Want to specialize in designing, managing, configuring and troubleshooting both wired and wireless networks? CompTIA Network+ certification is an easy and affordable way to get ahead (sorry for the plug, but it's true). It shows employers tangible proof that you know your stuff, even when they know next to nothing about IT. Once you're certified, you're on the path to positions like network support specialist, network field engineer, helpdesk technician and network administrator.
Why does Network+ certification matter? Here are four reasons:
- CompTIA certifications, unlike those that are vendor-specific (think Cisco and Microsoft), don't tie you to one particular specialty. You demonstrate knowledge of important IT concepts that apply to devices and applications from virtually any vendor.
- Organizations all over the world recognize these certifications — including giants like Dell, Apple, HP and Intel — along with agencies like the U.S. Department of Defense. It's accredited by American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
- Certifications are especially helpful when being screened by someone outside of support. According to CompTIA data, 96 percent of HR managers screen resumes according to who has certifications and who doesn't.
- When you're competing for a promotion against people who have about the same level of experience you do — or when you're asking for a raise — certification shows you've gone the extra mile to prove you have the motivation, knowledge and drive to succeed.
You're not required to have job experience before sitting for the Network+ exam, but CompTIA recommends you get at least nine months under your belt before taking the test. Here's the lowdown on what the exam is like, how to sign up and where to take it.
What Network+ Certification Covers
Your certification exam will test your knowledge of different devices, how they communicate with one another and how to troubleshoot network problems. You'll need a strong foundation in the following concepts:
Get a handle on protocols, ports and routing properties, addressing methods and formats, wireless communications and various cloud platforms (both public and private).
Network Media and Topologies
Make sure you know your cables and connectors, wiring standards and distribution, logical topologies and the basics of corporate WANs and LANs.
You'll need to know what hubs, routers, switches, bridges, servers, load balancers and bandwidth shapers can do for environments of a certain size. You should also understand advanced switching features like PoE, port authentication and VLANs, as well as how to set up a basic wireless network.
Get to know your security devices — not just host-based and network-based firewalls, but also principles of authentication, device security and threat mitigation.
Prove your management prowess by clearly explaining network layers and how they interact with one another, different types of documentation and how to monitor and optimize the network.
Good Study Resources
If you're feeling uncertain about any areas of the exam, these resources can help:
Network Plus Certification on Wikibooks
Wikibooks is like Wikipedia; it's not your final authority on every subject, but it's a great place to get a structural understanding. Read through the Network Plus Certification pages for an overview of exam content. If you need more help in a specific area, look for resources that dig into them more deeply.
CompTIA Network+ N10-006 Exam Cram, 5th Edition
This book from Pearson Education will give you a deeper review of Network+ concepts as well as practice quizzes to assess your knowledge. You can purchase a paperback book, e-book or both.
Mike Meyers' CompTIA Network+ Guide to Managing and Troubleshooting Networks
CompTIA, along with many IT pros, considers Mike Meyers' books to be veritable bibles when it comes to prepping for certification exams. In addition to the Network+ exam material itself, you get two practice exams, exclusive shareware tools and utilities, an e-book edition and a one-hour training video.
You can also review Network+ videos on YouTube and Vimeo, and for an in-depth review, sign up for CertMaster — a CompTIA-produced online learning tool. Publishers like ITPro.TV also offer training videos prepared by experienced sysadmins to help you pass this thing.
Registering, Paying and Finding a Test Center
The Network+ certification exam is under the exam code N10-006, and the registration costs vary based on where you take the test. In the U.S. it costs $285. You can purchase your exam voucher here. If a lot of people in ops want to take the exam, ask your boss to pay for the vouchers and take advantage of the volume discount. Once you've obtained your voucher, use this link to find a test center near you.
When you take the test, you'll answer both multiple-choice and performance-based questions, both of which will confront you with some real-life scenarios. If you fail the exam the first time, don't sweat it; you can register and pay a fee to take it a second time. There's no waiting period required between your first and second attempts, but if you require more than two tries you will have to wait 14 days between the second and third retake. Once you've passed your exam (congratulations!), you'll need to renew it every three years. Keep in mind you'll have to take a total of 30 continuing education units (CEUs) to qualify for renewal, and you'll pay a fee for renewal.
An Investment in Your Future
Your Network+ certification exam and associated materials are a small price to pay compared to the reward of boosting your lifelong earning potential. After you've finished Network+, try additional CompTIA certifications that are relevant to network pros, such as Cloud+, Mobility+ and Linux+. You might even become a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) or Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA).