Since three-quarters of respondents had certifications, that means one-quarter (26 percent) saw no value in them. "I have no certs to my name at all. I do have an MBA. I have been in IT hardware and network admin/engineer roles for over a decade now without a single piece of paper related to the field. You learn as you go, better than you learn in some stupid classroom," commented James7360 on a Spiceworks forum.
But James7360 is in the minority. Even network professionals earning the highest wages -- more than $110,000 -- had as many, or more, certs as those in lower salary brackets.
That's not to say that the certs themselves are solely responsible for these high salaries. Those earning the most money also had more years of experience (75 percent had more than 10 years) and more traditional education (25 percent had a master's degree, compared to 11 percent in the lower salary brackets).
But even so, among the highest-paid IT professionals who had certs, 58 percent said a cert led to a salary boost or bonus, 63 percent said it led to a promotion, and 30 percent to a new job. These numbers are similar to those in the lower salary brackets, who also overwhelmingly said that certs lead to a salary boost or bonus (55 percent), new job (62 percent), or promotion (27 percent).
Those earning the highest wages, $110,000 or more a year, were also more likely to have particularly difficult (and expensive) certifications, like the CCIE, RHCE, or CISSP.
"I have had a certification lead to a new job or promotion, the CISSP, which isn't even a technical certification. It really teaches how to control and translate security into business objectives. But it is required for a lot of security jobs and has requirements like ongoing education in order to maintain it," says Lee Eddy II, a senior security analyst in Redwood City, Calif., with more than 10 years of experience as an IT professional. The CISSP helped Eddy land a job with a big salary increase, and is mandated for most of the higher-paid jobs in his field, he says.
The value of a certification clearly depends on a lot of factors. Some hiring managers want them more than others, and timing is an issue, too.
"I'd have to say certs tend to be more valuable when they are coupled with the building of experience," says Craig Norborg, a network engineer for Trowbridge & Trowbridge, Albuquerque, N.M., with more than 15 years of experience and a variety of certs, including the CCNP, CCDA, MCSE, SCP (Solarwinds Certified Professional) and others.
"If you get them too early, people think they're book certs. If you get them too late, you're just proving what you already know, which may not be required," Norborg points out. "Employers are pretty suspicious of many high-end certs from a young person, or someone just entering the field."
The difficulty of the certs and the type of technology they cover can also add value - or not. "My MCSE hasn't really done anything for me. My last two employers actually would rather I not touch servers, but instead specialize in networking," Norborg says. Note that for Windows Server 8 and beyond, Microsoft has discontinued its umbrella MCSE certification in favor of a range of technology-specific, MCITP certs.