Follow the money: The hottest skills and certs in tech

IT management salaries are soaring, but even the rank and file in certain types of work are enjoying significant raises

Which IT skill will get you a raise faster than any other? Knowing Scala, an object-functional programming and scripting language for general software applications that is also particularly well-suited for Android development. In the last two years, median pay for Scala programmers has increased by 22 percent. (A refresher: "Median" means that half of people are paid more, half are paid less.)

Another way to fatten your paycheck is to shift to the management side of IT. The median pay for a software architect is $116,000 a year, whereas pay for a chief architect is $153,000. (On the next page you'll see the 25 top-paying tech jobs both for managers and non-managers.)

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Both of those statistics come from a trove of employment data collected by PayScale, a compensation data, software, and services provider. PayScale has been tracking IT employment for more than a decade, largely from the three to four million visitors to its website each month, many of whom fill out survey forms to obtain an estimate of how much a particular job is worth.

A dive into PayScale's data shows that it's more important than ever to hone the right skill or get the right IT certification if you want to make the best money. Overall, the increase in median salaries of IT employees has been only 2 percent since 2012. In the same two-year period, median pay for the 20 skills most in demand -- including knowing Hadoop and NoSQL, big data analytics, and machine learning -- has jumped from between 10.6 percent and 19.2 percent. (That 19.2 percent rise is for those with IBM Tivoli skills, by the way.) "Big data and related areas have been a theme for the last year or two," says PayScale Lead Economist Katie Bardaro.

These certifications are gaining the most value
What's true of skills is also true of IT certifications. Overall, the value of certifications has increased by less than 1 percent during two years, but certs that are in high demand have increased much more.

According to PayScale, the cert that increased the most is Avaya Certified Specialist, whose median value went up by 10.2 percent, followed closely by VMware Certified Professional (9.91 percent), IBM Certified Sys Admin-WebSphere App Server (9.89 percent), APICS Certification in Production and Inventory Management (9.84 percent), and Cisco Certified Network Professional (9.71 percent.)

Data from another company that tracks the value of IT certifications -- Foote Partners -- indicates that, after a long period of decline, the value of IT certifications has reversed course and is now climbing, particularly in areas such as the cloud, IT security, and database management. Certifications started regaining value last year, and they have continued on the upswing for a full year. Now, the premium pay for certified skills is an average 7.05 percent, according to Foote.

Some of the best-paying certifications listed by Foote include:

  • PMI Program Management Professional
  • Infosys Security Engineering Professional
  • GIAC Security Leadership
  • EMC Cloud Architect
  • Cisco Certified Architect
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