I have to disagree with rushing to your CCNP. At least not early on in your career. While the CCNP is a definite door entrance, and honestly a major
part of what you'll need to secure higher end network engineer positions: the CCNA is still considered the great leveler, and is still considered
"tough enough" to whittle down competition if you have one and others don't. You don't need a CCNP to get a Junior Network Engineer spot. You can
easily get a Net Admin spot with a CCNA.
However let's be realistic with your goals: having some knowledge of networking and Cisco products =/= passing your CCNA.
I'm not saying this to be a jerk, by the way, I just want to help you find the likeliest avenue into a successful IT career.
When you say you have a light IT background: what do you mean? Have you built office LANs or worked on WANs before? Or was it mostly desktop work,
maybe some email administration?
Does your Cisco knowledge mean you know the difference between their product lines, or can you dive into iOS, ASYNCOS and NX-OS and start issuing
commands and building configurations?
If you can't at least navigate competently through iOS, which is the bulk of their products, and can't confidently modify or update an existing
configuration - you might want to scale back and look at entry IT positions like a Help Desk.
A Help Desk would get your feet wet with a company, and probably be easier to get into with a felony on your record. I could be wrong, but when I
managed an IT Call Center I didn't worry too much about prior felonies for that, and if it came up in the interview I would let them know that if they
did well and proved themselves at this level, it be easier to continue to move up.
Now if you are already capable at networking with Cisco devices: then really it's just a matter of getting ready for the CCNA.
Opinions vary, but I still say that if you had to pick ONE thing to know backwards and forwards going into the test - know your subnetting. It's
involved in almost every question, and the less time you spend doing subnetting "math" the more time you'll have for your simulation questions.
An easy way to do this if you don't do it well in your head (like me) is to just memorize how to write out the subnet chart quickly. Learn to write
it backwards and forwards and then, when you sit down, just write it out on the scratch paper and use that as your reference.
Don't worry too much about seeing questions related to really specific/niche issues like Jumbo frames or spanning-tree. Focus more on your
subnetting, troubleshooting issues, and building configurations. The test will have the same hook/tab commands that the real machines do, to a
certain degree, so you can still type in a partial command and tab it out.
Knowing how to rapidly move through a questions that ask how you should divide a network up for a listed number of users (subnetting) or how to
rapidly troubleshoot a network failure when they present a network diagram filled with machines, switches, and IPs, will pay off far more than
remembering the exact command to create a new VLAN. Not that that is hard, and if you do remember commands easily more power to you. My point is
that it'll be more helpful for you in the test to know the processes rather than the exact command, because the simulator will still let you hook
commands when you are unsure.
Have you considered other areas of IT? Networking can often be ephemeral or abstract. If you prefer working with more tangible things maybe consider
Systems Administration? Working on servers or storage arrays, or databases too. Systems Administration can branch into a lot of neat avenues, and is
usually easier to get into than networking if you have experience in desktop support and windows administration.
CCNPs get paid very well depending on what they do and where they work. CCIE's pull some real cheddar, but they are also network rockstars. The guys
architecting huge deployments and helping rewrite networking
But don't sell yourself short either: put some time into working with a company,
even at a lower level first and earn your way into a Net Admin spot. You can still make yourself a solid 60k a year. Same as a Sys Admin, depending
on the level of infrastructure you support.
edit: For what it's worth: I started my IT career at 23, no formal training or college. I just worked well with computers and technology and decided
to take it as an easy career path. By 28 I was an enterprise systems AND network administrator (overworked for sure) for a Uni with multiple sites, a
statewide WAN and multiple campus LANs, VoIP, datacenter management, storage arrays, near 400 servers, somewhere around 350 cisco network devices,
from l2 and l3 switches to ASAs and Nexus 10gig switches with a couple of Ironport's to round it out.
As I near my 32nd birthday I recently took a Federal position (I know, I'm evil now) but it offered great hours and flexibility, and stability of
hours that you often lose as you go further into higher end IT. I work a straight 8 Monday through Friday now, where as before I could end up with
changenets or emergencies causing me to work 80-90 hours in a single week.
edit on 9-10-2014 by UnmitigatedDisaster because: (no reason