This feature first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Sometimes it takes technology a while to catch up to the intricacies of the natural world. In 2016, teams of IT professionals across the globe are racing to connect internet-enabled devices from t-shirts to refrigerators in a web of digital convenience that derives benefits by sharing resources and data. About 80,000 years ago, a single aspen seedling took root on a slope in central Utah, in the United States, and grew a complex root system that presently supports more than 40,000 individual trees.
While it may have pioneered the structure and some of the benefits of networking, the clonal colony aspen Pando can't send or receive digital data (though recent research indicates that trees do use chemical signals to attract symbiotic subterranean fungi). The fast-emerging Internet of Things, however, represents just one of the ways that tying computers together in networks has become a vital and essential element of information technology.
Networking is a core IT skill, one of the first things that many teens are taught as they enter the computing realm. Even technologically bumfuzzled homeowners learn the rudiments of networking from activities as basic as sharing a wireless signal with an assortment of phones, tables, laptops, gaming consoles and PCs. There's a computer network in every business, every school, every supermarket, gas station, medical clinic, government office — the list is endless.
As you might expect, the demand for skilled networking professionals is correspondingly endless. Earlier this year, employment facilitator Robert Half Technology pegged the starting salary for an experienced network engineer at between $96,000 and $138,750. That's what you're getting paid to walk in off the street, so to speak, and start connecting machines — imagine where you might be after 10 years of employment, or even just five.
There's plenty of room for newcomers in the field. Our survey of more than 7,200 networking professionals from around the world found that 55 percent of all certified professionals have been plying that trade for five or fewer years. Conservative estimates predict that more than 20 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020, so expect demand for networking skills to stay sizzling.
The salary landscape for networking professionals comes with fairly typical rollercoaster highs and lows. The highest-paid workers can get comfortable six-figure incomes, while some at the bottom are bound to question, at least initially, whether they'd have been better off selling dog whistles door-to-door. Maybe not inside the United States, where the median annual income for 2016 among all networking professionals is a robust $78,500. Outside the United States, there's a steep drop all the way down to $46,200.
Income for IT workers is often supplemented by bonuses and incentive pay, but there's more support for workers inside the U.S. than those elsewhere. In 2015, about 45 percent of U.S. networking professionals earned some sort of premium, a number that spiked up to 48 percent this year. Extra pay is harder to come by outside the U.S., where only 38 percent of workers got a boost, both this year and last.
Certification can definitely impact salary. In the United States, 42 percent of those surveyed report receiving a raise in the first year after getting their most recent certification, while the same holds true for 35.9 percent of non-U.S. workers. Among those who did get a raise, the reward for certification can be substantial. In the United States, 41 percent of those who got a raise had their pay increase by 10 percent or more. Among non-U.S. workers, 60 percent of those collecting a raise got a comparable increase.