The skills that reap pay premiums

Reap the benefits of specialist certifications

When Adam Quiggle upgraded his Cisco Certified Network Engineering certification to Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, he boosted his pay by 35 percent. His new skills -- which command a 10 percent to 15 percent premium in most enterprises -- were particularly valuable to the network company that hired him, Multimax, because it was ramping up to build the Navy Marine Corps Intranet, the second-largest network in the world next to the Internet.

That was in 2003; the pay premium Multimax now gives CCIEs has levelled off to about 10 percent to 15 percent. To earn as much as US$20,000 in additional pay, Multimax's staff need to attain cutting-edge skills, particularly in security. A security clearance, the CCIE security certification or security-industry certifications including the Certified Information Security Professional or ISACA's Certified Information Security Manager are in demand.

Such is the story with specialty skills: In today's hot network-convergence areas, specialists can command premiums of 10 percent to 20 percent -- or more if they have the right combination of skills and industry background, according to researchers and employers. However, just as quickly as these skills make pay skyrocket, they can lose their value to the new skills required for next-generation network environments, says David Foote, CEO and chief research officer for IT-workforce research firm Foote Partners.

Zeus Kerravala, vice president and global practice leader at Yankee Group, describes this as supply and demand, Internet-style. "Things hard to do before, like setting up a switching and routing network, are easy today and don't command so high a salary as things that are new today and harder to do," he says.

VoIP, video, storage-area networks (SAN) and security, are commanding the premiums. The highest-paid speciality skill set, represented by the Brocade Certified SAN Designer certification, last year eclipsed the CCIE's US$105,000 average salary by US$7,000, according to Certification Magazine's annual certifications-salary survey released in December.

Nipping at the heels of the CCIE is another storage-vendor certification, the EMC Proven Professional Technology Architect, with an annual salary of US$94,000, according to the survey. Certifications close behind are the Cisco Certified Design Professional, with a nearly US$93,000 annual salary; and the Cisco Certified Voice Professional, with a US$88,000 annual salary.

Additionally, employers are paying more when the right industry, systems or security experience accompanies a certification. "A certification is a proxy for a skill," says Cushing Anderson, program director at IDC. "Employers want to pay for demonstrable skills however they might insert them."

For example, AT&T's Robert Lamb, director of convergence contact-centre services in Houston, says he pays an additional 15 percent salary premium to CCIE holders with a background in such call-centre technologies as Cisco's Unity. Being able to write to those applications in XML and Java would earn even more, he says. "As I evaluate resumes, there aren't a lot of certifications that show me if the applicant knows how to use a platform or its key performance analytics as it pertains to the network," he says. "I need people who can think holistically about a project."

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