which way to go and interested in embracing the culture that will transform network engineering in the next 5 years, network automation may be the way forward.
  • There is no right or wrong decision here. You need to look at your personal interests and career goals. Do whatever you love and interested an that will be the path for you.
  • If you’re serious about passing the CCIE lab, focus on that. You can get into network automation after you have that magical number under your belt.

Before we go into details, I must admit, it was not easy to compare these topics. It’s not like comparing apples to apples, but I believe it’s still worth thinking about and put things into perspective. These topics require fundamentally different skills.

CCIE

ccie-r-sTraditionally, there have been two large group of Network Engineers. A group of people, who has already obtained CCIE certification and and another bunch, who would like to be in the first group. (Of course, there are network enthusiasts, who do not want to become CCIE. Let’s be fair, one can be a rockstar engineer without the expert cert.)

CCIE has been THE CERTIFICATION amongst networking people in the past 24 years. It’s going back to the times, where networking as an industry moved away from the programming and server world and created a unique pocket for IT people.

It’s very difficult to describe the feeling when I got my “badge”. Others in my shoe describe like: Everyone around you thinks that you now know all the answers. They believe you are able to solve any problems, like a ‘networking god’. If you don’t think about CCIEs this way, good. Because it’s not true.

Let’s look at what you do when you prep for the CCIE lab exam. You have a syllabus, 15-20 pages with topics listed. You need to learn about concepts and apply them in a single vendor, not-very-life-like environments. You spend awful amount of time just to practice, so you are able to solve the tasks on the exam day within the 8 hour timeframe. You learn a lot, but what happens after you are done with your exam? Will you use your rapid configuration skills every day? No. Will you configure systems and topologies like you did in the past 6-18 months? No. You will be able to find the answers quickly as you now have a framework in your head.

Network Automation

It’d be great to define network automation first. In my vocabulary it’s a set of tools and a culture to enable the business to fulfil its purpose.

When you’re getting into network automation, you don’t have a blue-print like you would for CCIE. I am trying to help this by providing getting started guide, but the combination of tools and methods are endless. This is the exact reason why it’s so exciting. Your knowledge is portable and easily extendable. You’re not locked into a single vendor environment. You’re supporting (m)any vendors.

Network automation is the future. Certainly it will add to your profile if you start getting into it now.

Comparison

achieving CCIE certification  network automation
 Effort lot’s of work as the blueprint is huge lot’s of work as there are plenty of tools are out there to learn about
Exposure to new concepts  you extend existing knowledge frameworks in your head – learning more details about topics you already familiar with learning a completely new way of thinking and new concepts
Re-usability of knowledge concepts may be re-usable, but most practical knowledge is for a single vendor flexible problems solving with a set of different tools
Fun factor lots of repetitive practice, over and over high; solving problems smarter is very satisfying.
Frustration level endless hours of study, reading, no social life, repetitive nature new concepts may be hard to grasp for first, but great satisfaction when something starts working
Industry respect today is still quite high, but may be less relevant in a couple years; you get a certification you must keep renewing in every two years. demand is growing; Network Automation Engineers are very rare and well respected; some certifications are obtainable, but there is no ‘standard’ specially for network automation yet.

Can I do both at the same time?

Yes. I will not stop you. But let me ask this question instead? Would you prepare for two different CCIE tracks at the same time? It’s a bit like that. If you decide to learn about network automation during the lab preparation phase, you may seriously delay passing the lab. CCIE itself is a huge challenge and I would not recommend taking on any other big personal projects that’d take time away from lab exercises. The more time you spend on other topics, the more you will forget that you may have covered early in your preparation.
Of course, if you’re a genius and it’s not a big deal for you, you can do it. You can judge for yourself.

Conclusion

For me the biggest win is that network automation creates value. It creates value personally for me. It allows me work on the interesting stuff. It challenges me every day. Forces me to ask the right questions and keeps me aligned with my organization’s values. I am feeling part of something bigger and I am an active contributor.

CCIE certification is still popular. I still experience that “wow” reaction, but how much I use the knowledge I learnt in the 7 months full time study? A fraction of it. CCIE taught me to set a goal and march until I get there, forced me not to stop when I am tired or fed up. That is a valuable attitude in network automation field too, no doubt.

Do you disagree? Great! I’d like to hear your thoughts in a comment.

Tweet: Network Automation only works if everyone is on board. Please click to share and help to create a Movement!


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3 thoughts on “CCIE* vs. Network Automation

  1. That was my approach. As you need to know what you want to automate first before you can automate it.

    Got my CCIE R&S and fully focused on automation now.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I remember how challenging was to archive my CCIE cert, and how much time I spent to study broad topics on a deep level, specially in terms of Implementation and Troubleshooting. Ultimately I have used this experience to move forward to Design and Architect space.

    Of course there is also part of the CCIE preparation to practice a lot of Vendor specific commands, but let’s face it, if one not working in OPs, those commands will fade away quickly, but the concepts not, and you can still apply all the stuff, you just need more time, and get some refresh. On the long road, for me CCIE was never about CLI, but used those commands to understand the theories.

    I’m big fan of Network Automation & Open technologies and used Linux before, and scripted stuff before. I think generally getting dev skills (Python) has real value.Ultimately we don’t like the boring stuff, so we try to solve interesting problems using creative ways.

    _I disagree about the point of this article, and that these topics are comparable_

    Network Automation and development shall be the de facto way of working in the future,and an important skill but getting a CCIE is more about a personal & technical challenge, which is useful, and will be useful in the future also – in my view, although I agree that the exam shall include some aspects of network automation, and shall be updated to be more realistic.

    So ultimately I would put an AND logic, and not an OR logic between Expert Level Certification & Network Automation. As the top engineers of the future will be expert in networking concepts, and effective in engineering and delivery.

    Like

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