I’ve been poking around on the Web this morning, noodling about for sources of information on the best-paying IT certifications nowadays. There’s certainly no shortage of such information about — run this Google search to see what I mean, if you like — but what’s interesting is how so few of the reports on this topic of such great interest agree, either in their selections or in the compensation figures associated with them. In looking over half a dozen such items (of which this Global Knowledge piece “15 Top Paying IT Certifications for 2012” certainly pops up most frequently) I came to some interesting conclusions:
- Yes, there are numerous certs associated with six-figure salaries (more on this later, because it’s not at all correct to simply equate the salary and the cert).
- Project management (PMP) and business processes (ITIL stuff) remain pretty darn hot, as does security (CISSP, and its “merit badge” credentials).
- Architecture stuff is a great place to be (including Cisco and Microsoft architect-level credentials, but also independent architecture certs as well — see this PearsonITCertification article that Mary Kyle and I wrote last year “Senior-level Certification: IT Architect Credentials Can Open Career Doors“).
- Expertise can be financially as well as technically rewarding. There’s a whole slew of certs with Expert in their designations, including Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE), VMware Certified Design Expert, EMC Certified Expert, the CCIE in all its many flavors, and so forth. All of these come with a surprisingly broad and deep requirement for skills and knowledge, with pay grades to match.
- Popular specialties offer high potential payoffs. Hot technology areas with senior level certs make a potent combination. That’s why high-level SAP, storage, business intelligence and data mining, mobile app development, cloud computing, and telco-level credentials for 40-plus Gbps networking technologies, backhaul, and so forth all command big bucks, as companies fight over those few individuals trained and experienced enough to qualify for such positions.
But there is a catch, and here it is: relevant, hands-on experience continues to count as much or more at the high end as do degrees and certifications. Simply earning a high-level cert may indeed require some levels of experience, skills, and knowledge. But because the kinds of jobs that such certs lead to command high pay, employers will also do lots of due diligence to make sure the candidates they choose to fill those positions actually have the kind of people skills, analytical and troubleshooting ability, and real-world “been through the fire and here to tell what I learned from it” experience needed to successfully add to their senior technical staff. You must be able to walk the walk, and prove it, as well as talk the talk.
There are no shortcuts to success. Somewhere along the way, you actually have to learn and do your stuff, and then be able to communicate about it successfully to others. Sure, chasing senior certs is a great way to climb up the career ladder. But please remember: there’s more to attaining IT success than collecting random bits of paper, or increasingly long strings of alphabet soup on your business card and resume. It also helps a LOT if you dig into work and subject matter that you really love, because that love will sustain you through times of trouble, and keep your motivation high to help you stay current on the ever-changing and always challenging array of subjects you’ll have to learn, use, and master throughout your IT career.