IT careers: Do certifications really help?

Earning an IT certification won’t automatically land you a job or a pay raise, but it can be valuable in the right circumstances.

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An IT veteran with more than 40 years of experience, George Craft got his start in the technical trenches and eventually crossed over to management, earning choice certifications along the way to advance his career. His first credential — a Certified Data Processor designation in the late 1970s — gave him credibility as a "computer guy" at a time when IT was a fledgling field, he says.

His subsequent certs, including a CNE (Certified Network Engineer), an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert) and a CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate), also came in handy, giving him the footing to pursue new opportunities as particular technologies got hot.

Now director of IT for Motorola's Smart Public Safety Solutions (SPSS) (SPSS) unit, Craft acknowledges that none of those top-drawer certifications was the linchpin in landing a new job or scoring a big pay raise. "It's not necessarily a ticket in the door," he says. Nevertheless, he views certifications as assets in the right context. "[Each] time I went to change jobs, having that certification was a qualifier," he adds.

Craft, like many senior IT executives and hiring managers, sees value in IT certifications as a way for tech pros to keep their skills fresh and as indicators that job candidates are seriously committed to enriching their technical expertise.

Computerworld's 2016 IT Salary Survey, conducted in the fall of 2015, shows solid interest in certifications among the 3,301 respondents: More than half (54%) said they have IT-related certifications, and 44% said they plan to pursue an IT certification within the next 24 months.

Security topped the list of the most popular types of certifications, with 22% of those polled saying they planned to pursue a credential in that area. Networking was next, cited by 16% of the respondents, followed by project management (15%) and systems administration (14%).

At the same time, there appears to be no strong correlation between having an IT certification and earning higher pay or moving up the career ladder more quickly. Only 42% of certification-holding respondents to the Computerworld survey said their cert(s) helped them land a job, score a promotion or earn more pay.

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