Certified for success

Which certification is right for you? The answer really depends on the stage of your career, the certifications you already have and your chosen technology area.

However, at any given time, there are usually some hot-button certifications that because of supply, demand or the difficulty of achieving them can substantially improve your salary or career prospects.

For example, just a few years ago, the Microsoft (Corp.) Certified Software Engineer (MCSE) certification promised large salary jumps for IT professionals who could boast of having one. While it’s still the most popular certification and still in demand, so many people have the MCSE certification (almost 400,000 engineers in the U.S.) that it’s become more of an entry-level requirement.

We asked IT recruiters and certification experts for their views on what will give you the most bang for your buck in the next year or two. We look at the top two here, with more certifications reviewed on Computerworld’s U.S. Web site. Most of these are top-end certifications that require a few years of job experience in addition to training.

Because they’re more difficult to obtain, these certifications can increase your salary by 20 per cent to 30 per cent, according to Mike Kovatsh, an expert on training and certification at Edina, Minn.-based Techies.com Inc.


Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE)

Summary: Introduced in 1993, the CCIE helps identify internetworking experts. There are five areas in which a person can be certified: routing and switching, wide-area network switching, ISP Dial, SNA/IP, and integration and design.

Requirements: You must take a two-hour computer-based qualification exam and a two-day, hands-on lab exam at a Cisco Systems Inc. facility. The lab exam requires a deep understanding of Cisco equipment and general networking. Training alone is insufficient, but it can help, and there’s a suggested list of Cisco courses to take. There are only two test lab sites, in San Jose and in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

How long it takes to obtain: It could take four or five years just to obtain the necessary experience to pass the CCIE exam. Assuming you’re working full time, you might take a year or two to study for and take the written test and then study for, take and pass the lab exam. “It’s pretty typical for half the candidates who take the lab exam to fail on their first try,” said Ed Tittel, vice president of IT certifications at iLearning Inc., a training and education provider in Baltimore.

Supply vs. demand: CCIEs are “few and far between,” said Ben Sabrin, a senior search consultant at New York-based recruitment firm Pencom Systems Inc. According to Cisco, there are fewer than 3,000 of these certified professionals in North America. They’re especially in demand in the optical and networking space, such as at telecommunications firms.

Average cost: The lab test costs USUS$1,250, and the exam fee is US$300. Training ranges from US$1,420 if you self-study to US$4,100 to US$6,300 if you study in a classroom, according to Tittel.

Career benefit: Having the CCIE designates you as part of an elite corps of internetworking professionals; it’s one of the premier IT certifications.

Salary benefit: CCIEs can expect a 10 per cent to 20 per cent boost in salary, said Sabrin. And according to a survey last fall by TCPmag.com, CCIE certificate holders earn an average base income of US$115,400 a US$45,500 jump (an almost 40 per cent increase) over Cisco Certified Network Architects, another certification. They also reported larger bonuses, more stock options, more paid training and higher job satisfaction than holders of other Cisco certifications.


Senior Java Certification

Summary: Certification programs include Certified Programmer for the Java Platform, Certified Developer for the Java Platform and Certified Enterprise Architect for Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition Technology.

Requirements: The programmer track requires one exam; the developer track requires one exam and one assignment, plus previous Programmer certification; and the architect track requires a multiple choice exam, an essay exam and one assignment. Certifications can be obtained from Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., BEA Systems Inc., IBM, Sybase Inc., Netscape Communications Corp., Novell Inc. or Oracle Corp.

How long it takes to obtain: You should have about two years of experience before taking the exam. If you have a full-time job, it could take six months to a year to obtain the certification.

Supply vs. demand: According to Tittel, there are six to seven job openings for each Java-certified individual.

Average cost: Exam and assignment costs from Sun range from US$150 for programmers to US$400 for developers and US$550 for architects. Training ranges from US$300 to US$1,000 for self-study and as much as US$3,500 for classroom-based study, according to Tittel.

Career benefit: “Getting certified helps prove you were able to take your background in C++ and marry that over to Java,” Sabrin said.

Salary benefit: “You’re looking at a six-figure salary, guaranteed,” said Tittel. “I’ve heard of individuals doubling their compensation as a result of obtaining mid- or upper-level Java certifications, as compared to their precertification incomes.”

Brandel is a freelance writer in Newton, Mass.