Specialty certifications carry clout in 2003

Some of the top certification experts fill us in on which certs you'll be able to convert into cash during the coming year -- and which may not be worth your time. It seems the deeper down you drill, the more money you're likely to command.

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Highly specialized certifications could cinch the deal for IT job applicants in 2003, as hiring managers search for ways to whittle down their lists of experienced candidates, according to several industry experts.

While it's true that pay raises and bonuses based on certifications have dropped as the economy has soured, demand for some coveted certifications has been rising, and the value of those certifications is predicted to increase in 2003.

"People are scanning resumes for certifications and tossing aside ones that don't have any," said David Foote, president of Foote Partners, a New Canaan, Conn., research firm that specializes in tracking certification. "[Employers] have to start somewhere."

Security topped the list of certifications that increased in value in 2002, according to several surveys. By most accounts, the prestigious Certified Information Security Systems Professional (CISSP) should retain its celebrity status in the coming year.

Senior protocol certifications in specialty areas such as SAP R/3 ERP are predicted by several industry experts to carry clout in 2003. Also, language-specific certifications such as Sun's Java Programming Certification appear to be gaining marketplace momentum.

"It looks like, in general, certifications are holding their value," Foote said. "If you look at what's holding those numbers up, it's security, project management and some network operating certifications."

In 2003, Foote expects the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) credential to become all the rage. The first CISM test will be available in June 2003 and will address the demand for security professionals who can manage systems and people. "The management of a security function is undergoing a huge overhaul right now," he said. "People need to be technical but [also] closely connected to the business, the business strategy and the customer."

Hot certifications

While Foote's 2002 research showed that many certifications plummeted in value last year, several continue to rise. The CISSP topped the list of hot certifications, with three GIAC security certifications, including the GIAC Certified Incident Handler, showing up right behind it. A Linux certification also rose in value this year, as did the Novell Certified Engineer certification.

The Oracle Certified Professional, Database Administrator (OCP DBA) is among those certifications that maintained its popularity in 2002 amid newer, niche certifications. The OCP DBA ranked second in the annual top 10 list of popular certifications published by CertCities.com, an Irvine, Calif.-based online publication that tracks certification.

"I realize that there are old-time DBAs out there, Oracle professionals, who don't really look upon the Oracle certification as a way of proving greatness," said Ed Haskins, founder of Lakewood, N.J.-based OraKnowledge. Yet Haskins said that, after being laid off, many realize the certification "could actually save them."

The popular Microsoft Certified Systems Manager (MCSA), ranked No. 1 in the CertCities.com survey, which was based on reader feedback. The certification, though, has been so popular that it cannot typically help candidates outshine their competitors, said Ed Tittel, president of LANWrights Inc., an Austin, Texas-based wholly owned subsidiary of iLearning.com. LANWrights is dedicated to network-oriented writing, training and consulting.

"If it's a common denominator, it won't differentiate," Tittel said. "The highly technical, senior certifications are the ones making a difference in today's market."

In a survey published in ITContractor, Tittel named five heavyweight certifications that are having the greatest impact on IT salaries: Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE), SAP/R3 Consultant, Compaq Master ASE, Senior Security Professional (3 Programs) and Senior Protocol Analyst (3 Programs).

"We're talking about certifications, and skills, that would impact six-figure salaries," Tittel said. Foote's 2002 research also reflected this trend, showing that beginner certifications have lost at least 25% of their value this year.

When it came to naming entry-level certifications that will rise in popularity and potential impact on salaries in 2003, Tittel predicted that Security+ would speed ahead of the pack because it has an increasing number of devotees.

Tittel said he also believes Web certifications will become more valuable in 2003.

A WebSphere certification helped Toronto-based IBM DBA Kevin Mok get back to work when he was laid off earlier this year.

"I had nothing better to do," said Mok. "It turned out to be pretty good because the company I work at right now uses DB2 and WebSphere." Mok said a WebSphere certification "made sense" because of its close database ties.

Mok summed up his opinion of certifications this way: "Certifications mean nothing, really, in terms of being good at your job. But they can help you get a job. And then they mean everything."

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