Book and Cert Review: Certified Wireless Network Administrator
July 29, 2013
I used to hate 802.11. Wireless networking was some form of black magic that broke often, was impossible to troubleshoot, and made me convinced that everything should be hardwired if a reliable connection was desired. I found that others shared my sentiments toward WLANs, and complaining about some broken wireless device was a frequent occurrence among my peers. Overall, wireless networking was this mystical creature that I could never quite understand, troubleshoot, or control.
Then I had a revelation: Maybe I disliked 802.11 so much because I didn’t have a good understanding of it. When stuff broke, I had no idea how to fix it. Hell, I barely knew how it worked to begin with. So I decided to educate myself by working toward the vendor-neutral Certified Wireless Network Administrator certification. I bought the official study guide, read it cover to cover, took notes, did the review questions, and studied hard for a few months until I felt confident enough to sit the exam. I passed and earned the cert, but the real reward for me has been developing a deeper understanding, increasing curiosity, and sincere appreciation for 802.11 technology.
I truly enjoyed studying for the CWNA, and I’d like to discuss my impressions of the book, the exam, and wireless in general.
The CWNA Official Study Guide, written by David Coleman and David Westcott and published by Sybex, is a fantastic book. It’s dense with information, but not in a boring way. The writing style is very enjoyable, and I actively looked forward to going home and reading a chapter or two each night. The layout of the book is equally logical, with chapters building off each other to create a natural flow that allows the reader to make connections between the presented concepts. I found that it played very nicely into my note-taking strategy.
The book also includes chapter tests, packet captures, flashcards, white papers, and three full exams that can be downloaded from the Sybex website. The flashcards, packet captures, and white papers were a great addition. I found the flashcards to be very helpful when studying.
The chapter tests and full exams weren’t quite as great. The questions were often ambiguous, and they would ask you to select all answers that may apply. Often, an argument could be made for some of the “wrong” choices. Sometimes, two questions about the same topic would blatantly contradict each other (or worse, contradict the reading material). One question tried arguing that WEP was less secure than Open Authentication (WEP is awful, but is objectively the “more secure” of the two choices). Poor practice questions is a problem that I saw when using Sybex for the CCNA. Despite these complaints, taking the practice tests and reading the answers were a valuable study tool.
Obviously, I can’t reveal any specific details about the exam. However, I will say that I thought it was both fair and challenging. I didn’t think that there were any “bad” questions. I struggled with some questions because I simply failed to review the relevant material, but that was my own fault. The 90 minute duration is more than enough time. The official study guide and included material adequately prepared me for the test., but I would recommend purchasing the official practice tests, even if they are $50. I would’ve liked to practice with some questions that were more like the actual exam questions.
I thoroughly enjoyed studying for and taking the CWNA. I went from knowing very little about 802.11 and WLAN technologies to building a strong foundation of wireless networking knowledge. The vendor-neutrality of the certification made it even more attractive and encourages an understanding of 802.11 basics that can be employed with any vendor’s technology. I found that my initial distaste for wireless has also disappeared. I now completely enjoy troubleshooting and working with wireless. I’ll probably be focusing on the CCNP next, but I’m looking forward to working towards the other CWNP certifications in the future. A good understanding of wireless fundamentals and technologies is essential in today’s networks that encourage BYOD, mobility, and network access from anywhere in a campus. The CWNA certification is the perfect way to begin working toward a solid understanding of wireless technologies.