11 popular IT certifications and cross-certifications that pay the most

Find out which are in demand worldwide, and which IT cross-certifications are beneficial.

Certifications are critical to keeping tech skills current, but cross-certifying skills carries the ultimate value, according to a recent Global Knowledge study

Cybersecurity certifications are the most popular worldwide: 27% of respondents said they have a cyber certification and another 25% said they plan to pursue one this year. These certifications are often bolstered when cross-certified with other skills, resulting in a nice pay bump, the report found.

SEE: The driving force behind IT salaries in Global Knowledge's report (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

"When you're able to show that you have a validated understanding of the technology you work with, what it does, how it can help a business be more successful, you are going to be a very attractive candidate to either a potential employer or your existing employer," said Zane Schweer, lead researcher for Global Knowledge's IT Skills and Salary report

The report established that more certifications translates into more money and success, as reported in previous TechRepublic coverage, but the report also highlighted the most popular certifications in the IT world. 

Most popular IT certifications

While the following certifications were the most popular according to survey respondents, Schweer said that these certifications aren't necessarily easy to attain for IT professionals starting their careers. 

"Some of these certifications require years of experience," Schweer said. "You can't go get the certification and then expect to get that salary. You have to have that wisdom that you've gained from those years of experience and apply that knowledge to certification exams." 

For those experienced professionals, these certifications appeared to be the most prevalent. 

1. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity was listed as the most popular certification globally. In North America, the top cybersecurity certification was CISS, while CISA dominated all other regions. ISACA's CISM and CRISC were also ranked in the top five in popularity across regions, the report found. 

This report has been conducted formally for 13 years, and cybersecurity remains a top performer in certifications every year, according to Schweer. 

"That's because when you turn on the news, you're hearing about another cyber security attack or the latest hack. And these are detrimental to how a business operates," Schweer said. 

"I mean the payouts, the decrease in brand equity, the bad publicity--whatever you can do to help mitigate that risk and protect, your customers, your employees and everybody that's involved with your organization is paramount," he said. 

With data and personal information becoming more digitized, it also becomes easier to transfer that information, which means people have to take greater measures to protect that content, Schweer noted. 

In today's cybersecurity, "it's not machines attacking machines. It's people attacking people. And since it changes so quickly, because technology is changing so quickly, there's always going to be that demand and drive for continuously earning the latest and greatest cybersecurity certification," Schweer said. 

2. ITIL 

ITIL Foundation is the second most popular IT service management certification in North America. The majority (93%) of ITIL professionals in North America have this certification, along with 95% of ITIL pros in Latin America. 

ITIL has been a tried and true certification for decades, making its appearance on the list unsurprising, Schweer said. 

"It's almost like a rite of passage for IT professionals," Schweer said. "ITIL is a collection of best practices around IT service management and how IT departments serve both their internal customers, stakeholders and their external customers.

"Whether it's through continuous development or just how [a business] operates between departments, both within IT and then outside of IT, it's important to have that [ITIL] understanding," he said. 

3. CompTIA

CompTIA is a popular resource for IT training and certifications. Within CompTIA, Security+, A+, and Network+ were the most popular worldwide, the report found. 

In North America, the majority (62%) have their Security+ certifications, more than any region, which is just more evidence as to how popular cybersecurity certifications are. 

4. Project management

While the appearance of project management on this list may appear strange at first glance, Schweer said that it is not surprising at all. Project management certifications have a significant staying power, remaining on Global Knowledge's list for years, he added. 

"As the room for error continues to get down to zero, with all this money being spent on technology investments or whatever initiative a company's going through, project management is so important because you have to have all the players on the same page," Schweer said.

The top two project management certifications in North America were PMP (57%) and Certified ScrumMaster (29%). In other regions, Prince2 Foundation was more popular, ranking No. 1 in EMEA and No. 2 in Asia-Pacific, the report found. 

5. Red Hat

Red Hat certifications were also popular on the list, particularly in North America. Within that region, Certified System Administrator (33%), LPIC-1 (26%), Certified Engineer (18%) and Linux Essentials (18%) were listed at the top, according to the report.

6. Google Cloud

With cloud computing gaining ground in the enterprise, Google Cloud's presence on the list is expected. The most popular Google Cloud certifications across regions were GCP Cloud Architect, GCP Data Engineer and GCP Associate Engineer, the report found. 

7. Microsoft 

Some 16% of survey respondents held Microsoft certifications, with the retired Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) and Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) as two of the most popular, the report found.

In North America, 20% of Microsoft-certified professionals said they hold MCSE: Server Infrastructure, and 19% said they hold MCSA: WIndows Server 2008, according to the report.  

8. Cisco

Some 16% of all IT professionals professionals have Cisco certifications, according to the report. For Cisco-certified staff, the report cited the most certifications in CCNA Routing and Switching (71%), CCNP Routing and Switching (33%), CCNA Security (18%), CCENT: Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (15%). And CCDA: Cisco Certified Design Associate. 

9. Citrix 

Citrix was particularly popular in North America. The top certifications were Citrix Certified Associate-Virtualization (CCA-V) (53%), Citrix Certified Associate-Networking (CCA-N) (32%), and Citrix Certified Professional-Virtualization (CCP-V) (32%), according to the report. 

10. VMware

VMware certifications were popular across regions. In North America, Asia-Pacific and Latin America, more than 27% of VMware-certified professionals said they held VMware Certified Associate 6 - Data Center Virtualization (VCA6-DCV).

In EMEA, the most common VMware certification was VMware Certified Professional 5 - Data Center Virtualization (VCP5-DCV), the report found.

11. AWS

Among AWS-certified professionals, the most commonly held certifications were AWS Certified Solutions Architect-Associate (72%), AWS Certified Developer-Associate (33%), AWS Certified SysOps Administrator-Associate (24%), and AWS Certified Solutions Architect-Professional (16%), according to  the report. 

In North America, AWS became particularly valuable when cross-certified with other certifications. This strategy gave IT professionals significant salary boosts, the report found.  

SEE: AWS: 9 pro tips and best practices (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Top-paying certifications worldwide

The report also outlined the highest-paying certifications around the world. 

  1. AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional ($120,136) 
  2. GCP Cloud Architect ($118,756)
  3. CISSP ($116,573)
  4. GCP Data Engineer ($114,888)
  5. AWS Certified SysOps Administrator - Associate ($114,800)
  6. TOGAF 9.1 ($111,984)
  7. Project Management Professional ($111,196)
  8. AWS Certified Developer - Associate ($111,178)
  9. AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate ($110,429)
  10. GCP Associate Cloud Engineer ($106,044)

While these salaries are already impressive, employees are be paid even more if they cross-certify their skills, the report found.

Cross-certifications 

Salaries for North American IT professionals increased by more than 2% with each additional certification earned, according to the report. This success was particularly seen with the addition of AWS certifications. 

"What we've seen is if you don't have any AWS certifications and then you add an AWS certification and move into that area with those certifications you already have, you're positioning yourself for a higher salary," Schweer said.

"That's because cloud computing has roared onto the scene in the past decade," Schweer said. "These cloud architects and cloud engineers who are designing and building these companies systems and infrastructures are foundational components of an organization." 

"If you don't have the right people there, then you're on a sandy foundation that could easily wash away," Schweer noted. "That's why we noticed that when you move into cloud —particularly AWS because AWS is the leading provider in the cloud space right now—that those skills are highly sought after." 

The report identified the changes in salary between regular certifications, and those cross certified with AWS.   

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Image: Global Knowledge

Cross-certifying with ISACA certifications can also result in an impressive salary bump, the report found. AWS-certified professionals who are also certified in ISACA said they saw a 24% salary increase, according to the report. 

ISACA professionals who cross-certified in CompTIA (31%), Cisco (23%) and Microsoft (21%) also saw nice salary raises, the report found.  

For more, check out Want to make more money? Get these IT certifications on TechRepublic.

This article was republished on January 30, 2020 with additional information. 

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