The economy is down, high tech companies continue to falter and compensation for those with Cisco certifications are being taken along for the ride.
According to a survey by TCPmag.com, an independent Web-based publication on Cisco certification, equipment and technologies, between 2000 and 2002 base salary for most Cisco certified employees fell. The research firm Foote Partners of New Canaan, Conn. also found that bonuses for Cisco certification fell between 2001 and 2002.
"A lot of Cisco professionals have worked for Internet service providers (ISPs) and the bottom has fallen out of that market," said TCPmag.com editorial director, Dian Schaffhauser. She said that it boils down to simple supply and demand. There are plenty of Cisco certified people in the market for a new job, so today that certification is less valuable.
"We're in tougher economic times than we were two years ago. It would shock me if a survey showed that things were contrary to the state of the economy," said Don Field, Cisco's senior manager of certification.
The survey found that between 2000 and 2002, salaries for Cisco Certified Internet Experts (CCIEs), the company's top level of certification, fell 14% from $115,000 to $99,000.
Over the same time period, the median salary for Cisco Certified Network Associates (CCNA), the entry-level certification, went from $70,000 to $67,000, a drop of 8%.
Foote Partners tracks bonuses for network professionals and also found that monetary compensation had taken a hit. Between 2001 and 2002, the median bonus had fallen 17% for both CCIEs and Cisco Certified Network Professionals (CCNP), the mid-level certification. The median bonus for CCNAs fell 31%.
David Foote, president and chief research officer, is a bit more a cautious about what his data means. Some companies may be rolling these bonuses into base pay, he said, causing a drop in bonuses but not in overall compensation. But, he agrees with Schaffhauser that the street value of a Cisco certification is not what it once was.
This may not bode well for a network certification that was once considered very valuable. Gene Mazurek, vice president of Bancroft and Masters, a Redwood City, Calif. company that designs, installs and maintains local and wide area networks, said that the market has become much more realistic.
"There was a time when a CCIE was like the keys to the kingdom. You could ask for any number and get it," Mazurek said.
Times have changed, he said. Six years ago the technology was complex. Certification was important because it told an employer and customers that the certified professional could find his way around complicated networks. But now networks are easier to install and maintain.
"Now they've dumbed it down to the point where a 12-year-old can install a Cisco router," Mazurek said.
Mazurek says that he pays little attention to certification when he is hiring. It is experience that matters to him.
But that is not a unanimous approach. Schaffhauser says that Cisco certification is so common today that it is more of a base-level requirement than something that gives an employee a boost.
Since its inception in 1993, Cisco's certification program has grown dramatically. Today there are 9,770 Cisco academies across the world with 263,000 students. Three years ago there were only 70,000 students. Since 1993, 400,000 people have earned one kind of Cisco certification or another. One hundred thousand of those people earned that certification in 2001.
Some employers see certification as simply an affirmation of their field as a profession rather than a trade. Robert Shimonski, lead network and security engineer for Thompson Industries, a Port Washington, N.Y. manufacturer of motion control products like ball bearings, has long list of certifications under his belt. He says that a Cisco certification has a value beyond its monetary worth.
"I give a lot of weight to certification. It tells me a lot if a candidate is willing to read a book and put some effort into his career," Shimonski said. For him it is about being a professional, not about seeking a higher salary or a level of recognition.
Thompson Industries Schaffhauser said that there are many reasons to pursue a Cisco certification. But today, money is no longer one of them.