Pioneering 19th-century philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard once observed that, "Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward." It would, of course, be nice to know how decisions will play out before make them - but we only have that luxury after the fact, upon reflection. To get to the part where it all makes sense, you have to make a choice and move, yes, forward.
One choice that IT pros make frequently is whether to seek certification. And though many have the luxury of being several steps down a chosen career path, with the next logical certification to go after clearly in view before them, others are just starting out, or may be contemplating a change of direction. Is your certification future an open road, with whatever may lie round the next bend hidden from view?
Here's a tip (several of them, actually) for those who are seeking whatever comes next. Not from us - these good ideas are from your IT certified peers. When we took our most recent Salary Survey at the end of 2014, we asked the innocuous sounding question, "Which IT certification(s) are you planning to pursue with in the next 12 months?" Many thousand of those surveyed responded, choosing from the more than 700 IT certs included in the survey.
We've already disclosed a list of the 50 certs named most often in response to that question. Today we're taking a little more time to look at the Top 10. Something about each of these credentials is calling to an impressive number of IT pros. If, at the moment, you are accepting suggestions about your certification future, then maybe one of these 10 certs is the right place to focus your attention and effort.
1) ITIL Foundation (Average annual salary: $81,680) —The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) certification program is managed by AXELOS, an international IT best practices firm that originated in the United Kingdom as a joint venture between the British government and Capita PLC. The ITIL Foundation credential is, as its name suggests, the first level of ITIL certification, intended to give candidates a solid footing in ITIL, a service management framework that helps companies organize their IT resources for maximum business value. The role ITIL experts play is sort of a mix of auditing and project management.
2) Oracle Certified Professional (Average annual salary: $72,240)�� This one's a slightly foggier case, since "Oracle Certified Professional" refers not to a single certification, but to a class of certifications within the Oracle realm. With the sheer volume of certs available from some of the larger certification entities, we're forced to employ a form of shorthand here and there in our surveys. So this represents a concentration of interest in Oracle's "professional" level credentials (others levels are associate, expert and master). Although a great many of Oracle's certifications are tied to its core database product (the latest release of which is Oracle Database 12c), the certification program also addresses other Oracle properties like programming language Java, or database hardware Exalogic and Exadata.
3) PMI Project Management Professional (PMP) (Average annual salary: $100,040) — As businesses everywhere replace entire tiers of middle management with the greater flexibility and more focused attention offered by project management, interest in certs for project managers has been on a tear. PMP is the generally acknowledged leader in this fast-growing realm, the credential that everyone knows by name (or acronym) and the surest way to instantly demonstrate to potential employers that you are trained in the increasingly valued project management skill set. PMP ranked seventh in our Salary Survey 75 list, and its already impressive salary figure could certainly climb.
4) IBM Certified Specialist (Average annual salary: $73,390) — As noted above, some certification programs have so many individual credentials that we refer to certification classes in our surveying. So IBM Certified Specialist is not a standalone credential, but comes attached to various IBM products, including (but far from limited to) the following: Algo One (risk diagnostic software), Cognos (business intelligence software), InfoSphere (a data management platform), Rhapsody (a visual development environment) and Rational (software engineering tools). IBM has a rather prodigious wealth of IT properties, so you can pursue just about any red-hot IT trend by simply by identifying the corresponding product and grabbing a certification.
5) Oracle Certified Associate (Average annual salary:$56,480 ) — This is the logical entry point for anyone who'd like to dive into Oracle's wide world of database. Unless you have a strong working familiarity with Oracle products already, then you're almost certainly better off pursuing an associate-level credential than immediately stepping up to the Oracle Certified Professional realm.
6) Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) (Average annual salary: $96,030) — When, at the end of 2013, Microsoft bid farewell to its Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) and Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) credentials, MCSE suddenly became the summit of the Microsoft certification pyramid. There are nine MCSE credentials, each focused on a particular specialization: Server Infrastructure, Desktop Infrastructure, Private Cloud, Enterprise Devices and Apps, Data Platform, Business Intelligence, Messaging, Communication and SharePoint. In addition to being widely respected and generously compensated, MCSE is surfing the leading edge of some of the biggest trends in IT take, for example, the Private Cloud and Business Intelligence (a key sector in Big Data) specializations—so it's understandable that quite a few certified professionals would be headed in this direction.
7) ITIL Intermediate (Average annual salary: $87,040) — If you're already conversant in ITIL, or you're transferring over from a related discipline, then you could consider starting in here. ITIL Intermediate is actually two rungs up the ITIL certification ladder from the foundation level: The sequence is Foundation, Practitioner (recently inserted to ease the leap from Foundation to Intermediate), Intermediate, Expert and Master.
8) IBM Certified Solution Architect (Average annual salary: $68,280) — This certification branch of the vast IBM tree actually has just one leaf, so it's technically not a class of certs like IBM Certified Specialist (see above). You can become an IBM Certified Solution Architect for just one specialization, but it's a biggie: Cloud Computing Infrastructure. Given that nearly every-one wants nearly every-thing in the cloud - yesterday, if possible - you can see where all of interest is coming from. IBM doesn't yet have a proprietary cloud software solution, so this is more about principles and concepts of cloud design and management. Which actually makes it more valuable, since you wouldn't be tied to working solely in an IBM environment (though you would certainly be equipped to flourish there).
9) IBM Certified Database Administrator (Average annual salary: $74,690) — There are eight IBM Certified Database Administrator certs, so we're back to a single designation that embraces several different things. As databases become both more complex and more versatile, however, the DBA skill set, whoever it comes from (and there are quite a few options) is valuable.
10) VMware Certified Professional - Data Center Virtualization (Average annual salary: $81,830) — Virtualization, or using software solutions to circumvent the necessity of large and expensive hardware setups, is right on the verge of being one of those Next Big Thing trends uttered in the same breath as cloud computing and Big Data. VMware is widely acknowledge leader in the field, and this particular cert has more than a whiff of Big Data to it. Certified Professional is one step up from Certified Associate in the VMware hierarchy, so consider the associate-level Data Center Virtualization cert if you're heading into this realm cold.
CAN I GET THAT IN ... SUNDAES? You work hard for your money (so hard for it, honey), and probably shouldn't spend it all in one place. But what if you did?