IT certifications that paid off the most in 2015

As 2016 quickly approaches, we look back to see which IT certifications earned IT pros the most over the past year.

it certifications getting the most pay

Certifications paying the most in 2015

The pace of technology is ever-increasing. With security issues, cloud adoption, legacy tech, big data and more, disruption abounds. So it's no wonder when it comes to skills and certifications there is so much volatility, making it difficult for employers and employees alike to know what skills are most valuable. "If you look at volatility [in pay premiums], right now it's about 19 percent. In fact, it's averaging about 17 percent over the last two years,"says David Foote, co-founder, chief analyst and research officer with Foote Partners. To help determine where to invest your training budget, each quarter Foote Partners publishes its IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index.

With 2016 rapidly approaching, we examine the results of Foote Partners most recent data to find out which certifications are tracking the highest in regards to premium pay.


Foote Partners works with more than 2,600 employers to bridge the disconnect between job titles, job content and compensation. And although certifications on this list have done well thus far, Foote cautions that certifications making the highest premium pay today don't always equate to certifications that will be most in-demand over the next year. Volatility in the tech marketplace combined with the fact that some certifying organizations can mount marketing campaigns large enough to move the needle with organizations and their adoption of technologies.

"Historical pay premium performance is only one of many factors we consider in forecasting. It is normal in our forecasting that 50 percent or more of the skills showing the most growth in the prior three months and six months do not make our Hot List of skills that we are certain will increase in value in next 6 months," said Foote in a past interview.

1 digital disruption

Digital Disruption

The impact of cloud services, mobile devices, social media, big data and analytics is affecting companies across the tech spectrum.

So what should IT leaders be expecting over the next several months? "When we talk about disruptive technology, disruptive innovation, we're looking at Internet of Things, automated knowledge work … mobility, cloud computing, virtual computing embedded in the cloud, big data, cybersecurity, real-time DevOps … and micro-service architecture, that's huge,"says Foote.

[ Related Story: How to succeed at digital transformation ]

CyberSecurity Forensic Analyst (CSFA)

CyberSecurity Forensic Analyst (CSFA)

The threat from a digital attack is one all companies face. It's difficult to ignore security, especially if your company deals in any type of proprietary data or private consumer data. The string of both large- and small-scale attacks continues on as does the search for IT security talent. What's driving this upward trend? "What's sustaining that is so many companies are thinking cybersecurity. They never have before but they are now. They've always had IT security but now they are thinking they can be hacked for any reason,"says Foote.

Foote also points out that CSFA certiication gained 6.7 percent in market value for the past three months and 23 percent in past 12 months.

Open Group Master Architect

Open Group Master Architect

Offered by the Open Group, this vendor-neutral, IT architecture certification offers three options:

  • IT Architecture
  • Business Architecture
  • Enterprise Architecture

The Open Group worked to create a framework for developing requirements, identifying industry standards and reinforcing best practices for architects and other IT pros. The certifications focus on confirming experience with different types of IT architectures.

The Open Group looks to create a certification process that is objective in nature. It requires review by a board and applicants are interviewed to ascertain their knowledge of the program. "Open Group is here because it's a very difficult to get peer-reviewed certification. You don't just take a test or do a lab you have to go before a review of your peers who designate whether they think you've got it or not. So this is always going to be high-paying,"says Foote.

Program Management Professional (PgMP)

Program Management Professional (PgMP)

If you have the PMP certification, the next step is Program Management Professional (PgMP). As IT and technology creep into every corner of the business world, there is a need for those who can handle the increasing complexity of both project and program management. This certification provides processes and tools necessary to handle multiple projects, and presents a program management framework that aligns with industry standards.

"The PgMP is different than project management because program managers, these days, would handle multiple projects but also you've got so much invested in managed services now, this whole idea as platform as a service, infrastructure as a service, companies just takingentire areas of their business and having others managing them. It's not a new idea, it's been happening in data centers for years, but now it happening to stuff they are doing in-house. Part of program manager will likely be managing a lot more vendors than you have before, "says Foote.

Open Group Master Certified IT Specialist (Open CITS)

Open Group Master Certified IT Specialist (Open CITS)

Another Open Group certification, the Master Certified IT Specialist or Open CITS, provides, "a set of recognized standards that allow organizations to benchmark against the required skill level, experience, and knowledge, and select the right people for the job." IT specialists can be found working in different parts of the business, from the typical IT department to embedded with marketing or product research. They work to solve a myriad of issues like managing hardware, software and networks. It is another peer-reviewed, vendor-neutral certification which, according to Foote, are typically the more desirable certifications from an employer and employee perspective.

Keep in mind that the program is designed to give applicants more than just the knowledge, but the ability to adapt that knowledge and put it to productive and practical use. "Clearly, 'book learning' is a critical first step to becoming effective at anything. But the effectiveness, potential, and the degree and value of contribution rise to a new level as relevant skills and experience are gained in a topical area. It is clearly important to 'know' a subject, but it is more valuable to have applied that knowledge. It is for this reason that The Open Group Certified IT Specialist (Open CITS) program is based on an assessment of people skills, technical skills, and experience, not just tests of knowledge," according to the Open CITS certification requirements.

Open Group Master Certified IT Specialist was just added to Foote Partners list of certifications that they track, so their currently is no pay history for this certification.

TOGAF 9 certification


Enterprise architects work to align business goals and vision with its information technology. They need to be able to study the past and anticipate the future needs of the business. Employers need IT pros with architecture chops. In fact, according to Foote, his clients need architects more than ever. Combine that with the fact that TOGAF, an industry standard enterprise architecture framework, regularly makes both the lists of highest paying certified and noncertified IT skills and it's clear that TOGAF can help in your job search or career advancement. "TOGAF is the architectural framework, the book of knowledge for architects. If you want to be an architect then you have to get knowledge of TOGAF, "says Foote.

The TOGAF 9 Certification has gained 7.1 percent in the past three months and 50 percent in the past 12 months, according to Foote Partners research.

GIAC Reverse Engineering Malware (GREM)

GIAC Reverse Engineering Malware (GREM)

Created for those who protect companies from malicious code and other cybersecurity threats, the GIAC Reverse Engineering Maleware certiication lets organizations know that recipients have the necessary knowledge to perform forensic investigations, respond to incidents in the field and reverse engineer whatever mailicous.

The GIAC Reverse Engineering Malware certification is up 25 percent in the last six months, but hasn't changed in the past three months, according to Foote Partners' data.

InfoSys Security Engineering Professional (ISSEP/CISSP)

InfoSys Security Engineering Professional (ISSEP/CISSP)

With the all the recent newsworthy breaches, security is top of mind for many organizations and that is reflected in the Foote data. "The certification category with the most consistent growth over the past 3/6/12/24 months has been security certifications,"says Foote.

That's why it's no surprise that another security certification makes the list. The ISSEP/CISSP was created with input from the National Security Agency and is aimed at security engineering and security analysis professionals. It includes methodologies and best practices for things like incorporating security into products, projects, apps, business processes and all other IT systems. The main areas that the course focuses on are the following:

  • Systems Security Engineering
  • Certification and Accreditation (C&A) / Risk Management Framework (RMF)
  • Technical Management
  • U.S. Government Information Assurance Related Policies and Issuances

The InfoSys Security Engineering Professional certification, notes Foote, is up 36.4 percent in the last twelve months.

Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA)

Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA)

This Microsoft certification was retired in 2014, which makes it a surprising addition to the list. "There is still some interest in this because there is no supply of them anymore. It's high, but that's because it's gone. I frankly find it very interesting that someone would be willing to pay an architect a pay premium in a certification that is dead."

Individuals with this certification generally had at least 10 years of IT experience. It originally was the pinnacle of Microsoft certifications, but it was also pricey and laborious. However it's clear that organizations still find this certification useful and are willing to pay more to get it.

PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)

PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)

The Project Management Institute offers this certification for those who want to specialize in project risk management, giving receipients the tools and skills to identify and assess project risks, mitigate project threats and exploit opportunities in the project management process. It recognizes the constant pressure PMs face to complete projects on time and on budget.

"It's interesting, companies aren't managing their security out of there IT department, they just don't trust CIOs and security. What they're doing is saying that 'This is an enterprise or board-level issue. The governance of security is not a technical issue necessarily ... It's a risk issue and and risk is managed elsewhere in our company'"says Foote.

The PMI-RMP certification gained 16.7 percent in the past three months. Certified Technical Architect Certified Technical Architect

The CRM market grew 13.3 percent in 2014 and that trend doesn't look to be slowing as countless organizations, tech and otherwise, look for actionable data and ways to get closer to their customers. Salesforce dominates the CRM market, leading its competition with an 18.6 percent marketshare. "Salesforce is very popular right now, probably the most popular cloud application out there, "says Foote.

Additional IT Certifications paying 14 percent pay premiums in 2015

Additional Certifications paying 14 percent pay premiums in 2015

These certifications also made the list of the highest paying certifications for Q3. They are all are earning a median pay premium of 14 percent.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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