Although recent studies related to salary and compensation have shown a decreasing impact of IT certifications on pay, and interest in IT certification has definitely dropped since the boom during the late 1990s into 2001, some IT certifications remain evergreen. Despite ups and downs in the economy, the job market and IT professional confidence levels, certain certifications keep going strong, and remain highly sought-after by IT professionals and highly valued by IT employers.
1. Cisco Certified Internetwork Engineer (CCIE)
Long a nonpareil certification, and now on the scene for more than 10 years, the CCIE remains possibly the best-recognized high-value IT certification of all time (or at least back into the late 1980s, when such programs started to attract significant interest and participation). Though the CCIE requires no previous credentials, it does include two pretty formidable exams: a two-hour $300 written exam and an all-day (eight-hour) $1,250 laboratory exam that is still regarded as one of the most fiendishly difficult of all certification exams around. It's not unusual for even highly qualified candidates to take the laboratory exam two or more times before they pass, and it's only possible to take the lab exam in one of 10 locations worldwide, so most candidates will have to absorb travel costs as well as the steep lab exam fee.
The CCIE also comes in five tracks -- Routing and Switching, Security, Service Provider, Storage Networking, and Voice. Earning a CCIE guarantees a job with Cisco (which claims it could absorb the whole world's supply of CCIEs by itself) and a six-figure salary -- sometimes well in excess of $100,000. For more information on this stellar certification program, visit www.cisco.com/go/ccie. Please note that the Cisco Certified Professional program now also offers tracks to match all of the CCIE tracks except storage, and that these professional level certs -- CCNP, CCDP, CCIP, CCVP, CCSP -- are also gaining considerable recognition and merit in their own right.
2. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and Concentrations
Since 9/11, information security has been hot, hot, hot as far as IT skills, knowledge -- and yes -- even certification, go. And very few of the many other information security certifications available (see the latest semi-annual security certification survey at SearchSecurity.com) are as well known, recognized or highly valued as the CISSP. With a $500-600 fee, this six-hour, 250-question exam is far-ranging and both broad and deep in coverage, and it requires mastering a complex body of skills and information across 10 distinct bodies of knowledge. There's also a pretty demanding set of experience and education requirements, including continuing education to maintain certification.
3. Project Management Professional (PMP)
Many experts have argued that the increasing value in IT for so-called "soft skills" certifications, which emphasize job skills related to how one works rather than what one works on, also attests to the maturing of information technology as a field. The emergence of the PMP as a must-have credential for team leads and aspiring managers, as well as for developers and operations staff alike, remains one of the most striking illustrations of this phenomenon.
IT professionals from all kind of job roles within the field -- from system administrators to developers to project professionals and managers -- are learning that the PMP adds to their personal bottom lines as well as to their abilities on the job. That probably explains why the PMP registers on so many networking salary surveys and top certification lists, primarily because the skills it teaches are uniquely valuable to anybody who works on or must steer project work of just about any kind, including many networking professionals. (A 2005 survey of working IT professionals found that more than 57% of all respondents believed that project work experience would be in higher demand in times ahead; other studies confirm these beliefs.)
With exam fees that range from just over $400 to $555 (and discounts for paper-based testing and re-takes), as well as training courses available from both private training companies and at colleges and universities around the country (and online), this is also the most affordable cert in this short list. Recent salary surveys indicate that many PMP holders also earn six figures (and that most PMP holders come pretty close to this "magic number"). For more information, please visit www.pmi.org/, then follow the menu links to Certification and PMP.
4. Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)
Linux admirers and IT industry watchers can all agree that the continued popularity and widespread recognition of this intermediate Red Hat credential attests to growing momentum for Linux in the enterprise and for its increasing use in delivering key components of network infrastructure such as email, directory services, DNS and so forth.
The RHCE puts great stress on practical, hands-on, problem-solving skills with enterprise-focused versions of Red Hat Linux, including a profound emphasis on network services, operations and troubleshooting, which it puts to two pretty severe tests in a variety of performance-based exam situations. (Section 1 concentrates on troubleshooting and system maintenance, and runs two-and-a-half hours; Section 2 concentrates on installation and configuration and lasts three hours.)
By itself, the exam costs $750, but most candidates elect to take this exam at the conclusion of a five-day $2,200-and-up training course. (Longer versions of this training are also available, but they tend to cost more as well.) Those who pass this exam can look forward to an ever-increasing set of job opportunities as more and more enterprises continue to add Linux into their platform mix.
Though it's highly unlikely that anybody could or would earn all of the aforementioned credentials, it's not unusual for some folks to earn two or more of them (with the PMP being the most common element among all those who do hold multiple credentials from this list). Any or all of them are bound to be interesting and to add tangible value to a networking career.
About the author:
Ed Tittel is a freelance writer and trainer who is based in Austin, Texas. He has been writing and teaching about networking topics since the late 1980s. A regular contributor to numerous TechTarget.com Web sites, Ed also writes for Certification magazine, TechBuilder.org, and Tom's Hardware/Mobility Guru.