Tech Certifications Are Worthy Again

It's an anomaly, but one to pay attention to: Pay for workers with technology certifications is up; Non-certified skills are keeping pace. Yet certifications on the whole are expected to have less value over the long haul, says a research expert.

What are the hot certifications and technology skills right now that will boost pay and make you more marketable for a new job? Linux and open source, security, application development, networking, business intelligence and analysis, enterprise applications such as SAP and system administration, according to technology research analysts Foote Partners of Vero Beach, Fla.

According to a quarterly Foote Partners certification and skills index, salaries for certified and non-certified skills have risen in the second quarter of 2010. The longer term data trends on certifications has them declining in value, according to David Foote, chief research officer and CEO of Foote Partners, but the latest report had pay data on the rise for those with certifications, particularly for a number of rudimentary, entry level certifications in security and open-source systems such as Red Hat.

"Red Hat is doing very well and is taking advantage of open systems business demand," said Foote in an interview with eWEEK. "Two Red Hat certs are in the top 10 on our IT Certifications Hotlist: Red Hat Certified Technician and Red Hat Certified Security Specialist. It appears that companies still want a support base, even in open systems where you don't have to choose a vendor. But they are, and those investing in the cloud are looking at employee skill sets in Linux and open source."

Despite a continued presence of demand in security skills for more than three years, one beginner, entry-level certification cracked this quarter's certification "hotlist" for the first time.

"The CompTIA Security+ cert was No. 3 on the hotlist, and it's never been in the top 10 before," said Foote. "Large companies do not outsource security, so they are turning internally. Many people are working in networking and systems already, and some of them are transitioning and acquiring security skills... Security is a different mindset than many parts of IT. Security professionals have a pit bull tenacity and like to be constantly challenged... Security offers career stability, and the thing is, you can't do security without being certified."

Likewise, the entry-level security certification from the SANS Institute dubbed Security Essentials is also on the top ten hotlist.

"If my neighbor asked me -My son or daughter is thinking about a career in IT... Is that a good move?' I would say IT is a great career choice and they should take a serious look at security for technical and non-technical positions," said Foote. "Remember, IT in general is full of baby boomers and there is going to be a whole lot of retirement from the industry... Security is an enterprise risk management function now and there are also non-technical security jobs. Think governance, compliance, auditing... These are areas you do not have to be a technical wizard to work in, but are good, well-paying jobs."

Other key certifications in networking (Cisco, Avaya) and virtualization (VMWare, Citirx) and business analysis and business intelligence (SAS Institute) are ranking very well. In terms of non-certified skills that are doing well, Foote noted SAP experience, Agile programming, and virtual private networking skills which combine network and security skills. Agile rose to number 2 on Foote Partners non-certified skills hotlist.

Foote noted that full time jobs with benefits in 2010 are scarce, but consulting and contract work are very much in demand. While not new, Foote notes that many companies are "co-sourcing"--taking freelance and contract workers and embedding them in key, strategic projects--and using tight-knit, strong vendor relations to keep the process and project in check.

"A lot of work in IT is getting integrated with the business," stated Foote. "Being flexible, and quick is crucial. Companies need rapid turnaround, so they are increasingly using vendors and contractors while maintaining strong control with co-sourcing. Co-sourcing has been around awhile, but its intensifying. Service delivery models are here.

Companies are asking a lot more out of the IT department and want their CIOs to be managing strategic projects and products that show profit. It takes years of work, but companies want IT to be taking calculated risks while being agile. The market for this is driven by consultants and contractors now with specialized skills-based work force getting the work."