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After a long slump, IT certification pay bounces back

Largely vendor-driven IT certifications decreased in value for a seven-year stretch, until a recent turnaround, with security getting a renewed focus.

IT certification pay has rebounded after slumping for years, as non-certified skills, such as expertise with operating...

systems and databases, continue to grow.

The value of non-certified skills went up nearly 4% in the past year compared to 10% for certified skills, according to a survey of pay rates for about 200,000 jobs across 2,800 employers by Foote Partners, LLC in Vero Beach, Fla. About one-third of those surveyed work in an IT department and two-thirds work in various lines of the business.

The report also looks at the new technology being pushed by various vendors, since the push of a certain platform can actually influence the job market, although that happens less with open systems, according to David Foote, co-founder and analyst at Foote Partners.

On average, 378 IT certifications paid off with higher salaries over the past two years, after a "deep and very prolonged slump" over seven years, according to Foote.

"It means the certifications are getting a little more respect," Foote said. "Clearly, the market has a much different view of certified skills versus non-certified skills."

Some of the non-certified skills that have seen the biggest jump in value during the past six months include operating systems, database and application development skills.

It means the certifications are getting a little more respect. Clearly, the market has a much different view of certified skills versus non-certified skills.
David Footeco-founder and analyst, Foote Partners LLC

Skilled workers are in demand to deal with technical architectures and understand what an IT organization has, what it needs and how to integrate things in the future.

The value of certified skills as a percentage of an IT pro's pay was above non-certified skills until about 2007, when the value of non-certified skills grew slightly and that of certified skills dropped. That change happened just as the U.S. unemployment rate spiked.

IT certification salary-boosters today include The Open Group's Open Group Master Architect and Project Management Institute's Program Management Professional. GIAC certification for reverse-engineering malware is also up there and has been growing, according to the Foote report.

In general, IT certifications that are increasing salaries include ones related to architecture, security and cloud, including those that require deep systems knowledge, as well as certifications on skills specific to a platform or vendor, Foote said.

Even if some of the most in-demand skills begin to see salary rates drop slightly, it may not be a sign that those skills are no longer hot -- it may simply be the supply of workers is catching up with the demand, so the certification payoff isn't as strong.

One job that will stay at the top of the hot-skills list: security. That's because members of companies' board of directors are getting personally sued after security breaches, putting security concerns squarely in the C-suite, Foote said.

For example, the value of an Information Systems Security Management Professional certification has gone up by 40% in the past six months.

Some IT certifications lose value as others gain

The value of certifications steadily declined for years because certifications were often narrowly focused and vendor-driven, with companies such as SAP and Oracle leading the way. Some certifications were so easy to get that you could get two-thirds of the questions on the exam wrong and still become certified, Foote said.

"If you are selling a product and nobody has the skills, that is a problem," Foote said. That was part of the logic behind vendor-specific and product-specific certifications.

There's been a renewed focus on the data center, he said, which has led to the introduction of certifications for data center architecture. The list of 378 certified skills in Foote's survey remains dominated by large vendors, including Cisco, Cloudera Inc., EMC, Oracle, Red Hat Inc. and VMware.

When cloud computing began to gain popularity, a new set of certifications were introduced.

"There was another area that vendors could seize on and sell certifications," Foote said.

While certifications remain driven by vendors, there are process and ITIL certifications that are not vendor-specific.

Skills before IT certifications

DevOps is a recent addition to the list of non-certified IT skills.

"It really should have been two or three years ago, but it took companies a while [to reward DevOps skills]," Foote said. "It is not an experiment now; it is a way we are doing things."

While the value of non-certified skills has hardly increased, very few have actually dropped. Alone on that list is SAP and business application skills, which have gone down by almost 2% in value over the past six months, according to Foote's survey.

In general categories, the largest growth in non-certified IT skills in the past two years has been database and application development skills. Lately, that has been focused in the area of architecture and big data, Foote said.

Big data is a category that continues to be refined, with the addition of specific categories that include data scientist and data cleansing.

Big data skills are currently garnering an 8% pay premium in the past six months, Foote said.

"These premiums are generally amounts paid outside of salaries for specific skills," Foote said.

At the top of the list for pay are enterprise architecture and data architecture skills. Some of the faster growing and highest-value skills include complex event processing and event correlation, COBIT and Oracle Coherence.

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or email him at rgates@techtarget.com.

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What IT certifications are most valuable to you?
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Truth be told, in smaller organizations, very few (if any) IT certifications have value. This has been my reality for the past fifteen years, so there has been less of a motivation to get certified on skills than to just practice and work with developing skills in areas that are needed. In smaller organizations, it's the repeated exercise of performing a task that is needed and developing confidence in others that you can do it. In larger organizations, opportunities to demonstrate that can be more limited, so certifications can act as a shorthand. In general, though, certifications have not been valued, so I have not sought them out.
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Great perspective Michael. Interesting to see how certifications can have a different value to different organizations, depending on the size.
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Depends on what you really mean by "value". For our industry at large, value of certification is to get an interview call, do it for client compliance or to show off that "we have 1987698768932% of employees certified" and so "you must give us business". 

To be brutally honest, the only certification would value would be "Certification against fighting certification lobby"
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I’ve seen a lot of training courses where the focus is solely on passing a certification exam, completely bypassing the effort to actually learn use the technology the certification is supposed to cover. Know these five things, and you can pass the exam. In those cases, having a certification can mean even less.
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Man computer crashed before I could get the post in, so I'll try to be brief.

1. Stats from the survey are not backed up with a published docket of how it was taken, who took it, their occupations, and what if any certs were named.
2. I feel like General IT certs may be lumped in with development certs and the two are really different animals
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I feel these articles that tout certification over non-certified skills could be more specific as to which certifications they are discussing and which organizations find them valuable, not to mention which individuals find them valuable. This may be a bias of smaller company engagement, in which I have been decidedly more involved in the past fifteen years, but smaller organizations don't place much stock in certification for skills, they just want to see that you have them and can use them. Very few of the professionals I have worked with that were not part of very large organizations seemed to have a need for any certifications,and I think that may be more of the driver. The larger the bureaucracy, the more helpful the certifications are.
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In my opinion, Certification of any kind when is given over importance it looses its value. Certifications have always remained "tool" for selling candidate profiles for hiring/contract work at clients. This does not always mean that all those candidates that are certified are better than non certified ones. What value would certification hold when every second individual is certified professional? Oh...may be that will create room for new certifications in market and the cycle will repeat after some years...
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