Salary Survey Extra: The longer you work in IT, the more you certify

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Salary Survey Extra is a series of dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our annual Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

Confident asian businesswoman in officeIt’s not uncommon to think of certification as being an introductory exercise. Especially given the ongoing incorporation of professional credentials into educational programs, sometimes as far down the instructional ladder as junior high schools and middle schools, its easy for certification to seem like a starting point on a journey of lifelong learning.

Certification also confers a seal of approval that can help you get started in IT when faced with the familiar conundrum of needing employment to gain experience, but not having enough experience to convince anyone to give you a job. You can even cross over from a different field altogether by using certification for accelerated access to IT skills and knowledge.

With all of that in mind, one could reasonably assume that it would be more common to have multiple certifications in the infancy of one’s IT career. At later stages of professional development, new knowledge and skills would be most likely to accrue from ongoing professional activity. The more you work, the more you learn.

On the other hand, it could be argued that established IT professionals are more likely to turn to certification. From this point of view, certification is most helpful a guide to mid- and late-career professional development. Having gone a certain way down the IT career road, certification provides a roadmap to travel increasingly specialized branches of the information superhighway.

So is it more common to be deeply invested in certification as an up-and-coming IT professional, or is it the old dogs who are most strongly drawn to certification’s new tricks? We did a little digging around in the results of the 2020 Salary Survey.

Everyone who participates in the Salary Survey has to have at least one current IT certification. That’s required in order to participate. Additionally, when we talk about the “number of certifications held,” survey respondents are asked to indicate only those that are still considered active or current.

Also, as has been noted elsewhere, we get a lot of IT old hands participating in our survey. Hence. the first four groups described below are all about the same size, and the final group is roughly twice as large as any of the others. Here’s what we found:

Survey Respondents Who Have Worked in IT for Between 0 and 5 Years (Percentage of All Survey Respondents in This Group: 21.7)

Total Number of Certifications Held — Percentage of Respondents at This Level Who Hold This Many Certifications
1 — 39.7 percent
2 — 23.6 percent
3 — 15 percent
4 — 8.5 percent
5 — 4.6 percent
6 — 2 percent
7 or more — 6.5 percent

Survey Respondents Who Have Worked in IT for Between 6 and 10 Years (Percentage of All Survey Respondents in This Group: 18.5)
Total Number of Certifications Held — Percentage of Respondents at This Level Who Hold This Many Certifications
1 — 22.2 percent
2 — 21.6 percent
3 — 14.1 percent
4 — 9.2 percent
5 — 10.5 percent
6 — 6.5 percent
7 or more — 15.9 percent

Survey Respondents Who Have Worked in IT for Between 11 and 15 Years (Percentage of All Survey Respondents in This Group: 15)
Total Number of Certifications Held — Percentage of Respondents at This Level Who Hold This Many Certifications
1 — 14.2 percent
2 — 13.1 percent
3 — 16.5 percent
4 — 11 percent
5 — 10.8 percent
6 — 7.3 percent
7 or more — 27.1 percent

Survey Respondents Who Have Worked in IT for Between 16 and 20 Years (Percentage of All Survey Respondents in This Group: 15.1)
Total Number of Certifications Held — Percentage of Respondents at This Level Who Hold This Many Certifications
1 — 12.3 percent
2 — 11.8 percent
3 — 12.3 percent
4 — 13.7 percent
5 — 13.7 percent
6 — 5.9 percent
7 or more — 30.3 percent

Survey Respondents Who Have Worked in IT for More Than 20 Years (Percentage of All Survey Respondents in This Group: 29.7)
Total Number of Certifications Held — Percentage of Respondents at This Level Who Hold This Many Certifications
1 — 14.2 percent
2 — 12.2 percent
3 — 13.7 percent
4 — 10.4 percent
5 — 9.8 percent
6 — 7 percent
7 or more — 32.7 percent

The first thing to jump out here is that more than 63 percent of survey respondents who are relative tenderfoots, having worked in IT for between zero years (1 to 11 months) and 5 years, hold either one (39.7 percent of those surveyed) or two (23.6 percent) active certifications. Throw in the folks with either three or four active certs, and we’ve accounted for more than 85 percent of the zero-to-fivers.

Moving down the next group, survey respondents who have worked in IT for between 6 and 10 years, we see a somewhat smoother distribution. There’s still a tendency for most in the group to hold between one and four active credentials, but the tilt toward the bottom of that range is considerably less pronounced.

By the time that we get to tech professionals who have worked in IT for between 11 and 15 years, however, there’s a shift that doesn’t go away. From that point on, more than 27 percent of respondents have seven or more active IT certifications. That’s at least one in every four tech pros holding seven or more active credentials the rest of the way.

Those who are just starting out in IT, then, are most likely to have one or two certifications. Anyone who is intending to hang around in IT for the long haul, on the other hand, should probably plan on being more and more likely to spend time accruing professional credentials as years go by.

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CertMag Staff

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Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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