IT career: What's hot (cloud computing) and what's not (tech certs)

For 2010, which IT areas of concentration and which technical certifications look the most promising?

The outlook on IT jobs for 2010 is dire or slightly positive, depending on which advisory group you listen to.

The Hackett Group is advising companies to not hire back U.S. and European IT workers who have been laid off; instead they recommend filling any needs overseas. (The IT positions they are referring to are those that such as support and systems administration.)

On the good news side, a Goldman Sachs study predicts a 4 percent rise in IT spending in larger companies, which indicates some positive momentum. Surveys by IDC and Gartner also predict slight upticks in IT spending in 2010.

So the question is where is the spending going to concentrate in terms of hiring? Experts at tech placement firms are saying the demand for cloud-oriented tech experts is way up. And they are projecting a strong demand for network administrators, security managers, and systems engineers. Other promising areas are:

  • Software architects
  • Java and .NET/C++ developers
  • Quality assurance pros
  • Agile-capable developers
  • SAP consultants

And as I've mentioned many times, companies are going to be looking for people who are good (not just technical) thinkers, those who understand how IT can be integrated into business.

The outlook on certifications

The vast majority of tech certification categories show a decline in value (Web development certifications, in particular, plummeted last year), with the exception of two types:

Security certs which usually are required for work in banking, financial services, and other regulated industries. Specific security skills in demand include security auditing, e-discovery, vulnerability assessment, Cisco-CCNP,  and Cisco Certified VoIP Professional certifications, given VoIP's growing adoption in the midmarket.

The certifications that show the biggest gains in value are those that involve project and process management, such as certs from credentialed IT-business programs (e.g., IT for financial services, IT for heath care, etc.). Certifications that command some of the highest pay have ties to revenue, like the ITIL v3 Master and PMI certifications.

The top five certifications in terms of pay growth, according to Foote Partners, are:

  • IT Certified Architect (ITCA/OPenGroup)
  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
  • InfoSys Security Architecture Professional (ISSAP/CISSP)
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator: Messaging (MCSA)
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)

In the big picture, certs still make a difference in a tough hiring market. If a job comes down to two candidates, only one of whom has the cert, the candidate with the cert will usually get the job. Research shows, however, with the current  economy, companies are less likely to underwrite certification pursuits for their existing IT employees.

By Toni Bowers

Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.