Techies Plug Into Hot Skills

If it doesn't produce ROI, kiss the bonus goodbye.

What do you get when you mix a red-hot market for IT skills with a willingness to put in elbow grease to gain new skills and key IT certifications? If your names Erik Weinmeister, you get two promotions and a cumulative 60 percent salary hike in three and a half years.

Weinmeister, an operating system analyst, joined the Nebraska Public Power District electric utility in Columbus, Neb., as a CNA (Certified Novell Administrator) and a Microsoft Certified Professional. Adding an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) certification for Windows NT to his résumé a few months later was key to the promotions and the big pay boost, according to Weinmeister. "It helps a lot," he said. "If you can take a magazine into your salary review and say, Heres what people with an MCSE are making in Omaha, it cant hurt."

Weinmeister, of course, isnt the only one to have benefited from the tight skills market. Anxious to keep qualified techies, many employers have been happy to pay big bonuses and salary increases to ITers able to pass just about any certification test. But that, experts say, is changing. As the economy cools, employers are becoming more selective about doling out certification bonuses. Many, say experts, are now inclined to save the big bucks for skills and certifications they are sure will deliver ROI (return on investment). As a result, IT pros seeking to boost their marketability should check out whats hot and whats not before investing time on classes and testing.

"Many employers got used to paying skills bonuses for the purpose of retention," said David Foote, managing partner at Foote Partners LLC, in New Canaan, Conn. "Now employers want to make sure theyre really going to get something in return."

Demonstrable experience with key Web-oriented technologies such as Extensible Markup Language and Java Server Pages is hot and getting hotter, said Foote. As e-businesses strive to learn more about their online customers, database management skills are attracting big bonuses, experts say. Also increasingly in demand are entry-level IT professionals with certifications such as A+, developed by the Computing Technology Industry Association. And, as enterprises begin to get serious about deploying Windows 2000, the Microsoft MCSE certification specifically for Windows 2000 is gaining momentum.

Certifications drawing less demand include general IT designations such as the Certified Computing Professional, the CNA for network administrators and those that are Linux-related. Certificate saturation may account for the drop-off in demand for the CNA, experts say. As of February, there were 645,620 CNA holders, according to Novell Inc. On the Linux front, many organizations still dont perceive the operating system as an enterprise-critical platform, although that should change with the release of products based on the new Linux 2.4 kernel.

Looking beyond the immediate market, IT professionals interested in maximizing earning potential should look to project-management-oriented certifications as well as security-oriented certifications. "We expect to see a big increase in demand for security certifications in the next few months, particularly if individuals can combine them with other, Web-oriented certifications," said Gareth Hancock, editorial director at Osborne/McGraw-Hill, a division of McGraw-Hill Inc. that is based in Berkeley, Calif.

In fact, experts say, strategically combining key certifications will be essential in coming years to scoring the big bonuses. "Any combination of certifications that suggest cross-platform knowledge or Internet working skills plus other technical skills will be a big draw to employers," predicted Foote.

Not surprisingly, Weinmeister has already sniffed out that trend. He plans to add a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer to his already long list of IT certifications. "Hopefully, it will get me another big increase," he said.