If the pandemic has provided you with some extra spare time, one good way to spend it is advancing your career skills. There’s a high and consistent demand for capable IT professionals, especially now that so many businesses are facing new challenges around highly distributed work scenarios. This makes cloud architecture and services, networking, and certainly IT security skills very valuable commodities. To feed that need, there is a growing pool of online learning and certification resources to help you level up and prove it to employers.
If you're not convinced a new cert is useful, a report from Dice and the Linux Foundation revealed that 80% of IT professionals believe the opposite when it comes to moving their careers forward. There are also a number of new and popular specializations, ranging from architect-level tracks, especially around cloud computing. Another very fast-growing segment is cybersecurity. According to a recent survey by Burning Glass Technologies, some specialty tracks in the cybersecurity space are set to grow by more than 160% over the next five years with salary bumps to match.
Big Bucks From Cloud and IT Security
To figure out which certs would do the most good to your bottom line, we looked at data provided by the 2020 IT Skills and Salary Report. This annual study comes from professional development solutions and course provider Global Knowledge and determines the highest-paying IT certifications you can chase right now. The top four IT certifications by salary are in either some form of cloud technology or security. Additionally, project management remains another high-paying option, which is important to note since it's been a top contender for more than a decade. IT professionals with these skills are in high demand and tend to command the largest paychecks overall.
The data is based on what Global Knowledge's customers are studying as well as the jobs they find after they graduate. We've broken down the top choices based on a description of the specialization as well as a corresponding pay range. Some interesting factoids from Global Knowledge are that 81% of North American IT departments are currently affected by skill gaps and therefore actively looking for talent, and that's valid even now during the pandemic. Global Knowledge also noted that IT professionals earned $5,000 more in 2019 compared to 2018.
Sources for Online Certification Training
While Global Knowledge is certainly a top option when it comes to online training for your new cert, IT pros trapped at home actually have numerous options when it comes to web learning. Online learning sources run the gamut from university-sponsored learning tracks to courses provided in partnership with technology companies, like Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft. Increasingly common are video-based learning platforms, like Skillshare. We've listed some of the most popular below, though you should shop carefully as prices and training quality can vary greatly:
Coursera is an online learning platform boasting 5,100+ courses, many of which are affiliated with over 200 colleges and universities. Over 3,700+ campuses make use of Coursera for online learning of accredited and non-accredited IT-focused courses. However, participants can earn college accreditation only if they are receiving a degree. But, they can earn industry credentials for non-degree work. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Coursera is offering free access to students from any university or college impacted by the virus, which means these folks can choose from 3,800 courses and 400 specializations.
edX is a learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT. It currently reports 536,170 people on its platform and offers 2,600+ online courses from 140 institutions, including tech giants like Amazon and Google. Some areas of concentration at edX include a Professional Certificate in IT Project Management from the University of Washington and a Professional Certificate in Data Science for Executives in conjunction with Columbia University. To help during the coronavirus pandemic, edX created the edX Online Campus, so that any university across the globe can offer on-demand learning for students as well as alumni and employees.
LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) is another massive on-the-job learning portal. It has 16,000 courses and many of them are focused on tech and taught by real-world professionals. Certifications are available for IT courses, but they usually cost extra and not all of them are accredited. LinkedIn leverages its professional network to create course recommendations that are tailored to users' career tracks, and the courses can be accessed by PC or by smartphone.
Udemy is a colossal online learning platform with 130,000 video courses on a wide range of subjects. Udemy is popular because it often offers significant discounts on training, which make it one of the more affordable options for online learning. That said, Udemy enables uncredited instructors to sell courses for profit. That can diminish its credibility for academic and certification tracks. Additionally, while it has many resources for learning programming languages, IT pros should shop carefully when training for accredited certifications.
Training shoppers should remember that while choosing the cheapest course might seem smart now, you really do get what you pay for with these services. To help you select the best choice, remember that several offer free trial courses or trial periods. We've found it's definitely worth the effort to explore your online school this way before committing. Another important resource that some vendors provide is reviews from former students, which can certainly help in gauging a course's effectiveness for your particular cert needs.
As far as which accreditations you should consider, based on the Global Knowledge survey, we've listed 2021's 10 highest-paying IT certifications below.
10. Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)
Sliding from the seventh spot to 10th in 2021, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is the most widely accepted framework for IT management in the world. It has held this distinction for the past 30 years. Its focus is a set of best practices for providing IT services in large organizations. This makes it a wide-ranging discipline covering a laundry list of important specializations, such as capacity management, help desk management, high availability (HA) computing, incident management, and IT operations, to name a few.
The ITIL Foundation is the starting point for the certification and offers a general understanding of the IT service lifecycle. ITIL Foundation-certified managers earn an average of $129,402 annually.
9. VCP-DCV: VMware Certified Professional - Data Center Virtualization
The VCP-DCV: VMware Certified Professional - Data Center Virtualization validates the skills needed to build a scalable virtual infrastructure using VMware vSphere. Candidates can choose from several online learning resources, and will learn how to administer, consolidate, and deploy VMware virtualization technologies, such as vSphere High Availability and Distributed Resource Scheduler clusters.
IT professionals with this credential have earned an average of 7.4 career certifications, the highest amount on the Global Knowledge list. IT pros that have attained this certification earn an average salary of $130,226 per year.
8. AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner
Relatively new to the top 10 list, the AWS Cloud Practitioner is based on the hugely popular Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud platform. It's the starting point for a variety of popular Amazon cloud certifications, including AWS Solutions Architect, Developer, DevOps Engineer, and SysOps Administrator.
This certification is designed for professionals seeking an overall understanding of AWS cloud services. As a fundamental-level certification, it's often held by individuals early in their careers, as it tends to be a springboard for more specialized AWS certifications down the road. With the uptick in cloud management demand over the last several years, the number of AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certs will likely continue to rise. It'll also be particularly attractive to businesses contemplating a move to desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) for hybrid work as AWS is a leading player in that space with its Amazon WorkSpaces platform.
AWS Cloud Practitioner validates the ability to define basic cloud infrastructure and architectural principles, as well as key services on the AWS platform. A certified professional should also be able to describe the platform's basic security and compliance aspects. Successful candidates can expect to make an average of $131,465 per year.
7. Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
Though it's relatively new to the list, one of the oldest and most respected credentials is the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) track. The CISA accreditation validates auditing, cybersecurity, and risk management skills. CISA-certified IT experts are hired to ensure that a business' critical assets are secure and properly maintained.
To achieve this certification, you need to pass the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) exam. This consists of five domains, namely Auditing Information Systems; Governance and Management of IT; Information Systems Acquisition, Development, and Implementation; Information Systems Operation, Maintenance, and Service Management; and Protection of Information Assets. The most likely job roles for this certification are IT auditors and the average pay for CISA cert holders is $132,278 per year.
6. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
If you work in analysis, auditing, systems engineering, or anything in between, then the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) might be your perfect certification. CISSPs are information assurance pros who are usually responsible for determining the security aspects of an IT organization's overall architecture, controls, and management.
Should you pass the test, which requires you to have a minimum of five years worth of relevant experience, you can look forward to an average compensation rate of $141,452 per year. It's worth noting that even after getting the certification you will still need to receive continuing education credits each year to maintain your credentials. This is a tough requirement, but that's a big reason why this cert is respected by employers.
5. Project Management Professional (PMP)
The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification was created and administered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is likely the most recognized project management accreditation available today. It demonstrates that you are competent when it comes to managing projects, including specific aspects like budgets, goals, and teams. You will be tested in the five basic lifecycle steps inherent to any project: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.
Before you become certified, however, you'll need to have completed at least 35 hours of related training before you can take the exam. If you have a Bachelor's degree, then you'll also need 4,500 hours of project management experience (those without a degree will need 7,500 hours). Getting a PMP certification takes years, but it's worth it for those that want this kind of career. Certified PMPs currently earn an average of $143,493 per year.
4. Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)
Take the Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) exam and you'll be tested in four major IT skill areas: Assessment, Identification, Mitigation and Response, as well as Control Monitoring and Reporting. Previously the ninth most in-demand IT cert, CRISC has moved up the list likely because the industry now has a renewed focus on evaluating IT risk. If you have the prerequisite three years of relevant experience, and identifying and managing risks sounds interesting to you, then the CRISC certification is worth checking out.
The test has 150 questions and lasts roughly four hours. If you pass the exam and find a role, pros with the CRISC certification earn an average of $146,480 per year.
3. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
Leapfrogging from the eighth-place position last year to the third spot in 2021 is the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certification. This becomes the highest-paying discipline with a core focus on information security. Your job will be to design and engineer security protocols as well as manage a company's overall IT security. As a CISM, you'll have access to lines of business outside of IT, putting you face to face with company stakeholders. Registration is via the ISACA website as well as this exam registration site.
CISMs are well-paid, too. On average, Global Knowledge says you can make $148,622 per year. However, if you choose to go down this road, then you'll have to take a 200-question test on topics such as incident management, information security governance, and information risk management.
2. AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate
The AWS Certified Solutions Architect certification found its way back on the list last year and has propelled itself to the second most in-demand IT certification for 2021. The AWS Certified Solutions Architect exam tests your expertise in designing systems on AWS. If you have hands-on experience with AWS services and are used to architecting large-scale, distributed systems, then this certification may be exactly what you need to move your career forward.
To achieve this certification, candidates must pass the AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate (SAA-C01) exam. The AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification (see above) is a prerequisite. In addition to the relevant training, AWS also recommends at least a year of hands-on experience designing systems on AWS before taking this exam. The exam takes 80 minutes and is administered at PSI centers across the United States. Successful AWS Certified Solutions Architects can make an average of $149,446 per year.
1. Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect
Debuting in 2017 and making it to the top of the list for the last two years in a row is the Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect accreditation. This discipline allows IT pros to certify as architects on the Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Completing this certification ensures you'll have the capacity to design, develop, and manage resources residing on Google's cloud architecture using GCP technologies. Global Knowledge points out that the average cloud computing professional in the U.S. makes over $160,000 a year despite being such a small percentage (4%) of their respondent base.
Earning this certification entails a deep knowledge of the Google technology solutions you'll need to apply in order to address a wide variety of different cloud scenarios. Cloud skills continue to be in high demand and mastering Google's tools for reliable and secure solutions will be critical to any organization standardizing on the GCP platform. Google Certified Professional Cloud Architects can expect to earn an average of $175,761 per year.
Have any questions about the top IT certifications? Subscribe to the PhonespySoftware24 BusinessWatch newsletter and join the [email protected] business community on LinkedIn, where you can connect with vendors, other pros like yourself, and PhonespySoftware24's editors.
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