My path to the CCNA Wireless certification

I recently earned the CCNA Wireless certification using the following materials:

  • David Hucaby’s CCNA Wireless 200-355 OCG deluxe edition
  • CWNA 5th edition study guide
  • Keith Barker’s CCNA Wireless path over on CBT Nuggets
  • Jerome Henry’s CCNA Wireless CCNA Wireless 200-355 video series
  • CCNA Wireless 200-355 WIFUND flash cards from neckercube.com
  • YouTube

I really enjoyed this certification path, both the official certification guide and the CWNA are great reads. The CWNA is an absolute unit of a book to get through, definitely requires another re-read, I’ve been using it as a reference tool for work it’s that good. The reason I chose to go down the CWNA route is because I heard so many good things about it from the ‘WLAN professionals’ and the ‘Clear to Send’ podcasts. Also, the CCNA book is now nearly 4 years old now. The CWNA 5th edition is about 6 months old (as of this post), so it covers a lot of technology that’s in use right now and whats to come. What I also like about the CWNA is that it’s vendor agnostic, it covers the fundamentals very well. It also has an awesome community around it! I highly recommend both these books. A big thank you to David Hucaby, David Walcott and David Coleman for producing this fine content. (What is it with Wireless technology authors and the name David, is it a prerequisite?)

Onto my Youtube rabbit hole adventures. The following is a list of videos that I genuinely found enlightening:

Electromagnetic Waves – with Sir Lawrence Bragg

Bob Richardson lectures on the propagation of electromagnetic radiation (1981)

Antenna Fundamentals made by the Film Board of Canada for the Royal Canadian Air Force

Electromagnetic waves. EM spectrum, energy, momentum. Electric field and magnetic field. Doppler shift. Polarization. By Professor Matt Anderson.

HAM Radio Basics- HAM 101

With hindsight I wish I discovered Jerome Henry’s CCNA Wireless video course earlier and the flash cards from neckercube.com. The reason being is that Jerome’s content is sublime, it also covers topics such as Cisco ISE and Prime. It’s very difficult getting information on these unless you work within in the industry.

Even though I’ve got access to the Cisco OCG through Safari books online it unfortunately doesn’t give you access to the practice exams. I purchased the deluxe edition for this reason. I also ended up using the epub format of the book instead of Safari’s online web application. It’s a lot easier to work with and way faster to navigate. The practice tests that come with the deluxe edition is worth the price of the ebook in my opinion. They definitely helped.

Typically I find it difficult judging how ready I am to sit any exam. I tend to go over the blueprints to get a feel of how well I know the material.  I find practice tests and flash cards really help to expose knowledge gaps. The little DIKTA questions that are typical of books are easy to memorise if you go through them enough, so it’s easy to convince yourself that you know the material, instead you just remembered the order of the answers! At least the online practice exams shuffle the answers.

Do you need physical equipment? For the CCNA Wireless, I would say no, but it definitely helps. For the CWNA it’s something I’m looking to invest in. Just out of curiosity I want to see for myself how much a leaky microwave affects the 2.4 GHz spectrum (my microwave is old), I want to see how certain materials attenuate the signal, do those marketing claims actually hold up and so on.

Next it’s the infamous CCNA Security exam. Once I’ve accomplished that I will then return to the Wireless realm to sit the CWNA exam. That should keep me busy for the next 2-3 months.

6 month overview as an ‘Network Engineer’

Six months after obtaining the CCNA in Routing and Switching I managed to land a position as an ‘Network Engineer’. I’ve now been in this role for 6 months. So what exactly is it that I do? A typical day varies. Of the 6 months I’ve probably been out of the office for 2 of them. So far I’ve configured and installed a variety of new equipment (switches, routers, access points, firewalls, wireless LAN controllers), troubleshooting issues with existing networks, actioning requests, performing site surveys, auditing, cable management, helping with design and sales. If there’s any lull periods that’s normally devoted to updating / cleaning up documentation, checking network monitoring systems or learning about something new that’s on the horizon (like SD-WAN).

A lot of the work that I do comes to me via email and our ticketing system. A client request could be anything from poking holes in Firewalls, setting up SPAN, configuring VLANs, troubleshooting bottlenecks, setting up VPNs and so on.

The biggest challenges for me have been Firewalls, VoIP and Wireless. Of the businesses we support all 3 of them are significant components of their networks. VoIP is the most alien to me and I don’t really have an interest in it at all, so that’s where I struggle the most. It looks like VoIP is set to become the standard method for voice communications now as BT is phasing out PSTN in favour of FVA.

One thing that I would like to point out that I haven’t been involved in working with much is Routing. I haven’t touched anything Routing related yet, other than verifying routes. I haven’t implemented any Routing designs or made changes. My knowledge in this area has definitely atrophied, time to lab it up!

Below is a brief overview of the things I’ve been exposed to, and how it’s coincidentally changed my goals. Begrudgingly I’ve temporarily postponed my freeCodeCamp progress to put all my energy into getting up to speed. I still feel like I’m barely scratching the surface, impostor syndrome is my shadow and treading water has become the norm. That being said, I’m enjoying it. It’s challenging and varied work.

Off the top of my head here are the things that I’ve encountered so far.

Cisco ASAs (in particular working with ASDM)
Cisco FirePOWER
Cisco Umbrella
Cisco Meraki
Cisco AnyConnect (lots of VPN)
Cisco Prime
Cisco ISE
Cisco DNA

Occasionally bumping into the following hardware :

Avaya
Juniper
Mitel (particularly phones)
HP ProCurve
Sonicwall
Ubiquity
WatchGuard
TP-Link
Netgear
Aerohive

Documentation tools :

Microsoft Visio
Lucid Charts
Excel + Word

Network monitoring :

PRTG
Solarwinds
Zabbix
Observium

Wireless :

Meraki
AirMagnet Survey
Ekahau
Cisco Prime
MetaGeek
Draytek

Configuration management :
Ansible
Cisco PRIME

Useful tools :

Air Console (ever consoled into a device from the comfort of your car?)
MetaGeek inSSIDer (a great tool for diagnosing Wireless problems)
Cagenut Insertion and Removal Tool (no longer pinging cage nuts into the ether!)

I’ve been involved in installing and configuring a large variety of hardware, primarily Cisco that includes the following :

Routers / Firewalls
ASA 5500-X series
ISR 800 & 4000 series
RV300 series
DrayTek

Switches
Cisco 9300
Cisco 250 series
Cisco 350x series
Cisco 2900 series
Meraki MS series

Wireless LAN controllers
3504
5520

Wireless Access Points
Cisco 500 series
Aironet 3800 series
Aironet 1800 series
Aironet 3700 series
Meraki MR series
DrayTek VigorAP 900 series

What next

I had planned on working towards the CCNP in Routing and Switching but out of sheer necessity for my current role I’ve decided to pursue the CCNA Wireless, CWNA and CCNA Security. A lot of work I’ve been doing recently has been configuring Wireless devices, dealing with bad Wireless design/implementation and having to perform Wireless site surveys. Along with working with Firewalls, VPNs and site to site IPSec tunnels. The certifications I’ve listed covers all those areas. Unfortunately the CCNA Security isn’t quite enough for managing ASAs though, looks like I’ll need to venture down the CCNP track for more in-depth information.

Configuring Cisco 5500 and 3500 Wireless LAN controllers
Configuring Cisco 5500 and 3500 Wireless LAN controllers

To conclude

I was concerned that my CCNA in Routing and Switching may have been too theoretical but in reality a lot of what I’ve learned has been directly applicable to the role that I’m in. With hindsight it was a great investment and I’m grateful for the position I’m in, I’m also excited to continue learning and developing.

This is the first time I’ve had the chance to pontificate on my accomplishments. Landing this job was huge for me. It stoked my desire to continue learning and moving forward in this field. It’s inspired me to set goals that I’m currently working towards. For those out there working towards a similar goal and are unsure if it’s worth pursuing this without a guarantee of a job, I want to emphasise this point. People move on, whether they get bored or are offered a position else where, some even retire. There’s always going to be positions available. It may take some time, it took me 6-7 months of searching and applying before I was offered a position, don’t give up!