Salary Survey Extra is a series of periodic dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our most recent Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.
Everybody knows that when the Dark Lord Sauron decided to make some rings of power for everybody, he settled on three rings for the Elven-kings, seven to pass out to the Dwarf-lords, and (checks notes) nine that would go on the fingers of Mortal Men. What's less well known is that it took some time for Middle-earth overlord J.R.R. Tolkien to get the numbers right.
Christopher Tolkien, son of the celebrated author and longtime executor of his father's estate, once reported that earlier versions of the famous verse that Gandalf quotes to Frodo in Chapter 2 of The Fellowship of the Ring specified different numbers of rings assigned to different races. In one ultimately discarded rendition, Mortal Men were in line to get 12 rings, with nine for the Dwarf-lords. (The Elven-kings still only got three.)
Twenty-five rings of power (don't forget the One Ring) sounds like a lot — and maybe even Tolkien himself was like, "I gotta ditch at least five of these, or no one is going to keep reading." It does, however, provide yet another illustration of the human tendency to favor variety and options.
This is also true in the IT certification world, where certifications are often specifically tailored to the products and processes of a particular vendor. If you get a computer networking certification from Microsoft, for example, then your skills will be most applicable when working with Microsoft products and services.
There are, of course, general principles that apply across different brands in the same technology sector. If all of your cloud computing certifications are from Amazon Web Service, then that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’d be entirely bumfuzzled if asked to work with containers in a Google Cloud system, or configure an IBM Cloud server.
A lot of IT professionals and aspiring IT professionals, on the other hand, would rather learn the “applies to everything” stuff first, and figure out the details unique to each brand by interfacing with that brand — ideally in the course of working a full-time job.
Each type of credential, vendor-specific and vendor-neutral, has its champions. There are quite a few vendor-neutral credentials in some areas, and far fewer options in others. Which got us to thinking: Where are certified IT professionals looking for vendor-neutral credentials and not finding them?
We first addressed this topic in the 10-question follow-on section of our 2018 Salary Survey, then moved it to the main body of the survey for the 2019 Salary Survey and have kept it there ever since. Where is there the greatest demand among IT professionals for vendor-neutral credentials? Here’s what we learned:
Q: We really need more vendor-neutral certifications for which ONE of the following specializations or technologies?
Security — 18.5 percent
Cloud — 15.7 percent
Blockchain and/or Crytpocurrency — 10.9 percent
AI/Machine Learning — 10.2 percent
Big Data — 7.6 percent
DevOps — 7.1 percent
Helpdesk/IT Support — 6.2 percent
Networking — 5.4 percent
Project Management — 4.0 percent
Software Development — 3.5 percent
Programming — 3.2 percent
Linux — 2.5 percent
This is the sixth time that we’ve asked this question, and security has been one of the top two answers, by a considerable margin, every time. The ongoing demand in this area is unusual: Most of the leading security certifications are vendor-neutral credentials already, and the SANS Institute’s GIAC certification library, in particular, offers broad and deep coverage of security topics.
Cloud computing has also been either the No. 1 or No. 2 answer, also by a wide margin, every time we’ve gone over this. That makes a little more sense, given that, with a handful of notable exceptions, most of the cloud certifications on the market are managed by one of the major cloud computing vendors: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft, Google, IBM, and so forth.
We added the AI/Machine Learning category to this question for the first time this year, and there is clearly a notable degree of interest there. Given the cryptocurrency meltdown of the past 13-to-15 months, it's at least a little bit surprising to see the degree of demand for vendor-neutral certs focusing on crypto and the related blockchain technology.
Big Data, like cloud computing, tends to be an area where vendor-specific certification dominates. Software development and programming certifications, where they exist, are generally highly specific to particular products or technologies. And DevOps is an area where there are very few certifications of any type. So it’s understandable to see demand for more vendor-neutral coverage in each of those areas.
There is no clear standout preference expressed in the catch-all “Other” category. Some of the notably recurring recommendations are for vendor-neutral certs that address industrial technology, governance and/or compliance, privacy, quantum computing, and VoIP.