Representing hundreds of man-hours and accoutrements for resumes, certifications hold a dominant place in IT, dictating salaries and establishing technology's expert hierarchy.
Globally, across IT, 85% of professionals have at least one certification and more than half earned their most-recent credential in the past year, according to IT training firm Global Knowledge, which surveyed more than 12,200 candidates for its 2019 report.
As technologies emerge, certifications are becoming a must-have, signaling potential employers the tools they're building on will be properly handled.
While certifications have remained important in the technology industry, specialists have more options than in the past, according to Ryan Sutton, a district president of human resources consulting firm Robert Half Technology.
Previously, security took an outsized role in the highest-paying certifications and remains dominant in Global Knowledge's list, but the cloud is becoming more in-demand and represents the certification with the highest salary.
In the U.S., GCP Cloud Architects was the highest-paying certification this year, bringing in average salaries of $139,529, according to Global Knowledge. The next closest, the industry-standard PMP, earned salaries of $135,798.
2019's highest-paying certifications, U.S.
|Rank||Certification||Certification Body||Average Salary|
|1||Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect||Google Cloud||$139,529|
|2||PMP: Project Management Professional||Project Management Institute||$135,798|
|3||Certified ScrumMaster||Scrum Alliance||$135,441|
|4||AWS Certified Solutions Architect-Associate||Amazon Web Services||$132,840|
|5||AWS Certified Developer-Associate||Amazon Web Services||$130,369|
|6||Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Server Infrastructure||Microsoft||$121,288|
|8||CISM: Certified Information Security Manager||ISACA||$118,412|
|9||CRISC: Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control||ISACA||$117,395|
|10||CISSP: Certified Information Systems Security Professional||(ISC)²||$116,900|
SOURCE: Global Knowledge 2019
Cloud computing makes up four of the top 10 highest-paying certifications in the U.S.
There is one anomaly. MCSE server infrastructure was retired in 2017 as Microsoft shifted to a role-based certification strategy, according to Global Knowledge. Microsoft now features certifications with focus on Azure Administrator, Developer and Solutions Architect roles.
MSCE: Core Infrastructure is most-closely aligned with the previous server infrastructure certification.
Cloud to the fore
The security industry is well-accustomed to rigid standards, but cloud technology is up-and-coming and companies are in the early days of adoption.
Forrester research estimates that more than 80% of company's applications still run on data centers. Companies have transformed a mere one-fifth of business-critical software applications for the cloud era.
The sector is working to certify professionals as a way to set a baseline for cloud technical skills. A leading driver of the certifications are the top cloud vendors: Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.
The cloud vendors have an agenda. Developers who use their tools act as system evangelists. As they move around from one company to the next, those specializing in a particular cloud vendor's technology can encourage adoption at a new company.
Technology training provider Cloud Academy has a daily tracker analyzing the technical skills required for more than 3,000 U.S. jobs. As of Thursday, AWS appeared on 30% of all job postings.
Microsoft Azure appeared on almost 17% of postings, while Google Cloud was on just over 4% of postings.
A year ago, the job ads would have primarily featured AWS, but there has been an increase in Microsoft Cloud skills in particular, according to Joe Nemer, technical writer and researcher at Cloud Academy.
There is still a long way to go, but our impression is "certifications are becoming almost a must have," said Nemer, in an interview with CIO Dive.
It's not all upside for certifications. In a Robert Half survey of 2,800 IT leaders, 54% of respondents said certifications are a "valuable asset," but only when the directly relate to the job a technologist is applying for.
However, 39% of respondents say certifications help set a candidate apart in the hiring process.
If the hiring market remains tight, employers will continue to look for talent without placing stringent requirements on certifications, Sutton told CIO Dive in an email.
The approach could also dictate tools adoption. If a company wants to move to the cloud, they could select a vendor based on the experts available.