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August 3, 2007 • Vol.29 Issue 31
Page(s) 22 in print issue

What CCNA Certificate Classes Don’t Teach You
“Network Warrior” Offers Need-To-Know Advice To Face Real-World Challenges

Gary A. Donahue
Publisher: O’Reilly Media
Soft cover, 598 pages

CCNA certification can certainly help to get your foot in the door in the IT field. However, there is often a large gap between knowing enough to pass the exam and what you really need to know to do the job. Indeed, IT certification in general often does not mean a lot when it comes to the nitty-gritty understanding required for an in-the-trenches understanding of hands-on IT work.

In “Network Warrior,” Gary A. Donahue comprehensively lists, describes, and guides the reader through what a CCNA certificate holder faces on the job. “My book is important because all of the major vendors force people to learn impractical or useless information for their certification exams,” Donahue writes. “My goal was to write a book that reflected the real world as opposed to what a CCNA had to learn to pass his or her exam.”

Teaching The Novice

The most effective mentors and managers are often the most humble, who are not only good at their jobs but are the first ones to acknowledge their faults. They are also communicators par excellence, who should be able to explain complex IT subjects on a basic level so that even a novice can understand what they are talking about. In doing so, they often discover things they did not already know, which adds to their knowledge base while making them better communicators.

In “Network Warrior,” the author applies his simple-is-better communications philosophy while drawing on more than 25 years of IT experience. Donahue clearly and comprehensively imparts what you really need to know as a Cisco equipment network engineer or administrator.

Donahue simplifies CCNA-related concepts and tasks, almost to a fault—although it is a good fault to have, given the many IT books out there that merely skim the surface of important IT concepts. In the book’s chapter on access lists, for example, the author defines the term and describes how Cisco devices match and categorize packets. Presumably, this is requisite knowledge for the CCNA exam. He then progressively digs deeper into the subject.

Two small chapters are devoted to interpersonal skills, which offer advice on such themes as “how not to be a computer jerk” when interacting with colleagues who may be clueless about technology. A theme all too often overlooked in IT handbooks is how, in reality, enterprises are often a “mess,” as Donahue points out. IT staffers often have to contend with the nightmares and low morale associated with, for example, an organization outgrowing its data center and network resources. To address such an unpleasant scenario, the author offers useful advice about how to convince those who hold the budget strings why a multimillion-dollar upgrade is long past due. While these chapters are short, they offer practical advice long-winded manuals written by MBAs covering the interdepartmental and business side of IT often fail to do.

Need-To-Know Basis

“Network Warrior” does not offer everything IT admins need to know, as it focuses on Cisco equipment and the TCP/IP protocol. While some may seek a guide that covers additional network equipment and protocols, the author points out how such a far-reaching manual would be unwieldy. The book serves as a well-written and exhaustive guide that should be mandatory reading for new junior CCNA administrator hires. For those with experience in the field, the book is a worthy reference guide that can fill in gaps of knowledge you may have forgotten.

by Bruce Gain


A CCNA certificate means you know something about managing networks with Cisco equipment, and it certainly will not hurt to have on your resume. However, IT certification and the training involved are not enough to completely prepare you for what you will face.

Real-world working environments present unique challenges that you will never experience when taking an exam. Conversely, a lot of what you will have studied will likely turn out to be useless on the job. There are many facets of network management and engineering that can only be learned during on-the-job training or from a veteran who has the patience and the requisite communication skills to impart his or her knowledge.

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