Which country boasts the biggest IT brains?

United States retains No. 1 spot for certifications, but watch out for Belarus

Back in the 1800s, many educated people became practitioners of the bogus, bigoted “science” of phrenology, which used skull measurements to determine the capabilities of one’s brain and the quality of one’s character. You may remember — if you were born in the 1800s or watch a lot of Discovery Channel — seeing those phrenological drawings of folks’ skulls divided into little compartments that specified the function of the parts of the brain within.

So I was a little creeped out to open a PDF of a so-called IT skills report only to see a drawing of a bald man with a measuring tape around his cranium. Either somebody in the art department was too young to remember the 1800s, or they’re trying to send a visceral message about the importance of measuring IT brainpower. (In fact, the study’s sponsor, Brainbench, does provide online IT skills-assessment solutions.)

Nevertheless, the highlights of 2006 Global Skills Report intrigue. The stated mission was to analyze the IT skills certifications of more than 300,000 people in more than 200 countries.

At the country level, the United States retained the No. 1 spot this year in number of new certifications received (with 103,380), although this metric was down 18 percent from 2005. India took second (with 89,374), up 47 percent, followed by Russia (-21 percent), Ukraine (+14 percent), Romania (-18 percent), U.K. (-7 percent), Canada (-27 percent), Belarus (+49 percent, go Belarus!), Philippines (-4 percent), and Bulgaria (-30 percent). China weighed in at No. 34, just above Armenia, with only 491 new certifications.

In some areas, such as security and Windows desktop administration, the United States remained dominant, the study showed; in others, such as LAN/WAN communications, we’re facing stiff competition from newcomers Romania and Ukraine. India continued to dominate database development and most programming-language categories — except C#. Latin American countries didn’t crack the top 10 but showed strong growth in new certifications, with Cuba up 125 percent, Chile up 163 percent, and Mexico up 73 percent.

Within the U.S., the top spots were predictably taken by the states with the biggest populations (California, Texas, and so on), with the exception of a disproportionately strong showing by Virginia (No. 5 vs. No. 12 in population) and a weak one by Massachusetts (No. 22 vs No. 13 in population). Blame it on the Red Sox?

The top 10 IT skills certifications around the globe were, in this order: C#, software testing, C++, .Net Framework, computer technical support, ASP.Net, RDBMS Concepts, project management, Java 2 fundamentals, and Linux administration.

So what does it mean? Eastern Europe is clearly coming on strong, while for some reason Asia is lagging behind in certifications — maybe they don’t value the piece of paper as highly? And the long tail of emerging markets — Cuba, Nigeria, Pakistan, Vietnam — is starting to show some strength. I’m not sure measuring IT certifications is the best way to evaluate global talent pool trends, but it’s worth tracking.

Forbidden fruit dept.: Incidentally, someone should do a remake of Larry Groce’s 1976 hit “Junk Food Junkie.” It seems that every CIO I talk to these days about their Vista migration plans will admit at some point in the conversation: “You know, at home I use a Mac” — invariably followed by: “And I love it!” Now I’m no Apple roadie, but it seems to me that’s one song Steve Jobs would want on iTunes.

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