Clash of the Tech Certificate Titans: Security vs. Networking

jkinnear's picture

by JC Cook

In the IT world the current heavyweights are security and networking certifications, but how do they rank up against each other? The IT job universe consistently boasts significantly lower unemployment numbers than almost any other industry, but what path to pick?  LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!


Security: $65,000-$111,000

Networking: $43,000-116,000

Edge: Even. Networking tends to start lower, but gains ground quickly.



Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): Want to hack your own company, find the holes, and let the brass know? Then this certification is right for you. Perfect for anyone with a vigilante obsession.

Computer Hacking Forensic Investigation (CHFI): This certification allows you to put evidence together in order to prosecute the bad guys. It’s like CSI and The Matrix had kids.

Comp TIA Security+: Security basics from concept, access control, recovery, and cyber-attack protection. This is a great certification to build off of; you’re not a security guard, but you’re not the Lieutenant either.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): A slight step up from the Comp TIA Security+ certification as you learn everything that it teaches plus some management skills. The CISSP is a common prerequisite for many companies looking to employ an IT security position. You’re working your way up with this one— there’s a new Sheriff in town!

Certified Information Security Manager (CISM): The top of the top. This certification boasts the highest wages, the most power, and the most responsibility. On top of the CISSP skills pile on a list of others and the CISM is actively sought after by both private and government employers. It’s your job to run the whole precinct, Chief, don’t screw up!



Certified Wireless Networking Associate (CWNA): Entry level certification for anyone wanting to work in networking. The plus is that it’s easy to find classes as the exam is vendor neutral. If networking was a radio station, you’d be the DJ on at 3AM, but at least you’re on the air!

Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA): The CCNA will cover much of what the CWNA did, but with the added pleasure of learning medium-sized route and switched networks. It will also be the starting point for a plethora of specifications as well the CCIE. With this certification, you’re the top ranked morning show in town, complete with shock-jock attitude.

Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE): The apex of the networking ladder with the highest wages and most responsibilities, CCIE certification holders make up less than 1% of the networking professionals worldwide. You get this one and forget station manager, you just became Ted Turner; you own ALL media.

Edge: Too close to call.



Entry level certifications like the Comp TIA+ and CISSP are offered in multiple locations, aren’t overly expensive, and, while hard, aren’t going to make your head explode and provide an excellent springboard for further education. However, the CISM exam, while not too expensive, is extremely difficult, and timed in such a way that if you fail the first time, it’ll be a while before it rolls around again. CISM designation also requires a certain amount of professional experience in the field of information security.


Like their security compatriots, entry level networking certifications are offered nearly everywhere, are fairly inexpensive, and won’t destroy your self-image by being too difficult. But the CCIE is expensive ($350 written, $1400 lab), extremely difficult (remember the 1%), and you have to go to San Jose just to take it.

Edge: About even. Though the CISM certification is considerably cheaper, having to go to San Jose to test seems like a great excuse for a tax deductible work vacation.


It’s a tie! (How’s that for a letdown?) Both certification paths have their pros and cons, both have great employment opportunities worldwide, and both can make prodigious wages. You can’t really go wrong with either, so figure out which side most appeals to you, keep climbing that ladder, and don’t look down.

This article is sponsored by Western Governors University, a nonprofit, accredited, online university. WGU offers online bachelor's and master's degree programs in IT. To find out more, please visit their website at

Rate this article: 
Average: 3.7 (6 votes)