I thought I’d share this goal of mine that I’ve been thinking about, talking about and worrying about for some years now: to become a CWNE, a Certified Wireless Network Expert. To a wireless network professional, one who specialises in Wi-Fi, this qualification is a big thing, the top of the certification path in wireless networking.
CWNE is the highest certification awarded by CWNP (www.cwnp.com), the vendor-neutral organisation that administers the CWNP exams and, in a few days time, I’ll formally submit my application.
So I’m close. Last week, I passed the last exam I needed to pass in order to complete the ‘exam requirements‘ part of the formal application process. I already had the basic exams, CWTS and CWNA, which I took in 2012. But to apply for CWNE status, you need to pass:
- CWDP – Certified Wireless Design Professional
- CWAP – Certified Wireless Analysis Professional
- CWSP – Certified Wireless Security Professional
With good reason, the most common advice is to take CWAP first, which gives you an excellent base to understanding 802.11 and its inner workings.
My particular exam path was quite the opposite. In 2013, security was a weakness for me and I needed to turn it into a strength. So CWSP was my first exam and I studied pretty hard for it. Passed it first go in March 2014.
Due to some work projects I knew were coming up and would interrupt my plans for studying at the same pace as CWSP, I decided to halve the amount of time I felt I needed for CWDP and sat the exam just a few months later. CWDP is not an easy exam (well none of them are) but I was particularly surprised by this one. Anyway, I failed the exam by a question or two. Twice. Got it the third time.
That left CWAP and the thought of CWAP quite frankly scared me (which is why I did CWDP second). I was that worried about my ability to remember complex protocol field mappings and modulations; recognise patterns in Spectrum Analysis and memorize 802.11 headers, sequences and operational processes; that early on I decided to do an authorised CWAP course. In Bangkok. I signed up to Globeron’s CWAP course (taught by Ronald van Kluenen) and it was superb. From that course, apart from the knowledge learned at the course I obtained two key takeaways: first, an official CWAP course notebook which is chock-full of impressive tips and notes, and second: self-confidence. During that course I realised that I was not as far off being prepared for CWAP as I thought I was. It was a massive confidence boost.
Due to work commitments, it took a year for me to prepare and finally sit the exam and happy to say it was last week that I took it and passed.
I would like to mention that all of the CWNP books (published by Sybex) have been superbly written. They really, really have and my hat goes off to the authors of each book. The books explain technical concepts extremely well. You still need more material though. Luckily there are blogs by CWNEs and whitepapers by universities that are a wealth of information.
Colleagues often ask me why not go for a vendor certification? Xirrus, Aerohive, Cisco, Aruba, Ruckus, HP all offer their own wireless certification tracks. While these are all valuable in their own right, for what I wanted to achieve, I decided early on for a globally recognised, independent certification. It suited me for two reasons:
- I wanted to focus on learning the IEEE 802.11 standard and how it is applied in the real world in different environments.
- I required a flexible, adaptable skillset that could be applied to any situation to troubleshoot issues and audit complex scenarios on any customer implementation, regardless of their chosen brand.
Some curious colleagues (and the odd customer) have also asked me about the Wi-Fi tools I use. Well, below is what I use but there are lot of awesome tools out there and I would have them all if I could! Principally I use:
- Tamosoft Tamograph Site Survey (Site Survey software)
- Tamosoft CommView for Wi-Fi (WiFi Layer-2 Analysis software)
- Metageek Chanalyzer Pro and a 2.4/5GHz Metageek WiSpy dBx adaptor (Spectrum Analysis)
- A custom Toshiba Portege laptop that is very thin and extremely light – when walking around sites for hours, you need something that isn’t heavy!
Plus a bunch of other networking tools I’ve used since CCNP and CCIE R&S days.
In summary, from Day One I have wanted – and I truly desire to be, an independent expert. To be able to offer my customers the best solution for their needs. While this may be one vendor for one environment, as a consultant I would (and do) recommend another vendor for a different environment which I feel best matches my customer’s current and future requirements.
Getting to this point has been a worthwhile journey. I have learned an incredible amount of VALUABLE information that helps me every single day of my job. My networking background has been routing and switching and although it is a job I enjoyed, it was always ‘a job’. However, wireless and radio frequency operation fascinates me and its not just a job. I’m passionate about it.
To date, it has been an exceptionally rewarding experience.