Pandemic-driven high paying tech skills and certifications that still have room to grow

The current volatile tech labor marketplace is harboring surprises in which IT skills employers are willing to pay extra cash for.


So far in 2021, tech has continued to ‘lead us to the light’ with many technologies like digital development, automation, AI, cloud computing and others on accelerated development schedules compared to last year. But it’s hard to top what happened to e-commerce during the pandemic: a recent McKinsey Global Institute report found that the share of e-commerce in total retail sales across eight countries studied increased between 200 to 500% in 2020 compared to the annual average over the previous five years.

This has of course sent ripples through the tech labor market. My last column identified seventeen non-certified IT skills that our Q1 2021 research indicated will continue to grow in market value despite already earning lucky tech workers well above-average cash pay premiums (typically paid in outside of base salary). Our firm has been measuring and tracking skills pay since 2000 in the IT Skills and Certifications Pay IndexTM (ITSCPI), currently reporting pay for 546 certified and 621 non-certified tech skills and updated every three months with data collected from our research partnerships with 3,805 U.S. and Canadian private and public sector employers.  

Not unexpectantly, nine of the seventeen non-certified skills continued to increase in value in the second quarter of 2021: Apache Pig; Blockchain; Data Architecture; Ethereum; Identity and access management; DevSecOps; E-Discovery; Risk analytics/assessment; and Smart Contracts.  Added to this list between April and July are the following skills, all of which are earning cash premiums equivalent to between 16 and 18% of base salary and grew in value between 5.9% and 21.4% in the first half of the year:

-        Amazon Dynamo DB

-        Apache Cassandra

-        Apache Hive

-        Apache Spark

-        Artificial Intelligence

-        Big Data Analytics

-        Cloud Foundry PaaS

-        Data Engineering

-        Data Integration

-        Data Strategy

-        Deep Learning

-        Site Reliability Engineering

-        Metadata design and  development

-        Microservices

-        Oracle Exadata

-        Splunk

IT certifications bucking a downward trend

Pay premiums for non-certified IT skills have been more or less steadily growing as a group for eleven years. Not so with certified tech skills: the 546 IT certifications tracked in our research have declined in market value on average every calendar quarter since 3rd quarter 2018 resulting in a more than 13% average loss in cash market value in this period. But some individual certifications are outperforming all others, counter-trending this downward drift.

The following IT certifications meet two prerequisites:

  • They recorded substantial gains in cash market value in the six months ending July 1, 2021.
  • They earned workers cash pay premiums well above the average of all certifications reported in our IT Skills and Certifications Pay IndexTM

No IT certification that follows is earning less than the equivalent of 9% of base salary—significant considering the average for all skills reported is 6.6% of base—and every certification listed grew in market value by 11% or more in cash market value in the twelve months ending July 1, 2021. They are listed in descending ranked order of market value gain (including ties).

  1. SAS Certified Data Scientist Using SAS 9

Market Value Increase: 35% (in the six months through July 1, 2021)      

Average Pay Premium: 10% of base salary equivalent

The SAS Certified Data Scientist certification covers programming skills, managing and improving data, transforming, accessing and manipulating data and how to work with popular data visualisation tools. It is designed for individuals who can gain insights from big data with a variety of SAS and open-source tools, make business recommendations with complex machine learning models, and then deploy models at scale using the SAS environment. Once a candidate earns both the SAS Certified Big Data Professional and SAS Certified Advanced Analytics Professional certifications, they can qualify to earn the SAS Certified Data Scientist designation. Candidates need to complete 18 courses and pass five exams between the two separate certifications. They can substitute either the SAS Certified Data Curation Professional or the SAS Certified Professional AI and Machine Learning credentials for the two prerequisite certifications mentioned above.  

  1. Information System Security Engineering Professional (ISSEP/CISSP)

Market Value Increase: 33% (in the six months through July 1, 2021)      

Average Pay Premium: 12% of base salary equivalent

Information system security engineering professional (ISSEP) is a vendor-neutral certification program that certifies an individual’s ability in designing, creating and implementing security within applications, services and information systems. It’s offered by Information Security Consortium (ISC2) as part of their Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP).

The ISSEP is primarily a concentration certification of CISSP designed for those individuals working on enhancing their skills in security engineering. An ISSEP certification is ideally suited for security engineers, security analysts, information assurance analysts and security application developers. To qualify for the ISSEP certification exam, the candidate must have passed and be a certified CISSP and pass the ISSEP exam that validates candidate’s skills in:

  • The understanding of relationship between systems and security engineering
  • Identifying information protection needs
  • Define security requirements, design security architecture and develop a security design
  • Implementation of system security
  1. [Tie] GIAC Web Application Penetration Tester (GWAPT)

Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect

Okta Certified Professional 

Oracle Certified Professional - DBA (OCP)    

Market Value Increase: 28.6% (in the six months through July 1, 2021)      

Average Pay Premium: 9% of base salary equivalent

The GIAC Web Application Penetration Tester (GWAPT) certification validates a practitioner's ability to better secure organisations through penetration testing and a thorough understanding of web application security issues. It is intended for security practitioners, penetration testers, ethical hackers, web application developers, website designers and architects. GWAPT certification holders have demonstrated knowledge of web application exploits and penetration testing methodology including:

  • Web application overview, authentication attacks, and configuration testing
  • Web application session management, SQL injection attacks, and testing tools
  • Cross site request forgery and scripting, client injection attack, reconnaissance and mapping

The Google Professional Cloud Architect (PCA) enables organisations to make effective and efficient use of Google Cloud technologies. PCAs must develop a thorough understanding of cloud architecture in general, and the Google Cloud Platform in particular. Those who hold this credential can design, develop and manage dynamic Google Cloud Platform solutions to meet business objectives that are robust, secure, scalable and highly available. The PCA represents a more senior credential that's most likely to appeal to mid- to late-career professionals interested in filling a cloud architect role in an organisation of some size.

To qualify for the PCA, the required exams seek to assess these specific abilities regarding Google Cloud Platform solutions:

  • Design and plan a cloud solution architecture
  • Manage and provision a cloud solution architecture
  • Build cloud solutions that are secure and compliant
  • Perform technical and business analyses to optimise processes, procedures and policies
  • Manage cloud architecture implementations
  • Ensure that cloud solutions and operations are reliable and remain available

Okta Certified Professionals possess knowledge about secure identity management and mobility concepts. They have hands-on experience completing day-to-day operational tasks to support users of the Okta service. Professionals have familiarity with Okta technology and processes related to simple directory integration, single-sign on federation, and application provisioning aspects of User Life Cycle Management.

Oracle Database technology is used by more than 300,000 top companies, including 97% of Global Fortune 500, making it one of the world's leading vendors for managing critical business functions, systems and processes. Well-trained, highly-skilled database professionals who can manage critical systems are in high demand. The Oracle Database certification teaches a candidate how to perform complex, hands-on activities through labs, study and practice; Oracle certification exams validate capabilities using real-world, scenario-based questions that assess and challenge the ability to think and perform.

With the 12c release, Oracle Certified Professional – DBA has been re-engineered for cloud computing. This includes a multitenant architecture, enterprise hardware and software efficiencies, performance and manageability benefits, and fast and efficient cloud provisioning. Building upon the competencies in the Oracle Database 12c OCA certification, the Oracle Certified Professional for Oracle Database 12c includes the advanced knowledge and skills required of top-performing database administrators, including development and deployment of backup, recovery and Cloud computing strategies.

  1. Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect Expert

Market Value Increase: 25% (in the six months through July 1, 2021)      

Average Pay Premium: 10% of base salary equivalent

Candidates for the Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect Expert certification should have subject matter expertise in designing and implementing solutions that run on Microsoft Azure, including aspects like compute, network, storage, and security. An Azure Solution Architect partners with cloud administrators, cloud DBAs, and clients to implement solutions. Their responsibilities include advising stakeholders and translating business requirements into secure, scalable, and reliable cloud solutions. A candidate for this certification should have advanced experience and knowledge of IT operations, including networking, virtualisation, identity, security, business continuity, disaster recovery, data platform, budgeting, and governance–this role should manage how decisions in each area affect an overall solution. In addition, this role should have expert-level skills in Azure administration and have experience with Azure development and DevOps processes.

  1. [Tie] Oracle Certified Master - DBA (OCM)

Pegasystems Certified Robotics System Architect 

Pegasystems Certified Senior Systems Architect

PMI Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

Teradata 14 Certified Database Administrator

Teradata 14 Certified Enterprise Architect

Market Value Increase: 12.5% (in the six months through July 1, 2021)      

Average Pay Premium: 9% of base salary equivalent

Oracle’s popularity in database technology is described earlier in the Oracle Certified Professional certification description. The Oracle Certified Master – DBA is the most advanced DBA certification from Oracle and requires that the candidate holds the OCP and passes two advanced training courses that are different than the courses used to achieve the OCP.  Candidates are test on their ability to perform database administration tasks in a live database environment. Skill sets are timed and require a high degree of Oracle database knowledge to successfully complete them. Further, it is highly recommended that candidates have a minimum of 3 to 5 years of experience as an Oracle Database Administrator. 

Pegasystems develops software for customer relationship management (CRM), digital process automation, and business process management (BPM) The Pegasystems Professional Certification Program attests that individuals have the appropriate skills and body of knowledge to be a primary contributor for a successful Pega implementation and roll-out.

Becoming a Pegasystems Certified Senior System Architect (PCSSA) is for Pega Certified System Architects who wish to increase their Pega skills. This certification validates your ability to use Pega to design and build for reusability across multiple lines of business. Candidates must be a Pega Certified System Architect as a prerequisite to earn this certification.

The Pegasystems Certified Robotics System Architect (PCRSA) career path is for system architects and software developers who are looking to enhance their skills in robotic automation and workforce intelligence. They have the basic functionality, process flow, terminology, and core building blocks of Pega Robot Studio and know how to integrate robotic automations with Windows and web applications and how to use debugging tools to test solutions.

The highly regarded Project Management Institute (PMI) is perhaps best known for its Project Management Professional (PMP) credential. The PMI Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) is the first level of the PMI project management certification program, intended for junior-level project managers who contribute to a project team as a subject matter expert. CAPMs assume full or partial responsibility for individual project tasks in their areas of expertise.

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