When do you feel ready to take a certification exam? Honestly, I haven’t found a good answer for that question. Is it when you read through each page of the book? Is it when you’ve seen all the videos? Perhaps it’s when you pass the simulation exams or do great with the flash cards. Maybe it’s when you’ve completed the online training class. For me, it’s like a bandage; you just have to rip off. I never feel 100% confident when taking a test, so I just have to book the exam, study, and hope for the best. I felt this way during my previous certification exams and I felt the same when I booked the SCOR exam.
In my last entry to the blog, I wrote about pursuing a new cert, the CCNP Security. The first step I took for the CCNP Security was the SCOR exam. Being knee deep in Cisco’s security world at work, I felt it was the right direction to go. I read the book, took the class, saw the videos, and took the sim exams (didn’t pass any of them). I did however pass the actual SCOR exam!
But now what?
Cisco’s 350-701 SCOR Exam (Implementing and Operating Cisco Security Core Technologies) was a beefy exam. It covered everything from VPNs, my weakest subject, to Cisco’s Umbrella and everything in between. The materials I read and watched helped, but so did having hands-on experience with most of the topics. With any test you take, having hands-on experience is going to propel you a bit closer to a passing score. It’s one thing to read about it and watch someone else talk about, but it’s a whole different game when you can click around and try things out for yourself. Having a few years of being able to use some of the technologies helped but it did not make me any more confident. So now that the SCOR exam is over, what’s next? In order to complete the CCNP Security, I still need to pass a concentration exam.
Looking through the catalog, there are a few concentration exams under the CCNP Security:
- The 300-710 SNCF covers Firepower deployments, configurations, management as well as troubleshooting.
- The 300-715 SISE dives into Cisco ISE, the policies, components and deployment of ISE.
- The 300-720 SESA breaks down the Email Security Appliance and its various security features.
- The 300-725 SWSA covers Cisco’s Web Security Appliance setup along with various policies.
- The 300-730 SVPN has various VPN deployments as well as troubleshooting.
- The 300-735 SAUTO will test you on automation using the many security technologies.
Obviously, I didn’t do this list justice. To find out more information on each of the concentration exams visit Cisco’s website. Looking through the list, I’ve had various encounters with each of the topics in production with exception of automation. As I mentioned above, I like to use the hands-on approach. Out of all the topics, Cisco ISE is the most interesting to me. There is much power behind it and its ability to tie in other technologies as well as become the center of the Cisco security ecosystem. SAUTO would prove the most challenging to me as I haven’t had much automation experience. It has felt like the SESA exam would be the route to go for me, but there is a lot of material to cover and even more to learn as well. What I am currently working on right now pushes me in a different direction. Many of the tasks I am working on are actually email security related. We’ve recently completed the move of our ESA to the cloud (CES). Taking the SESA would give me the extra push (and knowledge) I need to stay ahead of all the cleanup work and optimization coming up.
I have booked the SESA as my concentration exam and now it’s back to the studying. One thing I tell everyone is to keep learning. Even if it’s not tied to a certification like the SCOR exam, hit the books and pickup or refresh some skills. Even though the SESA will be my choice for the concentration exam, once that is over, I am going to dive into another concentration study. Technology will continue to change and as professionals, we have to do what we can to keep up.