Top Paying IT Certifications, Skills and Capabilities

March 1st, 2012
by Christopher Kusek (PKGuild)

The other day or so, I came across this article:

15 Top Paying IT Certifications for 2012 by Randy Muller, Global Knowledge Instructor, MCT, MCSE, MCSA, MCDST

And it got me thinking, other than the clear difference of opinion MANY of the readers had to feel about it, and the subjective thoughts around how much money people we’re being paid (Is that reflective of specific markets?)  As someone who regularly hires, recruits, and mentors for others I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring around what I see are the Top Paying Certs and Skills as I’m hit up regularly by recruiters (internal and external) looking for candidates.  I’ll try to break this up by section and I won’t go into the details of money because frankly I have deep insight into what people get paid, so I know just how relative it all is :)

Disclaimer: You may feel there is vendor bias in a lot of the choices of Certifications to be included, Let me just tell you, this isn’t just ME saying this.  This is countless hiring managers inside and outside of the industry looking for these certifications, so I want it to be clear if you have THESE Certs, your LinkedIn will EXPLODE with Job Opportunities. Seriously.

Top Certifications for the low-mid levels

  • MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional)
  • CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician)
  • VCP (VMware Certified Professional)
  • A+, Network+, Security+ (Okay, seriously, ANY CompTIA Certification)
  • EMCISM (EMC Information Storage and Management)

If you’re just getting started in IT depending upon the cross section you’re focused on, these certifications help build some credibility and skill-sets which are definitely to be required as you move up the stack.    For the most part, short of being “Product” specific in some sense, they each provide a decent “Administrative” foundation for the Microsoft, Networking, VMware Virtualization, etc.   Oh yea, and in light of NOT having these certifications, having an adequate foundation to fall back on of these skill sets work as well.    FYI: If you have the skills, just go take the test so you won’t have to prove yourself at every avenue.

Top Certifications for the growth-mid levels

  • ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library )
  • MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) [Technically doesn’t exist anymore refer to next line]
  • MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional)
  • MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist)
  • CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate)
  • VCAP (VMware Certified Advanced Professional)
  • EMC Specialist (EMC Certified Expert:Multiple Paths)
  • PMP (Project Management Professional)

So you’ve been in IT for awhile and you’re looking to go to the next level, or advance your career or want to focus maybe a little more in a different direction.   These certifications really give you that foundation to take the next step, further enhancing your credibility.   Some of you may be wondering “Why is the PMP included in this section?!” Honestly? The PMP is sort of the defacto standard for a Project Manager, and most PMs are in that growth-mid level.   If you want to find yourself evolving to the next level and moving up the chain to making more money, taking on more responsibility and potentially doing even less work [Read: Less Administrative, more strategic]  these are those foundations.   Oh, and I do want to call out ITIL Specifically for a moment.   Let the record show, I absolutely despise and HATE ITIL. (Yea, that’s going to be well received with a LOT of you! ;)) Okay. Let me clarify, I don’t hate ITIL per se, I am NOT an administrative/operational guy, thus I do not want to DO ITIL related activities.    I like the objective outcome when implemented correctly though.   That being said however, ITIL is a HOT BED of opportunity.  You want a job? Get ITIL Certified.  You want to always have jobs thrown at you? Tag some ITIL to that.  Okay I’ve said that particular piece because EVERY DAY I’m being asked “Do they have ITIL?” So take it as is ;)

Top Certifications for mid-architect levels

  • CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional)
  • EMCCA (EMC Certified Cloud Architect)
  • EMC Expert (EMC Certified Expert:Multiple Paths)
  • What?! No VMware Certifications here?  Yea, we literally JUMP over this right into the next section! grin

Honestly, I originally didn’t even write this section in but felt it had to be broken out as there are numerous certifications which sit very clearly here in the middle which need to be called out.    I won’t go into too many specifics, but a lot of these sit in that odd space between clearly operational and clearly architectural.   Each of these certifications help further cement that foundation which solidifies your path up the stack and to the next levels.   Or to clarify, as a hiring manager I EXPECT you to have at a minimum the skill-sets in the previous 3 sections before I am confident you are the clear lead in the next section.

Top Certifications for Architect and above levels

  • MCM (Microsoft Certified Master)
  • MCA (Microsoft Certified Architect) [This Program started to be overshadowed by the MCM…]
  • CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert: Multiple Specialties something many don’t even realize!)
  • VCDX (VMware Certified Design Expert)
  • CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional)

I chose to differentiate this area a little bit establishing Architect credentials because frankly that is what it is.   The first two sections were VERY tactical, operational, on-call 24×7 type of certifications and roles, the third section started to combine those roles a bit.  If you’re reaching this point, you’ve had some time in the game and you’re either looking to get paid VERY well, absolutely LOVE what you do, and want to advance up that stack.    A lot of these Certifications in fact do not have hard $$$ associated with them because they carry with them the ‘assurance’ of a level of expertise, years of experience, etc.  That being most of these are difficult to ‘fake’ there’s a pretty good chance if you hold one of these pedigree you MIGHT know what you’re talking about. :)

Certifications Summary

Certifications are not the end-all-be-all, and I know some of you are staunch certification opponents. “I KNOW EVERYTHING, AND I’M HAPPY WITH MY NON-EVOLVING JOB SO I DON’T EVER NEED TO CERTIFY”. yea guys, go back to your mainframes, but seriously.   Certifications do the work for you to help validate your capabilities and grow your potential salary.   Without them you may be fine, but if you are like me (and so many others) who do not do their job because it pays the bills, but because you enjoy it greatly and it takes you to the next level of your career and life evolution; well, certification should be PART of that transition.  Note: Part of that transition and not the only vehicle.   There comes a time when you don’t want to Certify anymore and you need to find other ways to differentiate yourself.   Which brings us to the next section!

Specialist Skills which are ripe with opportunity!

Note: I didn’t mention ANY Developer, Database specific or similar certifications in the previous sections for a few good reasons.    First of all, there really aren’t a whole lot of mature certifications out there worth mentioning, and secondly these are really entirely skills based.    However, when it comes to what skills people are CONSTANTLY hiring for that you should either have, further develop, or invest in for the first time?  Yea, I’ll call those out here.   Anything I mention here, there is DEMAND for.   Don’t phone it in certainly, but there are lots of companies and partners hiring for these skill-sets, period.

  • vFabric, Spring Framework, CloudFoundry
  • Java Developer Space environments (Flexible enough to leverage the vFabric/Spring Framework)
  • SAP SAP SAP.   Seriously, you has SAP skillz, you has SAP Job. It’s as simple as that.
  • Vblock or similar *Storage, UCS, Cisco stack capabilities and offerings.
  • Orchestration tool and Workflow skills.  Don’t pigeon hole yourself into only knowing BMC, or CIAC, ITO; Learn them all and you are #win
  • I’d say Oracle, but seriously there are way too many damn DBAs out there who really don’t cross train, but that leads me in to
  • Hadoop skills.   If you can start to spell Big Data and everyone seems to be coining that from us these days, there be mad skillz and jobs y0! ;)
  • Scrum/Agile is really a foundation for any dev careers, so have/know that and you’re cool.
  • The “Year of Sharepoint” has been over for quite some time, sure there are jobs but I wouldn’t say you’d be unique if you pursued that path.

So that covers the bulk of general skills which hiring managers truly cannot find the right skill sets for.   A little investment goes a LONG way.

Top skills and capabilities for top paying jobs!

Whoa whoa whoa! What’s this?!? Skills?! Capabilities?!   What is this, the guidelines what separates a transition from Job to Career or from Customer to Partner/Vendor?   Hmm, maybe.

In most customer focused environments, unless you are an absolute rockstar who is also a master negotiator you are not very likely to be paid what you are worth.   I feel it fair to be honest with you because it’s just a fact, customers TYPICALLY don’t pay at the top of line, hell hardly the mid-line.   And while you’ll become an expert in your own environment it is just that.   So if you happen to love working on a single project which at completion will prepare you for the next project in your particular company which can often be ‘comfortable’ to ‘highly stressful’ depending upon where you transition throughout the stack and often ripe with reduced opportunities for advancement (entirely depending upon the business) let’s lay out some skills which are applicable in EVERY environment.  The true set of skills which differentiates you from your peers and the competition respectively.

  • Consulting Skills.   Whether you’re a consultant or not, being able to be ‘consultative’ will not only differentiate you, but also open the doors to more opportunities than you can imagine.    The only thing equally as valuable as that is …
  • Sales Skills.   I’m not saying you need to ‘be a sales guy’, I mean cmon, how many of us are? (Those of you who are, great for you!:))   But it takes a certain set of Sales type skills to be the ‘trusted advisor’ which earns you credibility in your business, in the industry and in your career.    Think of it like trying to give a child medicine they don’t want.   A lot of customers, business units, etc don’t WANT to do what you’re suggesting even though it NEEDS to be done, so your ability to make it palatable even with the objections can differentiate yourself.   Oh and that separates and Admin from becoming an Architect, and an Architect from becoming CIO.   
  • Project Management Skills.   I’m not saying OMG BECOME A PMP RULE THE WORLD. Quite the opposite.  The best projects are executed well because the entire team has a good foundation of how to manage a project and their portions of it.   A Project Managers job is to make sure you are doing what you’re supposed to be doing, quite frankly few of them have a clue what the hell it is you do, it’s just that you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do.   When I get a GC over to build a house, he’s not watching his guys to make sure they level an area before they pour concrete; you just expect it to be done.   Get your work done and your projects will run a lot smoother. ;)
  • Presentation & Speaking Skills.   Hey, have you heard of Toastmasters?   Do you say ‘uh’ ‘um’ ‘you know’ ‘like’ ‘so’ and many other things often in your presentations, speaking, etc?   Listen to your leadership, do they? (Often times they will)     What will differentiate you from your competition is the ability to cooly, calmly and collectively deliver your thoughts in a comprehensible fashion that is understood by your audience.    If you can do that and even avoid conflict.  Wow.   You’ll put yourself head and shoulders above the competition, your peers and even your leadership!
  • Confidence and ability to reach consensus.    Did you know that if you believe in what you’re saying, chances are others will too?   Oh and from a recent conversation at #VMwarePEX, the shared thought was, “It’s not what you know, it’s what other people think you know”.   It’s very true and can set you apart from others if you can share that knowledge in such a way others have confidence in you as well.    That eases reaching consensus, which is further compounded by one very poignant point.    Asking the ask moves things forward.   Meetings which end with no clear action items may as well not have happened.    So, always have something to walk out of the room with, off the call, oh whatever.  You’ll be seen as a leader because you’re taking charge, even if you’re not taking any of the action items yourself to work on; just asking is enough.

Take the skills above, combine them with the certifications relevant to your skills and your prospective career path and you can double your salary in 2-3 years.   Oh yea. I’m serious about that.   If it makes you feel any better a combination of the skills above across the spectrum result in salaries ranging from 30k-450k [NO THAT IS NOT A TYPO] (Oh and above, but you gotta have a little time invested to go above those numbers).

Clearly you can see why I was befuddled from the original post about the salary figures projected because WTF?! :)

As always, I am here for your commentary, any certifications I missed you’d like to share in the comments, and of course feel free to share job opportunities present in your own companies you’d like people to know about.    While researching this for anecdotal points, I noticed that EMC, that tiny little tech company has 1820 job postings. WTF? IT’S A RECESSION, HOW DARE YOU HAVE NEARLY 2000 JOBS POSTED!. Yea. Seriously.   We’re hiring like mad.  So let’s roll with this! ;)

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Posted in .NET, Careers, Certification, Community, emc, Jobs, Microsoft, Technology, Toastmasters, vmware | Comments (13)

  • P2Vme says:

    First off great article.  I can’t disagree with anything you said above regarding skills or certification. I have had many of these over the stages of my career and I am a fellow Toastmaster (or was). I use those skills still every day in front of my coworkers and customers. Anywho I also noticed none of the Citrix exams were included in your post. I thought I would add my 2c in how they rank in your above categories.

    Top Certifications for Low-Mid Levels
    CCA (any discipline) XenApp, XenDesktop, Netscaler

    Top Certifications for the Growth-Mid Levels
    CCAA (Advanced Administrator)
    CCEE (Enterprise Engineer)

    Top Certifications for Mid Architect Levels
    CCIA (Integration Architect)

  • Brianpragazzi says:

    Great article Chris, very timely. I agree with your assessment of the certifications, as well as the importance of relevant skills to go with them.

  • A question came up as to why VCP was so low in the calculations there (which I’m still not going to move that) but to add to that; a foundational skill-set for the low (but not to mid) focused on Virtualization can be realized through the VSP and VTSP capabilities.   Yes it is technically for “Partners” although that curriculum I believe is being released for Customers as we speak and really helps build that solid foundation on which the VCP can stand upon.

    I really appreciate the open dialogue to help grow the community (and our salaries) to greater lengths. :)

  • Chris:

    Very informative, would read again, ++

    Certifications today are a big help for the IT recruiting
    side, allowing recruiters to key in on potential hires. The problem with that,
    is many of those recruiters do not have the proper skills to determine if the
    candidate is someone who actually has the work history and experience to
    provide the value that the certification can provide.

    I like that you qualified career level with certain certifications. Just having
    your VCP doesn’t mean that you can really manage a production cluster in an
    enterprise, the same can be said for MCP, and the other base certs. I’d put
    CCNA at the low tier as well since it’s the introductory Cisco cert, also I’d
    say you can throw in the Red Hat RHA for that and the RHCE for the mid tier.

    I think within the industry the hard thing is that some
    certs are expensive. Take VCP, the requirement that you have to attend a VMware
    based course is a significant barrier to entry for a lot of people who have to
    pay out of their own pockets, but that’s a good motivator for actually paying
    attention as well.

    I’m relatively late to the cert game, I fell very much into
    the complacency trap after working for the same group for almost 7 years. It
    wasn’t until I got involved in the vmware based online community that I started
    to work on certifications, primarily because peer pressure is a great motivator
    J  Of course now I have like 4 certs to work on.

  • Josh A says:

    Excellent Post Christopher.  I was placed into the category of Cert Junkie recently but I think you have succinctly outlined my certification pursuits.  I took the VCAPs because I wanted to see where my knowledge and experience stood with respect to their requirements.  I am certainly not saying that having passed them makes me the rock stars that so many others who hold them are, but it does validate that I’m on the right path.  It’s also given me confidence to achieve more and as such improved my professional/career forecasting considerably.

    I work for money but money isn’t my primary motivator.  I am glad that holding certain certifications can open doors for me if I ever feel I need a change.  I definitely like how you say “Certifications do the work for you to help validate your capabilities and grow your potential salary.” 

    If I see someone with VCP/VCAP/VCDX, etc. it helps in knowing the kind of conversation you are about to have and what you might be able to expect at a minimum from that person.  This is especially stressful when that VCDX is interviewing you.  Nervous?  Why be nervous about that?  It’s just a certification…right? :)

  • Hey Chris…. What about ITAC, I would put that up in the High Level Certs as well :)

  • Davescali says:

    Hi, my undergrad is not in IT. I am looking to make the transition and I am working on receiving a Masters in Computer Information Systems. Which certification would you suggest as tackling first which could help get my foot in the door?

  • Vishal Valechha says:

    Hi Chris Sir,

    HIGHLY Appreciate this Informational blog. It has given me a new Quest , which i have started and would go as per the map (above info).  I m done with EMCISM and would do ITIL in some time.  Rest also allow me to post on your blog as what is going in the India Market inspect of Jobs,Salaries and technology.  

  • […] ????????: Christopher Kusek, CISSP, MCT ??????? ? ??????????????? ???????????? ? ???????????. […]

  • Sarah Nelson says:

    To stop making avoidable
    mistakes in project management one can also try attending good PMP classes conducted by
    any of the PMI registered REP’s for gainig expertise best processes of project
    management. Any good PMP prep
    will provide students with lots of actionable insights in
    project management along with preparing them for PMP certification.

  • Alexia Marthoon says:

    Scrum study also has interesting ways to
    teach the students for

    agile scrum
    ( Scrum
    Master Certification
    ) courses. check their website for some free
    introductory course in scrum

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