Paying Off Nicely—CertMag’s 2003 Salary Survey

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It should come as no surprise to certified IT experts that earning and maintaining professional certifications has a positive impact on their bottom lines. Once again, the annual Certification Magazine Salary Survey has borne out that theory, with this year’s survey charting the financial benefits of certifications, with input from a record number of certified professionals from 136 countries.

Certification Magazine conducted the survey in Fall 2003, with 19,352 IT professionals providing at least partial salary data and other information and 12,482 completing the entire questionnaire. In addition to information provided by CertMag readers, 26 leading companies and organizations in the IT industry urged certified professionals to share their salary data, including Cisco, CompTIA, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, LearnKey, Microsoft, New Horizons, Novell, Oracle, Prometric, Red Hat and Sun Microsystems.

Respondent Profile
The average respondent to the survey has 3.2 professional certifications, adding one new credential on average in the past year. Males represented 92 percent of survey respondents, with respondents having an average of 8.5 years of IT experience. The average respondent earned $62,540 in 2003, up from the 2002 average of $60,560. Overall, certification brought an average 15.1 percent salary increase to IT professionals. The average respondent spent $2,715 to train, test and certify on his primary credential.

Among respondents, 95 percent work full-time, with 74 percent of those reporting working more than 40 hours a week in their chosen profession. About 43 percent of respondents work in network engineering or administration roles.

Not surprisingly, those professionals in the 45-to-54 age bracket earned the highest salaries by age group, earning an average of $57,480 annually. Seventy-seven percent of respondents were between the ages of 24 and 44. Certified women in IT earned 3.25 percent less than their male counterparts.

Looking internationally, certified IT professionals in 136 countries around the world provided salary data. Professionals in Switzerland reported the greatest average salary of $67,470 (USD). The United States followed with average professionals, certified and uncertified, earning $59,090. See Table 1 for salary data from select other nations.

Programs That Pay
From entry-level programs like CompTIA’s A+ to advanced certifications like the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), each certification program studied provided a noteworthy salary to IT experts. Not surprisingly, CCIE led the pack, with an average salary of $96,870 annually. Rounding out the top five salary earners were Nortel Network’s Certified Design Specialist ($81,920), (ISC)2’s Certified Information Security Systems Professional (CISSP) security credential ($81,480), HP’s Master Accredited Systems Engineer (Master ASE) program ($78,710) and Check Point’s security certifications ($77,890).

The lowest per-certification salaries were still impressive figures, with CompTIA’s entry-level A+ reporting the lowest salary of those programs with enough respondents available to project pay, with $47,890 annually. Others at that end of the spectrum included CompTIA’s Network+ ($48,200), Dell’s certifications ($50,090), HP’s Accredited Platform Specialist ($50,410) and CompTIA’s Linux+ ($52,380) and Server+ ($53,160). Table 2 lists salaries for 54 certification programs and general categories of certification.

The Impact of Security
As the inclusion of two security certification programs in the top five salaries would indicate, 2003 saw an increased value in IT security services. Overall, 86 percent of respondents said they saw a greater need for security skills at their companies or among their clients. Still, only 12 percent of respondents currently have a security certification. The study showed 87 percent of respondents plan to add another credential in the next year, so it’s a safe assumption smart professionals will consider security as they grow their careers.

Among the respondents, 27 percent reported seeing a salary increase in 2003 as a result of attaining a security certification. And, 51 percent of respondents do plan to add a security credential in 2004.

Figure 1 shows the interest level among respondents in the various types of security credentials available. According to the survey, 43 percent of respondents are interested in vendor-neutral security credentials, like CompTIA’s Security+. Another 34 percent are interested in general vendor programs, like Microsoft or Novell. Security companies, like Check Point, draw the interest of 28 percent of respondents, while 31 percent are attracted to security association or organization credentials, like the programs offered by (ISC)2. Only 21 percent of respondents listed no interest in the various categories of security certifications.

Getting Certified
In the survey, certified professionals also provided feedback on the study materials and methods they found useful in earning the valuable credentials. As Figure 2 shows, on-the-job training scored the highest, with 73.4 percent of respondents listing it as extremely or very valuable. Other top study tools were self-study books (71 percent), practice exams (67.6 percent), instructor-led training at training centers (45.1 percent) and product documentation (40.1 percent). Less-popular study methods include instructional videos (12.1 percent) and flash cards (14.6 percent), both of which were outscored by brain dumps (17.2 percent), which many certification vendors and testing experts see as unethical, if not illegal, Web sites posting test questions and answers.

The annual CertMag survey also showed that certification, while valuable, isn’t free. The average respondent spent $2,715 to train, test and certify himself on his primary credential, with U.S. professionals spending an average of $1,114 on training materials alone. However, more than 60 percent of respondents certified themselves for less than $500 in materials.

Regardless of what was spent, the survey proved IT professionals aren’t in this alone. As depicted in Figure 3, 43 percent of respondents paid the entire cost of becoming certified themselves, while 42 percent had their certification costs paid entirely by the employer. In 15 percent of responses, professionals and their employers shared the costs.

For employers, that proved to be a wise investment. Despite the one-time fear that employees would take employer-sponsored certifications and leverage them into new positions, the CertMag study showed 82 percent of respondents stayed with current employers after getting certified. That security worked both ways, happily, with 68 percent of respondents reporting they felt more secure in their jobs due to certification.

The Experience Factor
Not at all surprisingly, the survey showed that average salaries increased with experience. As Figure 4 shows, salaries climb annually from less than one year ($24,640 average) to 11 to 15 years ($69,690 average). Interestingly, salaries saw a slight dip for those with more than 15 years of experience ($69,440).

The size of a respondents’ employer was also a factor affecting certification salaries. Companies with less than 50 employees paid an average of $48,630 annually. The figures climbed steadily through the employee brackets: 50 to 99 ($56,450), 100 to 499 ($57,860), 500 to 999 ($57,990), 1,000 to 4,999 ($60,080), 5,000 to 9,999 ($61,260), 10,000 to 19,999 ($65,130) and 20,000 or more ($68,780).

Salaries of IT professionals were also affected by the specific ar

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