Network+ certification: Overview and career path
The labor market for information technology professionals will remain robust for the next decade. Market intelligence company International Data Corp. estimates that the IT industry will globally add more than 4 million well-paying jobs through 2027. In the United States, the U.S. Labor and Employment Bureau estimates that the computer and information technology sector will grow faster than the average across all sectors, with a 13 percent growth in IT jobs between 2016 and 2026.
Despite such high demand for IT professionals, it’s not guaranteed that you will find a job. Even if you’re not competing against a large pool of applicants, it’s important to prove to a potential employer that you’re qualified for the role. Professional IT certifications are a good way to show you have technical skills, and hiring managers often see them as performance indicators. Earning certifications can help not only prove your skills and knowledge to a potential employer, but also advance your career and stay competitive.
If you’re interested in the network infrastructure field, CompTIA’s Network+ certification is a good way to demonstrate that you have the foundation required for an entry- to mid-level job. As a core-level credential, the Network+ certification covers areas such as network management, troubleshooting and configuration, skills which are necessary for many network jobs.
A nonprofit trade association, CompTIA is recognized globally as a leading provider of vendor-neutral professional IT certifications. Although the Network+ certification is geared toward entry-level practitioners such as network support specialists, network administrators and help desk technicians, it also provides the expertise that can be valuable in other IT fields.
What is the Network+ certification?
CompTIA is a membership association that has certified more than two million professionals since its inception. Its comprehensive training and certification programs range from basic to advanced and specialized areas. In addition to certifications, the association focuses on educational programs, networking events, research, advocacy and other activities that help advance the IT profession.
The Network+ certification is among CompTIA’s core offerings designed to build foundational skills. CompTIA reviews all its exams regularly to ensure they reflect the most current industry practices. The most current Network+ exam, N10-007, was launched in March 2018 and will be effective for three years. This version was updated to add new topics such as security and network resiliency.
The certification covers five domains:
- Networking concepts
- Network operations
- Network security
- Networking troubleshooting and tools
Who should earn the Network+ credential?
CompTIA considers the Network+ as the next step after its A+ certification, another in its series of four core certs. While A+ covers the basics of networking, Network+ takes a closer look at aspects such as:
- Designing and implementing networks
- Understanding wired and wireless network technologies and topologies
- Implementing network security standards, configurations and protocols
- Configuring, maintaining and managing network devices such as firewalls, routers and switches
- Troubleshooting network configurations and other issues
- Understanding and implementing best practices for network operations, including disaster recovery and business continuity
This certification demonstrates that you have a basic understanding of enterprise technologies, making it ideal for anyone who’s in the early stages of their network career. However, those who want to advance to more senior roles should also consider it. Some of the jobs that will benefit from Network+ the most include:
- Computer technician
- Help desk technician
- Network support specialist
- Network administrator
- Network analyst
- Systems engineer
- Systems administrator or analyst
The certification can serve not only as a stepping stone for career advancement but also provide a solid understanding of networking for other IT roles. Some of the other paths that the Network+ certification could fit include:
- Security specialist
- Web and network systems developer
- Information systems consultant
A review of PayScale’s data for Network+ certifications shows that the average salary earned by IT professionals who have this credential is nearly $66,000, with job titles that include systems administrator, IT manager and network engineer.
Requirements for obtaining the certification
To take the Network+ exam, you do not need any previous IT experience. However, CompTIA recommends at least nine to 12 months of experience in the networking field. The A+ certification is also recommended but not required.
If you have experience in networking, you will find it much easier to prepare for the multiple-question certification exam. A variety of training and exam-prep options are available for those who don’t have a good foundation in networking or just want to brush up on their knowledge of current practices.
How does the Network+ compare to other IT certs?
Like all of CompTIA’s certifications, Network+ is vendor-neutral, which means the fundamentals you will learn and demonstrate can be applied to a broad range of IT products and solutions.
Some comparable certifications include Microsoft’s MTA (Microsoft Technology Associate)/Networking Fundamentals and Cisco’s CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate).
Like the Network+ cert, CCNA is based on the responsibilities of a network-related job, but CCNA is specific to Cisco products while Network+ is applicable across all vendor products and solutions. MTA is not based on the job role and is considered an introduction to the vendor’s networking offerings.
Is the Network+ certification worth the effort?
If you’re trying to build your networking career and want a way to learn the basics, Network+ is for you. As there are not many other certificates in this entry-level niche, CompTIA’s certification is worth the time, money and effort for those who need a boost early in their career so they can be more marketable and competitive. It’s important to remember that by itself, this certification won’t necessarily lead to a higher salary.
While the Network+ doesn’t replace hands-on experience, it does give you a well-rounded understanding of networking principles and a look at some current issues facing networks, such as security, disaster recovery and business continuity. It is also good preparation for more advanced CompTIA exams and for vendor-specific certifications like CCNA.
Best way to train for the Network+
Anecdotally, some of the IT pros who have taken the exam say it is not very challenging if you have the experience and have studied the most current concepts. You’ll find many paid and free training options, and the best ones for you may depend on how deep you need to dive into the material and what your preferred learning style is.
Here’s an overview of some training options for CompTIA Network+ exam:
Those who have broad knowledge and experience in networking often opt to skip the test studying and instead try the widely available practice tests and quizzes. Since the N10-007 exam is relatively new, the sources for practice tests are limited but you can find some pop quizzes online. This is not a recommended way to prep if you’re new to the field or your knowledge is outdated — especially if you want to pass the exam on your first try.
Self-study is great for those who don’t want the more structured, in-person or online classroom experience and don’t need guided help to get up to speed. CompTIA makes its exam objectives available online, and they follow a detailed outline of the five domains and what may be included in the exam for each domain.
Here’s a small, general sampling of the objectives:
- Networking concepts: Explain the purposes and uses of ports and protocols (e.g., SMTP 25, HTTP 443); explain the concepts and characteristics of routing and switching (e.g., DMZ, IPv6); summarize cloud concepts and their purposes (e.g., SaaS, hybrid)
- Infrastructure: Explain the purposes and use cases for advanced networking devices (e.g., multilayer switch, proxy server); compare and contrast WAN technologies (e.g., ISDN, fiber).
- Network operations: Compare and contrast business continuity and disaster recovery concepts (e.g., backup, fault tolerance); identify policies and best practices (e.g., data loss prevention, remote access).
- Network security: Explain authentication and access controls (e.g., LDAC, NAC); summarize common network attacks (e.g., DoS, spoofing).
- Network troubleshooting and tools: Explain the network troubleshooting methodology; troubleshoot common wired connectivity and performance issues (based on scenario); troubleshoot common network service issues (based on scenario).
CompTIA online assessment and study
CompTIA offers an online prep course, so you can test your knowledge for gaps and know what you need to study more thoroughly. It’s designed as a companion tool for the exam and includes real-time learning analytics.
Live training sessions
Live, instructor-led training is available in both in-person and live online formats. With live online training, you can get expert instruction without the hassle or costs associated with travel. These are often webcast sessions of in-person training programs and are scheduled for specific dates. Check to make sure that your course includes videos that you can replay independently at any time, as well as other resources you can use for self-paced study or review later.
Infosec’s Network+ Boot Camp is one example, and the training comes with an Exam Pass Guarantee.
Remember, once you receive the certification, you will need to renew it every three years through the CompTIA continuing education program. The renewal can be obtained through a mix of activities and educational programs. Good luck with your certification!
20 Most Significant IT Roles You Should Consider, The Cisco Learning Network
Occupational and Employment Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics
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