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 These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

It's time for a Salary Survey Extra look at whether certification is more common at the beginning or end of your career.Certification is often seen as being a first step on the road to professional success in the IT realm. For many, it can provide a point of entry that lowers the considerable knowledge barrier that looms over most individuals interested in making the transition from merely using computer technology to fathoming the nuts and bolts of computer technology.

You might speculate, then, that it would be more common to get multiple certifications at the beginning of one’s IT career, rather than wading ever deeper into the certification waters as time goes on. After all, many people, having successfully completed the initial transition, would probably continue on in a “learn by doing” vein, letting hands-on experience be their guide.

On the other hand, some tech professionals, having cleared the initial knowledge hurdle by other means, might not get certified at all until they start to specialize in a particular technology. Such specialization often requires becoming fluent with proprietary hardware and software, something than many companies handle by offering certification.

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 2018 Salary Survey.

A couple of up-front notes: Everyone who takes the Salary Survey has at least one active certification. That’s required in order to participate. Additionally, when we talk about “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 long-timers participating in our survey. Hence. the first four groups described below are all about the same size, and the final group is roughly half again 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
Total Number of Certifications Held — Percentage of Respondents at This Level Who Hold This Many Certifications
1 — 34.8 percent
2 — 33.3 percent
3 — 13.8 percent
4 — 5.8 percent
5 — 5.4 percent
6 or more — 6.9 percent

Survey Respondents Who Have Worked in IT for Between 6 and 10 Years (Percentage of All Survey Respondents in This Group: 18.8)
Total Number of Certifications Held — Percentage of Respondents at This Level Who Hold This Many Certifications
1 — 23.4 percent
2 — 21.8 percent
3 — 16.9 percent
4 — 10 percent
5 — 7.9 percent
6 — 7.3 percent
7 or more — 12.6 percent

Survey Respondents Who Have Worked in IT for Between 11 and 15 Years
Total Number of Certifications Held — Percentage of Respondents at This Level Who Hold This Many Certifications
1 — 22.5 percent
2 — 17.7 percent
3 — 12 percent
4 — 10.9 percent
5 — 10.7 percent
6 — 8.6 percent
7 — 3.8 percent
8 — 2.7 percent
9 or more — 10.9 percent

Survey Respondents Who Have Worked in IT for Between 16 and 20 Years
Total Number of Certifications Held — Percentage of Respondents at This Level Who Hold This Many Certifications
1 — 13.6 percent
2 — 15.8 percent
3 — 17.6 percent
4 — 12 percent
5 — 8.5 percent
6 — 8.7 percent
7 — 3.7 percent
8 — 2.9 percent
9 — 2.9 percent
10 — 5.3 percent
11 or more — 9.1 percent

Survey Respondents Who Have Worked in IT for More Than 20 Years
Total Number of Certifications Held — Percentage of Respondents at This Level Who Hold This Many Certifications
1 — 16.7 percent
2 — 18.3 percent
3 — 12.5 percent
4 — 11.5 percent
5 — 8.8 percent
6 — 6.8 percent
7 — 5 percent
8 — 4 percent
9 — 1.2 percent
10 — 4.1 percent
11 or more — 11.1 percent

The first thing to jump out here is that more than 65 percent of survey respondents who are relative IT noobs, having worked in the field for between zero years (1 to 11 months) and 5 years, hold either one or two active certifications. Throw in the folks with just three active certs, and we’ve accounted for more than 80 percent of the people in that group.

Moving down to the next group, survey respondents who have worked in IT for between 5 and 10 years, we see a somewhat smoother distribution. There’s still a tendency for most in the group (62 percent) to have either one, two, or three active certs, but it’s considerably less pronounced.

That trend continues as we move from professionals with between 10 and 15 years in IT, through those with between 16 and 20 years in IT, and wind up considering those with more than 20 years of IT experience. The tendency is for more and more of the people in each group to have a fistful of certifications.

Those of you who are just starting out in IT, then, are likely to have only a certification or two. If you’re intending to hang around in the field for a long time, however, you should probably plan on certification taking up a progressively larger portion of your time.

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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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