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Skilled up

Sanjeev Kumar Singh, Technical Head, SpectrumTechnical certifications remain valuable enough that most companies now reimburse their employees for the cost. In the Middle East, where networking skills shortage is looming on the horizon, the importance of getting accreditation is on the rise among IT managers and professions.

For years, the key to jumpstarting a network professional’s career was getting a Cisco credential. But now, things are changing with Juniper in the foray. The company, which is slowly emerging as an alternative to Cisco, is going all out to drive certification among its user and channel base.

Juniper is very different than it was 5-6 years ago, and that has caused the company's training and certification organization to evolve as well. What started as a test of users' knowledge of WAN routers and protocols now includes switching and security. A key role in Juniper’s initiatives to expand its accreditation base in the region is spearheaded by Spectrum, its only authorized training partner in UAE and the region.

Spectrum, which offers the highest number of Juniper coursers with a lab equipped with every product set of the vendor, also does training on Brocade and Microsoft security solutions. With certification emerging as a way to package and market the skills and drive value for IT professionals in the marketplace, the demand and supply gap is huge, says Sanjeev Kumar Singh, Technical Head. “Around 5 years back, you had to entice people to get certified; now IT professionals are realizing that certification is worth the time and effort as it enhances their career prospects,” he adds.

The way Juniper is driving certification through its user and channel partner base has also helped Spectrum. “Sometime back, Juniper was purely focused on telco business, which didn’t warrant many certified people. But as soon as they got into the enterprise space, the volume of boxes being deployed has gone up rapidly, and that requires a bigger number of people to support and maintain,” says Singh.

Juniper splits its certifications into two major categories- enterprise and service provider, which entails certification and trainings for firewall, routers, switches, intrusion detection & prevention, SSL VPN, WAN acceleration and Unified Access Controller.

Each of these is offered at the entry-level of Associate (the JNCIA-certification). The Enterprise Routing, JUNOS Security, Firewall/VPN, M Series and T Series; E Series platforms and SSL tracks are also offered at the next level of Specialist (or JNCIS). Next up the ranking is the JNCIP-M and JNCIP-E certifications, which are professional level of the M Series and T Series. At the top of the bunch, the Service Provider Routing M Series and T Series tracks also offer an Expert level. JNCIE perches at the top of certification with less than 700 JNCIEs across the world.

Juniper also offers Fast Track program, specially designed for experienced networking professionals who want to become certified in Junos, the company’s single OS across its product line. Singh says there is a great number of Cisco certified professionals who are now getting certified on Juniper. “If you are a CCNP, you can attend this online course for free. It is a nice way to migrate people from Cisco to Juniper.”

Singh says the primary reason for this trend is the glut in Cisco certified individuals. “There is a large pool of Cisco engineers who are vying for the same opportunities, while in Juniper’s case there is serious shortage of accredited people.”

He adds the profile of certified professionals is also changing. “When we started it was mostly channel partners, now it’s skewed in favour of end-users.”

Spectrum claims its value proposition is its fully loaded lab, which boasts of high-end infrastructure. “All our labs are online, and the most of the hardware infrastructure for training is based out of the facility in Dubai, which offers remote connectivity. This means professionals in the region can connect to the facility over the net for training. We have 9 certified Juniper trainers and we are also one of the few training partners that offers training in security and routing for enterprise and service providers,” says Singh. Along with that Spectrum also offers hands-on sessions and bootcamps for lab examinations such as JNCIP and JNCIE.

Singh says his company’s quality of service has been recognized in the form of awards from Juniper for the EMEA region. “We have won accolades for Spectrum as an authorized training partner, and our 5 instructors have been awarded in the last 4 years as well.”

Though certification is important, and a good way to validate one’s skills, Singh says the most important thing is the actual performance. “There's no substitute for actual experience. At end of the day, it's really the results that are being delivered by the person and the type of value they add the organization.”

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