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Are your IT certifications killing your career?

Bruce Harpham | Oct. 28, 2015
There is no shortage of ways to advance your career, or your earnings potential. Racking up a bunch of certifications is one of them. But be careful it doesn’t have the opposite effect.

Man at computer
Credit: Microsoft

Specialization creates tremendous value in our economy. Adam Smith’s economic theory on the merits of specialization has been proven true over and over again. Yet, can you have too much of a good thing?  That’s an important question for technology professionals and leaders to consider.

Key facts about IT specialization

How rampant is the scope of the IT specialization? Consider these facts:

  • IT specialization by industry. Following the 2007-2009 recession, many IT professionals have changed their focus to healthcare because that sector is adopting technology rapidly to improve care and comply with regulations. A 2015 Modus survey found that healthcare and education are forecasted to have the most significant need for technology talent. The increasing rise of start-ups focused on niche markets and products is another factor encouraging specialization.
  • IT certifications. There are more than 100 certifications available to IT professionals, including such popular one as the Project Management Professional (PMP), Microsoft certifications, ISACA certifications, Cisco certifications and Oracle certifications. Oracle, it should be noted, offers more than 30 certifications related to their products.
  • IT job titles. There are dozens of popular IT job roles in the market. Some titles reflect seniority (e.g. Developer vs Senior Developer, Software Engineer I vs Software Engineer II) while others speak to a technical focus (e.g. Infrastructure Manager and Java Developer).

Specialization means different things to different people. A college graduate might think of specialization in terms of hardware or software engineering. In contrast, a highly experienced developer may specialize in a certain flavor of Linux or the C# programming language.

Surely all this specialization leads to economic value, right? One way to answer that question is to look at data collected by recruiters.

The recruiter’s perspective: specialization boosts salaries … to a point

Recruiters have a unique perspective on technology talent and in-demand skills. After all, they’re interacting with a large number of candidates each year, and are able to determine which skills are valuable. According to Robert Half’s 2016 Salary Guide for Technology Professionals, some of the most valuable skills in demand in the U.S. right now include the following:

  • Microsoft SQL Server database skills: Adds 10 percent to salary.
  • Java development skills: Adds 9 percent to salary.
  • Microsoft Sharepoint skills: Add 9 percent to salary.
  • Cisco network administration skills: Adds 9 percent to salary.
  • Virtualization skills: Adds 8 percent to salary.

Those salary increases will vary by region and vertical industry, of course. But the above trends suggest a clear pattern: Becoming a specialist with a given company’s technology suite (e.g. Cisco and Microsoft) is an excellent way to build your compensation bracket. It’s also worth noting that Cisco and Microsoft are both large, well-established companies that have built loyal customer bases across corporate America. Specializing in software offered by smaller companies offering similar products and services may not add value because employers will not be able to understand or make use of them.


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