Ask the Expert

Training track options for becoming a networking pro

My ultimate goal is network and information security. Before I can master network and information security, I have to learn about networks -- specifically how to set them up and implement them. Are there specific certifications and/or courseware that you recommend to learn how to set up and implement networks?
My recommendations to "bone up" on networking topics, starting from scratch, would be as follows:

  1. Basics: A+ and Network+ -- Network+ does indeed provide a good foundation in basic networking operations, principles and practices. A+, with its emphasis on PCs, also provides essential foundation knowledge for anybody who's going to work in an IT environment.

  2. Intermediate: operating system or infrastructure?

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  1. -- If you want to go the operating system route for intermediate networking stuff, keep in mind that network admin is about half of what's involved in system and network administration jobs, no matter what they're called. But if you go this route, you're likely to be managing and working with networks from a server-oriented perspective (which is where the operating systems are) rather than from a pure networking perspective. That's why I also talk about the infrastructure route here and later on.

    Your choices of operating system admin tracks are pretty wide-open but practically, they boil down to the following (listed in order of popularity and population):

    On the other hand, if you really want to work on networks and stay away from the server/operating system side of things, infrastructure is the place to be. This also means working at a service provider, communications company or a big enough enterprise to have networking infrastructure staff separate from its server/workgroup administration staff. For this side of the house, Cisco's the most likely way to go (CCNA to CCNP, CCDP, CCIP or CCSP to CCIE). On the other hand, if you work around Nortel, Avaya or other high-end telecom systems, you can also pursue networking infrastructure certs or training from those vendors. Voice over IP (VoIP) certs are very hot right now and appear well-positioned to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

  2. Once you get to the mid-level system and network admin stuff or to the Cisco professional level certs (CCNP, CCDP, CCIP, CCSP) you'll find yourself well-positioned to start making the switch into security work. From there, I'd recommend Security+ to CISSP to perhaps other more senior or specialized credentials.
HTH, and thanks for writing.
--Ed--

This was first published in June 2003

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