First and probably foremost, it's obvious that when it comes to networking certification there are two classes of credentials involved: foundation certifications and more advanced credentials.
Cornerstone or foundation certifications
Where networking topics are concerned, foundation certifications tend to fall into the areas of network or server administration, and provide valuable points of entry for more advanced credentials. Though these certs are not often terribly valuable in and of themselves, as necessary pre-requisites for or frequent precursors to other, more valuable certifications, they clearly work as stepping stones to help IT professionals climb various formal and informal "certification ladders" that can lead to higher pay, if not outright success. Based on the 2005 survey, these credentials include the following: CompTIA A+ and Network+, MCSA and MCSE, plus the CCNA. All of these function as important first steps in advancing IT careers and in enabling IT professionals to pursue other, more advanced credentials.
Of the certifications for which survey respondents reported the highest average annual salaries (all over $100,000 per annum, except for three items noted in passing below), all could be of potential interest to networking professionals. We'll review these next.
Top five earners
In presenting the results of the survey, CertMag collected over 70,000 responses from countries all over the world. In presenting salary data, they decided to provide separate tables for US residents and for those elsewhere in the world. This discussion is based on the 30,000-odd respondents from the United States who filled out the survey, where the top credentials by pay were as follows. (For convenience, I round all salaries reported to the nearest thousand, expressed as $100K to represent an annual average salary of $100,000.)
- CISSP-ISSMP: $117K: This is one of three "merit badge" certifications that applies to the Certified Information Systems Security Professional credential, with an emphasis on security management, including best security management practices, security in software development, operations security and compliance, and so forth. (Also, the CISSP itself is no slouch, either, with an average salary of $94K).
- CISSP-ISSAP: $112K: Another CISSP merit badge, this one concentrates in the area of security architecture, both from a policy and design standpoint and from the standpoint of crafting security implementations.
- Brocade Certified SAN Designer (BCSD): $108K: A strong testament to the growing value and prevalence of storage networking credentials, this one tops out that category for those who build storage systems around Brocade switches and storage devices.
- Certified Information Security Manager (CISM): $106K: Another credential from ISACA, the same organization behind the Certified Information Systems Auditor credential (CISA; like the CISSP, this one's also worth about $94K). The CISM was introduced in 2003, and aims to warrant skills in managing security design, implementation and upkeep.
- Cisco Certified Internetwork Engineer (CCIE): $104K: At over 10 years old, this is the longest-running premium networking certification program (and now offers distinct routing and switching, voice, security, storage networking, and service provider tracks). Though its average pay may not be as high as these others, it remains one of the most highly-regarded and sought-after senior IT/networking credentials of them all.
There's also an interesting runner-up in the survey that I find entirely worthy of mention: the Project Management Professional (PMP). Though the average annual salary is only $96, it's an important credential for several reasons. First, it helps underscore the importance of combining technology and management in advancing one's IT career (further attested by the CISSP-ISSMP and the CISM). Second, it shows the importance of developing "soft skills" such as written and oral communications, people management, project management and budgetary and business sense in advancing in IT nowadays as well. I'd argue that learning to stand with one foot in the technology world and the other in the business world is absolutely essential to advancing to the top of the IT profession, either as a technology specialist or as a technology manager, in fact.
I'd also argue that the security certifications are a great career target for networkers, simply because the majority of full-time security professionals come from the ranks of network and system administrators. This also helps affirm the value of the cornerstone, entry-level certs mentioned at the beginning of this tip, because in some form or fashion all help lead IT professionals toward the skills and knowledge they use at the pinnacle of the profession.
Ed Tittel created the best-selling Exam Cram series of cert prep books, and is Technology Editor at Certification Magazine. He also follows certification topics for numerous TechTarget sites, and has written numerous books on IT certifications of many kinds. E-mail Ed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This was first published in February 2006