Tired of interviewing “certified” engineers that look great on paper, but don’t actually have the skills to match their certifications? In a 2015 CompTIA study, 91% of employers believe IT certifications play a critical role in the hiring process and that IT certifications are a reliable predictor of a successful employee. But test takers have long figured out ways to cheat certification exams in order to appear more qualified. And in 2020, it’s become a huge problem.
In a recent interview with the Washington Post, a professor of engineering at Purdue University said that there was a “massive number” of students who had used online resources like braindumps to get the answers to their exams, with as many as 60 students out of 250 doing so in one class. A brain-dump occurs when an individual takes an exam and then publishes all of the details online for other students to cheat. Unfortunately, this problem isn’t isolated to academia.
A 2019 investigation in Tampa, Florida, revealed an entire company that shared the exact certification exam with their staff the day before the test in order to maximize the number of team members certified. Quite frankly, it’s only getting worse as more and more exams move online…
Since the majority of testing has gone virtual in 2020, the rate of cheating has risen more than 8x, according to the CEO of ProctorU, a service which provides trained proctors to watch test-takers. This is common to see when the economy goes down, as people become desperate to find work and rationalize that it’s ok to cheat. But that doesn’t make it right.
Skills vs. Theory
This exposes a larger truth… Traditional IT certification exams are broken. Cheaters can exploit a number of loopholes in the current testing environments, from buying braindumps online to hiring proxy test takers. The result is that you can no longer rely on traditional certifications alone. That is essentially why we built NexGenT. We wanted to create a new standard of certification that verified a candidate’s true skill set. NexGenT students are a great place to look if you are trying to find and hire IT professionals.
NexGenT founders, Terry Kim and Jacob Hess, were IT instructors in the U.S. Air Force and have over 40 combined years of experience in information technology. Their military backgrounds inspired them to build a unique training program with a curriculum unlike any other. Think about it, our military trains hard to learn skill sets that are needed on the battlefield. They go through rigorous bootcamps so that when they get out into the real world, they can hit the ground running. As IT instructors, Kim & Hess trained hundreds of young adults in a matter of months how to set up and deploy networks in the field.
After separating from the military, both founders worked in the private sector for companies like Cisco Systems and Arista Networks. After getting to know CIOs of major companies across industries, it became obvious that the issue of finding skilled engineers and cheating on certification exams was a real problem.
That’s when we decided to take the “military grade” instruction from the Air Force and incorporate it into a new training approach – the FSNE program. FSNE stands for Full Stack Network Engineer, an evolution to network engineering that is critical in today’s IT landscape to address the entire IT stack we see across the infrastructure. Our certified FSNA & FSNP engineers now encompass the full set of skills across routing, switching, wireless, voice over IP, and network security… Everything you need to build out a functional enterprise network. NexGenT certifications are taught by industry veterans via both live training and real world projects that teach actual skills, instead of focusing on theory, book reading, and bubble-filling. The beauty of this approach is that these skills cannot be circumvented by online braindumps. To learn them, you actually have to put in the time and effort and to gain the certification, you actually have to perform the skills.
When someone is tested on skills, cheating is not an option.
Training Skilled Engineers
If you are seeking to hire top IT talent, you should be looking for skills-based knowledge instead of certification based knowledge.
Our FSNE advanced training includes 3 hands-on projects…
Full Stack Networking Project – designed to provide an understanding of a complete HQ/Branch network and the project build-out process. In this project, students design and deploy a robust full-stack network with a headquarters and two branch offices.
Cisco ASA SSL VPN Project – which walks students through the design, deployment and support of Remote Access SSL VPN on a Cisco ASA.
Colocation Data Center Project – which enhances the existing Full Stack Networking Project by adding High Availability and dynamic routing with EIGRP at the HQ site.
In just 22 weeks, students are transformed into certified professionals equipped with three certifications: the Full-Stack Network Associate (FSNA) certification, the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification, and the Full-Stack Network Professional (FSNP) certification. But our engineers do not receive their certifications until they’ve passed a Skills Qualification Check that’s administered live by a NexGenT Instructor. That means you can rest easy knowing that the NexGenT verified engineer you’ve hired is capable of doing the job on day one, just as if they were ready to hit the ground running in the battlefield.
Don’t just take our word for it. After securing a role as a Network Support Analyst at CarMax, one of the graduates from our FSNE program was told by his manager, “You knew more in your interview than other people I’ve interviewed with 10-15 years of experience.”
If you are ready to level up your team with an NexGenT certified engineer, fill out the type form at the bottom of our Employer Relations page to get in contact with our team and set-up an interview with NexGenT verified candidates that are ready to get started today. OR upskill your current team with one of our live education programs, which are enrolling now!
Validation of skills a potential employer defines in a job description, like “Dynamic Routing Protocols, EIGRP and OSPF”.
Cisco Partner Professional Services certification requirements – Some partners rely on engineers to earn specific certifications (i.e. CCNA) but also require specialist certifications, like Cisco IOS WAN Specialist or Enterprise Wireless Specialist.
In the world of IT certifications, many of them are geared towards a trivial understanding of the topics listed on the blueprints. I mean, how many different ways can you answer a question about EIGRP or OSPF? Well, the truth is there’s plenty of ways if you know them well enough.
But what does it prove to an employer finding a candidate that has CCNA, CCNP, VCP, MCP, NSE4, CCIE, JNCIE, MCSE?
It says a person has spent a lot of time learning about different technologies on different vendors’ equipment. If you were to see my alphabet soup it would like this, CCNA R&S, CCNA Security, CCNA Wireless, CCNP R&S, CCNP SP, CCIE, VCP, NSE1, NSE2, FSNA, FSNP .
And quite frankly, to anyone fresh to IT, no one blames you for asking where the heck to start and wondering which bowl of soup looks the most appetizing to an employer. Don’t stress too heavily on which IT certification you should start with or which one you should get next, that’s why we’re here to help.
Let’s lay out some facts about the certifications themselves and how they matter. We’ll start with perhaps the most common.
Cisco CCNA (200-301)
CCNA is a 100 question, question/answer exam. It’s mostly multiple choice answers to a single question. Clicking on radio buttons or checking boxes to answer the questions. It requires you to be knowledgeable about the topics listed on the blueprint, even the ones that aren’t explicitly defined, like EIGRP, VTP, LISP and VXLAN, still better know them! For additional details on the CCNA 200-301 and the inside scoop on the exam, watch this video. The issue with the CCNA, is it isn’t an exam that looks for the candidate to be “strong” in implementing Cisco IOS networks but mainly knowledgeable on the technologies.
So what does that say about the CCNA, is it worth it?
YES!!!! Even though it doesn’t test you on configuring the topics listed, if you’re not testing the topics out on the CLI, then you’re not doing enough to earn the value that the CCNA grants you when you pass.
The key to earning your CCNA is to find a training course by a reliable provider and spending about 45-90 days (depending on your commitment) learning concepts before scheduling an exam. We’ll revisit this again in a minute.
Cisco CCNP (ENCOR 350-401, ENARSI 300-410)
CCNP is 2 exams, the Core exam and 1 concentration. The Core exam is a 100 question, question/answer exam. Like the CCNA, it’s mostly multiple choice answers to a single question. The ENCOR exam is the CCIE Written exam replacement, which is why it’s 100 questions, it is the equivalent of CCNP Route and Switch from the previous version of the exams. But you’re not required to configure anything.
The ENARSI exam is 90 minutes long and is the replacement for the CCNP TSHOOT exam from the previous version of the exam. This exam does require you to be interactive, resolve issues, answer questions, drag and drop, etc. This is the first exam you have to know how to configure something.
What Are The FSNA and FSNP?
If you’re new to networking, I could assume you skipped past my alphabet soup of certifications I listed earlier instead of reading each letter. But if you’re familiar with these certs, and acknowledged each one, you may have wondered what the FSNA & FSNP certifications are?
Let’s break down the FSNA and FSNP, NexGenT’s certification portfolios so far, with more to come in the future!
Unlike the CCNA and CCNP exams, these exams are very lab focused, so focused in fact that we don’t call them exams, we call them SQCs!
Wait, what? SQC is Skills Qualification Check, in other words, if you don’t know how to configure something that you are being tasked with configuring based on the requirements of the SQC, you’ll lose points for not implementing it.
“Hey! This sounds an awful lot like the CCIE Lab exam.” It is in fact, except we’re not testing any really crazy routing designs to make your head spin.
The goal of the SQC for the FSNA and FSNP isn’t to test your trivia knowledge on a topic, it’s to see if you can get a network built, tested and verified working. At the end of the day, you need to be able to deliver technical solutions to business challenges. The FSNA and FSNP are real-world skills certifications.
Now that you have a general idea of the certifications, let’s discuss how they are delivered. Guess what, they aren’t full of trivia information, you get enough of that in CCNA and CCNP.
These certifications are project focused, meaning we present you with a project that you will be tasked with delivering to a fictitious company.
“Hey! This sounds like what I do in the real world!” Exactly! Welcome to real-world training!
There are currently 3 projects, with more in the pipeline to come. The first one is the Full Stack Networking Project or FSN Project, the second is the Cisco ASA SSL VPN Project and the third is the Colocation Data Center Project.
The SQCs are the big differences between FSNA/FSNP and CCNA/CCNP. They are Skills checks, meaning you are required to meet a certain standard in order to pass. The FSNA is the Full Stack Network Associate, which is geared towards the entry level understanding of IP enabled networks. The FSNP is the Full Stack Network Professional, which is geared towards more advanced networking at a larger scale for more real world applications.
Both the FSNA and FSNP are hands-on, lab-based tests. The candidate is required to configure a network to a certain set of requirements to meet the needs of the business. The reason why this is a huge differentiator is that you have to know how to get things working AND know what the technologies are.
The Full Stack Network Engineer (FSNE) program is comprised of two stages in which the FSNA and FSNP certifications are awarded.
FSNE Basic Training (FSNA + CCNA certifications)
In FSNE Basic training you learn how networking works starting with the Full Stack Network Associate course. You’ll earn the FSNA certification through doing your Skills Qualification Check (SCQ) in the FSNA Lab and also taking the FSNA Written Exam. During the last half of FSNE Basic Training you’ll learn additional topics and labs related to the CCNA and then study for and knock out that exam.
FSNE Advanced Training (FSNP certification)
You’ll then be promoted to Advanced Training. You’ll go through the 3 projects and the Advanced Training FSNP SQC. (You want real-world experience? We’re giving you the closest thing possible!) The SQC in Advanced Training is much more involved and is broken down into three sections. The goal is to fully test a candidate in all aspects of the network engineering role that they might see.
The first section is troubleshooting, you’ll have 5 tickets to resolve as if you were a consultant or engineer working for an organization where something is not working.
The second section is the deployment, where you’ll be tasked with rolling out a new branch office, router/switch/access point/PCs/phone and server and get it all working from scratch.
The third section is configuration, where you’ll be given a list of tasks to complete. Some of these tasks were started by someone else who was reassigned to another project and other tasks are set up from scratch in the existing network.
After successful completion of the above tasks, the candidate is granted the FSNP. By the time every student is done with Basic and Advanced Training, they will have earned the FSNA, CCNA, and FSNP. They will be job ready and well versed in networking. This will set them up well for follow on training like CCNP or other tracks they might want to dive into.
Although these certifications may be new to the industry, imagine the interview where you sit down in an employers office and explain how you’ve worked on three projects connecting an organization’s sites together! By taking advantage of the program that these projects were built from, you’ll have much more experience building networks than their helpdesk guy, Tom, who’s been waiting to get internally promoted for the last 4 years.
If you want to make yourself the most competitive candidate during your job hunt, you can utilize our real-word skills certifications and training programs to help you truly standout and become job-ready.
Congratulations to all of our new FSNA Certified students:
Andrei Colibaba FSNA 0002, awarded April 28, 2017
Christopher Mendez FSNA 0003, awarded April 28, 2017
Harshan Jayaraman FSNA 0004, awarded April 28, 2017
David Marquez FSNA 0005, awarded April 28, 2017
Would you assess a soldier’s ability to perform in combat with a written exam? No? That’s what I thought. You would probably try to simulate a real life situation to isolate your best people, otherwise, you’d be giving the enemy a huge advantage, wouldn’t you?
Sadly, this “field-ready” mindset, which is the sole purpose of rigorous military training, doesn’t quite translate to the educational system. Instead of educating and qualifying people based on real-world skills, the vast majority of institutions simply give them a form of written test to pass, and then claim that people are “ready”. Ready for what?
Now, we all know that the workforce doesn’t come close to what people experience in real combat, either directly or indirectly. But unlike the military, businesses have an actual limited budget and stockholders to keep happy, so they must be laser focused on efficiency.
The obsoleteness of the educational system is such that there are industries in which companies must rely on certifications and other kinds of training to “ensure” that people have the minimum qualifications to perform a job. Nonetheless, many of these certifications are based on written tests, which even though are very specific and require a lot of studying, could not possibly guarantee that someone is job-ready.
Take the IT industry as an example. Cisco Certified Network Associates (CCNA’s), for instance, are certified in specific fields of study such as routing and switching, but they earn their certification without ever actually touching a router or a switch, or even setting up a basic local area network (LAN).
Imagine if a Navy SEAL was deployed to a war zone with a CCNA certification! He wouldn’t last very long, would he? Not only that, but other SEALs would end up having to allocate part of their focus to take care of their underprepared partner just to make sure he could make it through the day. Talk about endangering all those involved in a mission!
This happens in a more subtle way in the corporate world, where companies invest a lot of money on training programs. These resources could be allocated more efficiently if their entry-level personnel was trained to hit the ground running in less time or trained on more advanced skills.
Believe it or not, every company is, in some way, similar to the SEAL program. They want the best possible people to join their teams and they strive to build or maintain a competitive advantage. If this is the case, then why is it that the educational system hasn’t caught up with military training yet?
I’m not saying that the entire system needs to be exactly like combat training. But, there are certain things that could be incorporated into education that would make a big difference on people’s skill sets and on their ability to advance in their careers.
At NexGenT we prepare students for the real-world, period. We give them the skills they really need to know and certify that they are able to perform over 100 different tasks in person, handling real equipment, with zero written testing! We do this through a self-paced online program called Zero to Engineer and a 5-day in-person certification boot camp.
Since we cut all the fluff included in conventional degrees and certifications, we are able to teach more advanced skills to our students such as how to configure Private WAN to VPN failover for disaster recovery or set up an HQ network with 2 branches from scratch.
These, among hundreds of other skills, are part of what real network engineers do every day at their jobs. This is where paper certifications reveal all their weaknesses and make people feel like all the hard work and effort they invested studying didn’t prepare them properly for “combat”.
We’ve incorporated the field-ready mindset, which was instilled in our founders when they served in the Air Force, to our certification programs with the sole purpose of empowering people to either break into the IT industry or advance in their careers. Hence, when our students earn the Full-Stack Network Associate (FSNA) certification title, they have the skills needed to hit the ground running, just like American soldiers are.
The educational system is broken across various industries in several ways. It’s outrageously expensive, it doesn’t prepare people for the real world and leaves many of them in debt for many years to come after they graduate. We are working to change this for the IT industry, where what truly matters is a person’s skill set and knowledge, and nothing else.
Are you really learning how to do real things or just a bunch of theory?