What Cabling Technicians Need To Know About IT Certifications

I started my career in construction. As a carpenter I learned that I like to work with my hands. I also liked to dabble with computers, so in the 1990’s, I studied for and achieved my first IT certification as a Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE). This is the top Microsoft Certification and owning one says that I am well versed in Microsoft Networking. So what does this have to do with cabling? Well, after landing a job as a Network Manager for a commercial Real Estate firm that specialized in Office Buildings, I conceived of and implemented an ISP (Internet Service Provider) wherein Internet service came with an office lease. The system I chose was Cisco’s Long Reach Ethernet (LRE), think DSL, and I implemented it in 7 office buildings serving about 500 tenants. I had to learn telecom law and how to install and operate telecom wiring. I discovered that I loved cabling and troubleshooting.

After being laid off after 12 years in that position, I started my own company, which has evolved into a cabling and IT service company. We install structured cabling, fiber optic cabling, access control systems and CCTV camera systems and service all in the Retail Sector. What strikes me is how many cabling technicians don’t know anything about networks. Cabling is only one part of a network and represents the physical layer in the OSI model, or Layer 1 in techno speak. Having knowledge of what goes in after the cabling, and how systems interconnect will end up making a better technician. It also opens up more opportunities for the technician. Being well versed in Layers 1, 2 and 3, opens up an entire new world of opportunities for work.

What Is Networking?

The OSI model, or the Open Systems Interconnection Reference Model explains how disparate networks of multiple manufacturers Interconnect their systems. It is open because it is standardized and therefore, no one manufacturer can dictate the way systems interconnect. If a single manufacturer dictated the model, all other manufacturers would be left in the dark due to patents and no other systems would be to connect to its system. The OSI model has made it possible to connect Dell computers to a Cisco switch and a Juniper router, for instance. The OSI model is a standard that all manufacturers must follow in order to connect their equipment to a network.

How Can I learn About Networking?

So I am a technician, how do I learn about the OSI model? And why should I? The world is Interconnected these days and it is interconnected through the Internet. The Internet in turn has made the world a much smaller place where large conglomerate companies can operate Internationally. As such, all businesses need to be connected to the Internet, and they must be wired to do so. But, what about wireless, you ask? Well, even wifi requires that access points are wired to the network. So as a cabling technician, your job just got really important, and making sure that your cabling will last the “lifetime” that the manufacturer warranties really matters. Once a technician is finished with their cabling, there is a network to install. This is where the OSI model comes in. The first network that has to be connected to is the Internet. This requires a knowledge of networking and TCP/IP or Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. TCP/IP operates at Layer 3 on the OSI Model. But what about Layer 2? What does that do?

Layer 2 is a technology that was around prior to TCP/IP and what hubs operated on, called the Media Access Layer. Layer 2 is where Mac addresses live, which is how all switches know which computer sent data and where to deliver the packets of data that were sent. There is an entire discussion around this which is beyond the scope of this article, just know that Layer two is the Media Access (MAC) layer and it is where VLANS live. VLANS are the ability to split a switch into separate networks. VLANS are important in retail service since it is how networks are segmented. For instance, a CCTV network, a POS network, a printer network, a credit card swipe network, etc. can all live on one switch using VLANS to segment or separate the networks.

This is probably all confusing, as it should be. The knowledge to operate a network is specialized and takes study to become proficient with it. The opportunities that are open to those that possess the knowledge on both sides are vast. When you look at the Billions and Billions of dollars spent on networking every year, someone needs to install that equipment, and knowing how to do that and cabling puts you ahead of your competition that only know one side or the other. So what certifications are best? There are many answers to this questions and I will go over them in the next paragraph.

Which Certifications Best?

If you are a technician and you are interested in learning about networking, the best overall certification is the Network+ certification from CompTIA. This certification will arm you with manufacturer agnostic knowledge to be able to install and help an engineer configure just about any type of equipment that you will run into. If you want to become manufacturer specific, check the websites for the manufacturer you are looking to get certified under for their list of certifications. Cisco, for instance, has an entry level certification called Cisco Certified Network Associate that is widely accepted as a gold standard. The requirements for this certification are constantly being updated, which makes it difficult to attain and keep current. It is a highly respected certification. That is not to say that other certifications are bad. They are all valuable, but if you stick with one manufacturer, you begin to limit your opportunities. In my opinion, open certifications are better, unless you plan to get a job as a technician and the company you work for requires a certain manufacturer certification.

Overall, cabling technicians that want to expand their opportunities should look to obtaining a certification that helps them along their path and opens up more opportunities. I chose a Microsoft Certification because I was in an industry where 90% of the desktop computers ran Windows (and it is till around that percentage). The second Certification I chose was the Certified Telephone Network Specialist (CTNS). I chose this one because I work with telephone lines and systems a lot. As a technician, you should chose what you believe will open up the most opportunities for you. Do your research, don’t just get a certification to get one, get one that will serve you and open up the most opportunities for you.

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