Skilled IT pay defined by volatility, security, and AI – CIO

Last quarter was one of the most volatile for cash pay premiums for IT skills and certifications in the last three years, according to Foote Partners.

Almost one-third of the 682 non-certified IT skills and 614 IT certifications they track changed in value — and for certifications, those changes, more often than not, were downward.

This volatility can make it hard for IT workers to decide where to focus their career development efforts, but there are at least some areas of stability in the market: despite all other changes in pay premiums, workers with AI skills and security certifications continued to reap rich rewards.

The most valuable AI-related skills last quarter were AIops, MLops, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, prescriptive analytics, deep learning, Google TensorFlow and the related Keras API, machine learning, neural networks, the PyTorch machine learning framework,, Azure ML, DataRobot, and — a new entrant to the list — generative AI.

AI skills more valuable than certifications

There were a couple of stand-outs among those. Prescriptive analytics, or recommending solutions based on data analysis, attracts an average pay premium of 18% of base salary — and its value has risen 29% over the last six months; skill in the broader category of AI attracts a similar premium, but has only risen in value by 6% over the last six months; the value of other AI-related skills, while still high, is growing more slowly still. Premiums for skill in DataRobot tied with those for generative AI skills, but DataRobot is on its way down, while generative AI, predictably, is on the rise.

No obviously AI-related IT certifications made it onto Foote Partners’ list of highest payers, although the two-year-old IBM Certified Specialist — AI Enterprise Workflow V1 may make it to the top one day. The premium it attracts rose by more than 10%, making it the fastest-rising AI-related certification.

One thing that stands out in Foote Partners’ statistics, quarter after quarter, is that pay premiums for certifications — attestations that someone knew something that was then current at a particular moment in the past — fare worse than those for noncertified skills, demonstrations of competencies that can evolve and be updated to whatever needs doing this week. Where the average value of IT certifications has fallen more than 1% over the last two years, the value of noncertified skills has risen by a similar amount. The median pay premium for noncertified tech skills tracked by Foote Partners is now just over 9.5% of base salary, while that for IT certifications is 6.5%.

Security certifications rank higher

Security is an area where certifications have the highest value. Around two-thirds of the top 25 premiums were for security-related certifications, with GIAC Security Leadership (GSLC); GIAC Strategic Planning, Policy, and Leadership (GSTRT); Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK); Offensive Security Exploitation Expert (OSEE); and Offensive Security Defense Analyst (OSDA) attracting the biggest bonuses.

Other high-paying security certifications include AWS Certified Security – Specialty; CyberSecurity Forensic Analyst (CSFA); GIAC Web Application Penetration Tester (GWAPT); Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE); CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP); GIAC Certified Forensics Examiner (GCFE); GIAC Exploit Researcher and Advanced Penetration Tester (GXPN); GIAC Security Operations Manager (GSOM); and Offensive Security Web Expert (OSWE).

The average pay premium for GSLC rose 17% over the last six months to 14% of base salary, while that for OSEE rose 18%, to 13% of base pay.

However, pay premiums for the following certifications, while still high, are in decline: Certified Information Security Manager (CISM); Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP); Infosys Security Engineering Professional (ISSEP/CISSP); Offensive Security Web Assessor (OSWA); EC-Council Certified Encryption Specialist v2 (ECES); GIAC Penetration tester (GPEN); and Infosys Security Management Professional (ISSMP/CISSP).

There’s also strong demand for non-certified security skills, with DevSecOps, security architecture and models, security testing, and threat detection/modelling/management attracting the highest pay premiums.

Other in-demand skills and certifications

Pay premiums are also high for a cluster of skills surrounding blockchains, with knowledge of Ethereum, smart contracts, and blockchain more generally all attracting bonuses of almost 20% of base salary.

Some certifications in project management, governance, and architecture also attract big bonuses, with CGEIT (Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT) pulling in a 14% pay premium, up 27% over the last six months, and TOGAF 9 Certified (The Open Group’s Enterprise Architecture Framework certification) attracting a 12%premium, up 9%.

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA); PMI Program, Portfolio, and Risk Management Professionals (PgMP, PfMP and PMI-RMP); Six Sigma Black Belt and Master Black Belt; Certified in Governance, Risk, and Compliance (ISC2); and Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) also drew large premiums.

In addition, certifications in CompTIA Cloud Essentials, Cloud+ and Project+; Prince2 Foundation and Practitioner; and ITIL Intermediate all gained in value by more than 10% over the last six months.

A volatile market

Over 28% of skills and certifications changed in market value from April 1 through July 1 (the period covered by Foote Partners’ Q3 report), a far greater number than the 19% quarterly average over the last 24 months. While 159 rose in value, 205 declined, compared to 124 rising and 159 declining in the previous quarter.

Volatility was greater among non-certified skills (with 32% changing in value during the quarter) than among certifications (where 24% changed in value). But twice as many certifications declined in value as gained, while in non-certified skills, the numbers of winners and losers were the same.

Behind this volatility, Foote Partners’ analysts see tech leaders looking for greater agility as they seek to meet rapidly changing business needs.

The most volatile market segments for non-certified skills were data and databases (with 56% of skills changing in value); operating systems (53%); and application development tools and platforms (39%). The pattern was similar for certifications, with most volatile being data and databases (38% of skills changing in value) and application development and programming languages (35%).


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