Some certifications are hot, some not

Network administrators are finding that investing in learning specialized job skills — and validating those skills by passing certification tests — can lead to career advancement even when the economic outlook for hiring is bleak.

For example, when the Philadelphia Stock Exchange created the position of chief security officer last year, a technician in its systems administration department stepped into the job.

It was a step up for Allan Pomerantz, now the CSO, and he attributed that success to having focused on security projects while he was technology coordinator and obtaining the proper security-certification credentials to validate his skills. Pomerantz is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), having passed the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium’s (ISC2) exam.

“I had 30 years’ experience in data processing when this opportunity came up,” Pomerantz says. He says the CISSP credential was a critical element for winning the CSO job at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, where he now reports directly to CIO Bill Morgan.

Bernie Donnelly, vice-president of quality assurance and control at the exchange, said the CSO position was created because the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates all the U.S. exchanges and banks, recommended that security should be a “dedicated position, not a shared position,” as it had been for the exchange in the past.

Donnelly said the SEC’s view on the need for exchanges to have a CSO has been shaped by the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, which closed New York’s stock exchanges for a week.

“Since 9/11, everyone’s become more security conscious,” Donnelly says. In his new job, Pomerantz is the point man on security matters, meeting with SEC regulators for regularly scheduled reviews of the exchange’s operations and during any crisis.

Pump up the base

Getting job skills certifications that are in demand, such as the CISSP, clearly pays off in benefits and better job security, according to Foote Partners, which analyzes IT employment and compensation trends.

“That certification is actually worth money,” says David Foote, president and chief research officer. In a study the firm released this month based on interviews of 38,000 IT professionals in 1,820 North American and European employers, the value of some skills certifications can add almost 25 per cent to an individual’s base salary.

“Many IT and business-line managers interviewed in our most recent research support the notion (that) certification is a more meaningful measure for comparing IT workers than untested or self-reported skills competency,” Foote says. “They report higher comfort levels — and success — in arguing for training expenditures when they can guarantee certifications in return.” He says some managers are convinced that certification demonstrates greater commitment to job and career.

The hottest areas in skills certification now are the Project Management Professional certification from Project Management Institute, the Citrix Certified Enterprise Administrator credential for managing Citrix Servers and the Linux Professional Institute’s certifications.

Certain Microsoft Corp. credentials, such as Microsoft Certified Trainer and Microsoft Certified Solution Developer, are still hot, but others, such as Microsoft’s Certified Professional, are not.

According to the study, the Cisco Certified Network Professional and Master Certified Novell Engineer might warrant a 10 percent premium bonus over base pay. But Siebel Certified Consultant, Cisco Certified Network Associate and Sun Certified Developer/Java seem to have lost the luster they once had in terms of inspiring bonuses from bosses.

Security is key

Security is an area where credentials are of tremendous value, Foote says.

The most appreciated among employers are the Certified Information Systems Auditor certification from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA); the CISSP from ISC2, which was a boon for Pomerantz at the Philadelphia Exchange; and the SANS Institute’s Global Information Assurance Certifications, particularly for Windows and Unix.

ISACA has a new certification, called the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), which is likely to compete with the ISC2’s CISSP certification, Foote says. The CISM is weighted toward business issues and managing risk.

Foote says he expects to see as much as 45 per cent of IT workers as permanent employees at Fortune 1000 companies by 2006, those jobs spun out into a mix of contractors, consultants, temporary workers and outsourcing. The rising cost of healthcare benefits is a factor in employers’ decisions, as is the lure of less-expensive labour offshore.

IT employees less likely to be outsourced are the business analyst, the data modeling specialists, technology and project managers and “the security people, ” Foote says. He says demand for security professionals is strong, and IT workers should consider careers in this field.

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