Highest Paying IT Certifications

ITCareerFinder examines salary data and hiring trends to determine the top paying IT certifications and why they demand a premium.

This article will be updated annually with the latest credentials and wages. Current year: 2021.

Top Paying IT Certifications

Do IT certifications really pay off? It depends.

According to the IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index published by renowned analyst firm Foote Partners LLC, tech certifications continued their three-year plunge in value during the third quarter of 2021 and are now at their lowest point since early 2013.

However, there are still some IT certificates that employers are willing to pay extra for.

To ensure that you invest in the training and certifications that offer the highest potential return, here are 12 of the highest paying IT certifications for 2021.

  • SANS/GIAC Security Expert (GSE)

    The GSE certification is the most prestigious and valuable credential, topping Foote Partners’ recent list of highest-paying certs. However, it’s also among the most difficult to earn.

    With companies everywhere looking for solutions to burgeoning cyber security issues, GSE's rigorous, hands-on exam, lab exam and experience requirements – covering general security skills, incident handling, intrusion detection and analysis – sets it apart and makes it particularly valuable for individual contributors said David Foote, Foote Partners’ chief analyst & CRO.

    In fact, employers are willing to pay high salaries and median cash bonuses or premiums equivalent to 13% of base salary to tech workers and leaders who get GSE certified.

    For example, according to Foote Partners’ 2021 IT Professional Salary Survey, the average total cash compensation (including premiums) for certified cyber security specialists is $108,703, while certified senior-level specialists earn $133,161. Meanwhile, PayScale reports that the average salary for GSE-certified information security analysts is $100,000 and $189,000 for penetration testers.

    Before you start spending that extra cash, note that the pre-requisite baseline for the GSE is: GSEC, GCIH, GCIA with two Gold certifications.

  • GIAC Exploit Researcher and Advanced Penetration Tester (GXPN)

    Clearly, the demand for penetration testing skills and certifications will remain constant going forward, driven by regulation, compliance and ongoing business risk Foote said. That’s why employers are willing to pay median cash bonuses or premiums equivalent to 12% of base salary to professionals who attain the GXPN certification. Moreover, PayScale puts the average salary for GXPN certified IT pros at $107,000.

    The GXPN certifies that network and systems penetration testers, incident handlers, application developers and IDS engineers have the knowledge, skills, and ability to conduct advanced penetration tests, model the behavior of attackers and improve security in the popular Windows and Linux environments.

    Applicants need to pass a 3-hour proctored exam to earn the highly valuable GXPN.

  • GIAC Security Leadership (GSLC)

    For current information security managers, security professionals with leadership responsibilities or IT pros looking to move into management, earning the GSLC certification can boost your career and help you score a median cash bonus equivalent to 12% of base salary. The 3-hour proctored exam covers management issues related to the overall security lifecycle including governance and technical controls, incident response, staff, projects, application security and more.

    Currently, managers of information security with the GSLC earn average total compensation of $147,080, while lead IT security specialists earn $152,143 and directors of information security earn $200,006 according to the 2021 IT Professional Salary Survey. PayScale puts the average salary at $113,000 with senior leaders earning close to $200,000.

    Best of all, applicants can qualify through a combination of practical work experience, training, college courses or self-paced study.

  • InfoSys Security Architecture Professional (ISSAP/CISSP)

    “With millions of people working from home and connecting to an organization’s internal network remotely, the role of security architect is more important than ever,” Foote said.

    Companies are having to “rearchitect everything” to increase security and reduce the risk of cyber-attacks and data breaches he expanded.

    It’s no wonder that the CISSP with the architecture extension has increased in value. According to Foote, security architects can command premium pay equal to 12% of base salary and total cash compensation of $130,770, leaving little doubt that the ISSAP certification is a worthwhile investment for professionals who want to build on their expertise in information security architecture.

  • InfoSys Security Engineering Professional (ISSEP/CISSP)

    If you have two or more years’ experience in engineering and already hold the CISSP, obtaining your ISSEP certification can lead to greater opportunities and higher wages. This in-demand cert has increased in value by 33% over the last six months and commands average pay premiums of 12% on top of average annual base salaries of $151,000 according to PayScale.

    To sit for the ISSEP examination, you must be a CISSP in good standing and have two years cumulative, paid work experience in one or more of the five domains of the CISSP-ISSEP CBK.

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

    Most IT pros start their journey to ISSEP or ISSAP concentration by earning a valuable core security credential and prerequisite, the CISSP certification. This baseline, vendor-neutral cert – which covers 8 domains and general concepts of information security – can benefit the careers of everyone in IT.

    To illustrate, PayScale lists some 350 job tiles under the CISSP with an average salary of $117,000. If you want to specialize in cyber security, The New York Times reports that there will be 3.5 million unfilled jobs globally by 2021, up from one million positions in 2014.

    Suffice it to say, showing employers that you not only understand security concepts, principles and tools but also the most pertinent issues around cyber security, will greatly increase your power at the salary negotiation table.

  • Six Sigma Master Black Belt

    Having a Six Sigma Master Black Belt certification signals to employers that you have the skills and knowledge to manage projects successfully, a passion for quality and process improvement, and the ability to lead and coach team members. In fact, because of its focus on improving profitability, many companies are actively recruiting Six Sigma Black Belts and market demand is higher than ever.

    Speaking of profitability, the market value increase for Six Sigma Master Black Belt certification was 9.1% in the six months through July 1, 2021 and the average total compensation was listed at $169,170 in Foote Partners’ 2021 IT Professional Salary Survey.

    Applicants are required to pass an exam, have a minimum 4 years’ experience executing Six Sigma Projects in a Black Belt Capacity (or equivalent), and submit a project for review on a pass/fail basis.

  • The Zachman Certified Enterprise Architect

    In the past, enterprise architects found it hard to prove their worth to the organization and sustain job security, so the Zachman Framework was born. In a nutshell, the popular framework helps resolve those issues by providing a matrix or formal way to manage a company’s enterprise architecture and assets.

    With businesses grappling with rapid transformation and accelerated AI, enterprise architecture is making a comeback and some companies are even making the Zachman certification a requirement Foote said. A distinctive element of this program is reality-based learning or the process of integrating theory with work and life experience. Even better, the average premium for certificate holders is 12% on top of base salaries averaging $135,003.

  • Certified Scrum Master

    Why is scrum the most popular Agile framework for iterative software development? Because it’s easy to implement and it works. While product owners, project managers, developers and also trainers and coaches can benefit from certification, the World Economic Forum ranked scrum master 6th in their list of product development jobs of tomorrow. And employment data firm Burning Glass predicts a 37.9-percent increase in demand for scrum masters over the next ten years.

    What’s more, according to Foote Partners’ data, certified scrum master certification holders can command 11% in median pay premiums or bonuses above base salaries averaging $96,785.

  • PMI Program Management Professional (PgMP)

    How does an experienced and successful project manager take their career to the next level? By becoming a program manager. However, even though program management is a well-paid next step, becoming proficient at managing multiple related projects is not easy.

    Earning PMI's Program Management Professional certification can help you move forward with confidence, demonstrate your competency to prospective employers and earn median pay premiums of 11% above base salaries that range up to $126,000. Plus, both high school and college grads can qualify by meeting the hands-on experience requirements and passing two evaluations.

  • CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+)

    Data shows that earning CompTIA's intermediate-level CySA+ certification may help you earn more money and elevate your career no matter which role, area of specialization or industry you pursue. For example, InfoSec puts the national median salary for someone with CySA+ certification at $74,952 per year, but as high as $152,806 depending on your location and role.

    Plus, the hands-on, performance-based and multiple-choice assessment is also approved by US Department of Defense to fulfill Directive 8570.01-M requirements.

    After validating that you have the skills, techniques and knowledge to prevent, detect and combat cyber security threats inside and outside of organization, employers will reward you with bonuses or premium pay ranging from 8% to 13% of base salary according to Foote Partners.

  • Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)

    With Gartner forecasting that worldwide spending on public cloud services will grow 23.1% in 2021 to total $332.3 billion in the wake of the pandemic, earning the CCSP certification is a great way to show that you know how to secure critical assets in the cloud and earn median annual pay premiums of 11%, regardless of your level or position.

    Although PayScale puts the average salary for CCSP certified pros at $118,000, the sky’s the limit. IT managers can earn base salaries of $185,000, while CTOs can earn $250,000.

    While the CCSP isn’t for newcomers, showing commitment to ongoing development can demonstrate your leadership potential to employers and lead to new and exciting career opportunities.

Final Thoughts

Although almost any certification can enhance your resume and raise your market value, it’s clear that companies are most concerned about advanced persistent threats and protecting valuable data and information. Until supply catches up with demand, earning any one of these cyber security certifications can give you a competitive advantage and the best opportunity to earn high salaries, bonuses and potentially move into management.

Methodology

Our list of the top-paying IT certifications is based on customized data contained in the latest Foote Partners’ IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index and the firm’s 2Q 2021 IT Professional Salary Survey. The reports are based on compensation data provided by 3,805 private and public-sector employers in 83 American and Canadian cities who report pay for their 345,313 technology professionals in the US and Canada.

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