IT certs are back! Learn these hot skills and earn more

Security, big data, cloud architecture, and Hadoop are just some of the areas that will pay off for those with real expertise

After a long period of decline, the value of IT certifications has reversed course and is now climbing -- particularly in areas like the cloud, IT security, and database management. At the same time, new economic data shows that unemployment across the technology industry has dropped to a seven-year low.

The double-barreled burst of good news on the jobs front is not only encouraging -- late last year, there were hints of a slowdown -- but it should give IT hands some solid guidance on how to boost their earnings in the near future.

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Premium pay for specialized, but noncertified, IT skills has been climbing for years, but the added value of IT certifications had declined steadily since 2006, according to data collected by Foote Partners, which closely tracks IT pay and employment. That's changed: 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.

A separate analysis of employment data by, a large job board, showed record demand for professionals with skills in several areas, including big data and Hadoop.

Why certifications are gaining value is unclear, says David Foote, a principal analyst at Foote Partners. In part, he says, it's a result of marketing campaigns by the companies that issue those certifications. Also contributing to the rise in value are new certifications in areas, particularly the cloud, where there are shortages of people with the right skills.

The best-paying certifications

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

Maybe the drumbeat of news about data breaches and espionage by the NSA has prodded businesses to pay more, but many security-related certifications are rapidly gaining value. Here are a few that made their first appearance on Foote's list of the highest-paying certs in the first quarter:

  • Certified in Risk and Information Systems
  • EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker
  • GIAC Exploit Researcher and Advance Penetration Tester
  • Systems Security Certified Practitioner

Although the value of certifications is increasing, don't forget that some technology areas command premium pay even if you don't have certifications -- as long as you possess the desired skills. According to Foote, some of the most valuable noncertified permium skills include:

  • Data architecture
  • Big data analytics
  • Cyber security
  • Apache Hadoop
  • IT governance
  • Oracle SCM
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