The Big Payoff: CertMag’s 2004 Salary Survey

The Big Payoff: CertMag’s 2004 Salary Survey

December 2004 – Tim Sosbe 

There’s no doubt that certified professionals can earn more-than-respectable salaries. Even at the entry level, pay in the knowledge-heavy, education-driven IT marketplace floats above averages for other industries.

But if you’re really looking to score, certifying yourself in certain specialties within the IT world offers bigger payoffs and better long-term career solutions. Based on salary figures from the 2004 Certification Magazine Salary Survey, you might want to consider a career in either Cisco networking, telephony, project management or IT security. 

According to CertMag’s annual, industry-wide study of the effects of certification on global salaries for information technology professionals, credentials supporting those skills are currently earning the highest pay for certified experts. In a year when a record number of IT professionals from a record-number of countries helped benchmark the importance of certification to your bottom line, those specific specialties stood out.
Cisco certification led the list for the second consecutive year, with the Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) credential promising the highest salary for certified IT professionals, an annual salary of $105,140 for its senior-level experts.

Following CCIE, other top-earning credentials in the 2004 CertMag survey were the Planet3 Wireless CWSP program ($94,050), EMC Proven Professional ($93,470), the Project Management Institute’s credentials ($89,630), the (ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification ($85,960), Cisco Qualified Specialist: IP Telephony ($84,620) and (ISC)2’s Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) ($84,310). Those strong numbers and the impressive salaries for 80 other certification programs measured showed certification is still a winning investment for IT experts, who earned on average $67,000 in total compensation for 2004, up significantly from 2003’s average salary of $63,540. Certified professionals averaged a 14.1 percent salary increase for 2004, down from the average 15.1 percent increase enjoyed in 2003. 

Figure 1 shows average salaries for 85 certification programs and general certification categories. For the 2004 survey, nearly 35,000 IT professionals from 160 countries provided information on their salaries, certifications and experience. Information was provided by Certification Magazine readers and IT experts invited to share their salary data by 27 industry-leading companies, including Apple, Cisco, CompTIA, Hewlett- Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, Prometric, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems and VUE. 

Who Are You? 

The average respondent in the 2004 salary survey has 2.96 certifications currently, having added on average one new credential in the past year. Looking ahead, 83.2 percent of respondents plan to add more certifications in the coming year. 

The IT industry continues to be male-dominated, with 90.3 percent of the respondents male. Interestingly, while Figure 2 shows how 2004 saw a shift in pay from 2003’s salary survey, the combined numbers show a different gender gap emerging: While women earned 3.25 percent less in 2003 on average, the 2004 survey reported women making roughly $1,000 more than their male counterparts. 

The majority of survey respondents were between the ages of 25 and 49, but older workers reported the highest salary levels by age group. Respondents in the 55-to-59 age bracket earned an average of $65,050, while those aged 60 to 64 averaged $66,380. Figure 3 shows the positive effects of age and experience on IT salaries. 

Longevity once again proved to be a winning strategy for increasing salaries. The 2004 survey showed salaries generally climbing for each year with an organization. Among respondents, 16.1 percent have been on the job less than one year, while 10.9 percent have been with the same employer for more than 10 years. Figure 4 shows the benefits of company loyalty to the bottom line. 

Ninety-six percent of respondents work full time, with 72.9 percent working more than 40 hours per week. Respondents worked in a variety of IT functions, with the largest percentages being those in network administration, network engineering and system administration. In terms of specialty, system design and storage were the highest paying areas of specialization in the survey, with system design experts earning an average salary of $83,510 and storage professionals making an average of $80,980. Figure 5 shows average salaries by area of specialization. 

Survey respondents have an average of 10.9 years in information technology. Certification seems to be a way of life for younger IT professionals, with 58.2 percent of respondents certifying their skills within five years of starting in IT. The survey showed 15.6 percent of those respondents alone received a certification less than a year after joining the IT industry. Figure 6 shows the benefits experience has on certification salaries. 

Certified professionals work at organizations of all sizes, with 17.2 percent of survey respondents working for companies with less than 50 employees and 13 percent working for firms with more than 50,000 employees. Not surprisingly, larger companies generally pay more, with certified professionals at companies with less than 100 employees averaging an annual salary of $56,450, as compared to a yearly average of $74,290 at companies with 30,000 or more employees. Figure 7 shows the effects company size has on average certified IT salaries. 

On the international front, Switzerland once again compensates its IT professionals at the highest levels, with an annual average of $76,330 (in U.S. dollars). The United States fell to third place on this year’s survey at $63,280, coming in behind Denmark’s $66,950. Figure 8 shows a selection of salary data from the 160 countries represented in this year’s survey. 

Rewarding Venture 

Salary wasn’t the only measurement of success for survey respondents. This year, 41.1 percent of respondents reported receiving a raise in the first year after receiving the credential they feel is their primary certification. Among respondents, 71.5 percent received up to 15 percent salary increases in that first year. Nearly 45 percent of respondents think that their primary certification played a significant role in earning the salary boost. 

Post-certification movement was up for 2004, with 29.8 percent of respondents reporting that they received a new position in their company or with a new employer after certifying their skills. In 2003, 27 percent of respondents saw promotions or job changes after certification. For 27.5 percent of respondents, achieving the primary certification brought a promotion within a year. Among those promoted, 57 percent feel the certification was a significant factor in earning the promotion. 

Certification brings other non-monetary benefits to the table for IT professionals, according to the CertMag survey. Respondents cited a variety of other rewards they strongly feel certification provides, including gaining skills for a future job (86.9 percent), proving to themselves they can get the credential (81.7 percent), becoming eligible for a supervisory role (55.7 percent) and being part of a wider IT community (57.4 percent). 

More good news in the CertMag survey is the fact that employers increasingly seem to be picking up the cost of certification as an investment in a qualified workforce. In this year’s survey, 48 percent of respondents have employers who pay the entire tab, up from 42 percent in the 2003 survey. This year, 37.9 percent of respondents paid entirely for their own certifications, down from 43 percent last year. Figure 9 shows the division of the certification costs. 

As in previous years, the annual survey showed that salary is just one of the byproducts of certification. In the survey, 74.5 percent of respondents feel strongly that certification makes them more confident IT professionals. Also, 68 percent of respondents strongly feel being certified earns them more respect from managers and colleagues. 

Perhaps more importantly, 60.7 percent of respondents are confident that certification has increased the demand for their skills, and another 60.1 percent credit certification for improving their problem-solving skills. What’s more, 58 percent of respondents are convinced that certification helps them increase their productivity on the job. 

Respondents also seem comfortable with their own futures, with 90.1 percent reporting not being laid off or having hours reduced in the past year, and 89.4 percent expecting no layoffs or cuts in the coming year. 

Wise Investment 

Both salary increases and non-monetary benefits of certification are clear from the CertMag survey. What’s also clear is that certification is a wise investment that yields a sizable return in other areas. 

According to the survey, 79 percent of respondents spent less than $1,000 on materials needed to earn their primary certification, with 64.2 percent spending less than $500. Of course, there is another way to go: 1.4 percent of respondents spent more than $10,000 on materials to certify themselves. On average, respondents spent $1,039 on materials to get their primary certification. 

Factoring in costs for training and materials, 32.7 percent spent less than $500 on certification and 5.8 percent spent more than $10,000. On average, respondents spent $2,620 for materials and training to earn their primary credential. 

The 2004 CertMag Salary Survey also asked respondents to rank the value of various study materials and methods. As they have in previous surveys, self-study books, on-the-job training and practice exams showed the highest level of use and confidence among respondents. Job training scored the highest, with 73.5 percent of respondents ranking it as very or extremely valuable, followed by practice exams (69.4 percent), books (68.1 percent), instructor-led training (45.7 percent) and product documentation (39.3 percent).

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