YATTCL (Yet Another Top Ten Certifications List)

Top 10 Lists assert that you can strike it rich with the right certification.

Last week, TechWorm released an item titled Top 10 Highest Paying IT Certifications — 2018. Because I've been following this market for two decades and more, it's always fun to take a peek at what various sources consider, and what they recommend, when it comes to this kind of thing.


Interestingly, this analysis doesn't describe the sources for the data that drove their selection process, nor the methods used to determine what's what, pay-wise. The work I do, updated annually, for Business News Daily, has us scraping screens at 4 or 5 job sites, finding job descriptions that mention specific cert credentials, and totting up salary data so we can provide min/max/median and average salary figures for each credential we select.


Also, we use the numbers of total listings that mention a cert to determine the selection process. I don't understand how TechWorm made its selections, or how they obtained their data (and from which sources). Maddeningly, some items say "earn up to $XXX,XXX" while others say "earn up to an average of $YYY,YYY."


Does this  mean the former is a maximum, and the latter a typical or mid-range figure? Who knows? Sigh.


Enough Already: Where's that List? What are those numbers?


As I build this list, I realize it's itemized in (mostly) reverse order, lowest (probably average) salary first, with the peak value in spot number 10, and a bit of meandering around in-between:


1. Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) — "up to $106,375"

2. Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) — "up to an average of $106,938"

3. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) — "on an average of $108,043"

4. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) — "up to $111,475"

5. AWS Certified Developer – Associate — "up to 114,148"

6. Project Management Professional (PMP) — "up to an average of $114,473"

7. Six Sigma Green Belt — "up to $104,099" (I wonder if this should be higher, or if it's just out of place?)

8. AWS Certified Solutions Architect — "up to $121,292 per year and this figures are for on average"

9. Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) — "up to on an average of $111,049"

10. Certified in Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT) — "on an average of $121,363" per year


Quibble, Quibble, Toil and Trouble


In general, this list doesn't seem hugely flawed to me. But I don't agree with all of its choices, either. In fact, I just visited some of my favorite job listing sites (Indeed, Simply Hired, LinkedIn, and Linkup) to search on Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr), Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), ITIL Expert, TOGAF, and SAP Architect.


That is by no means the limit for other high-level, high-paying IT certifications I can think of off the top of my head. Regarding those six certs, however, I had no trouble finding dozens to hundreds of listings with salaries in the $150,000 to $170,000 range.


I suspect a more systematic survey of those same credentials with proper data collection and statistical analysis would produce average and maximum salaries in excess of the $121,363 that tops TechWorm's Top 10 Highest Paying list. And that's without trying really hard, or going through my exhaustive, industry-wide list of 700+ IT certifications to see what else I've missed.


Ultimately, the issue with stories like these is understanding where they got the data they used to pick a Top 10, how big the sample was, and how the maximum or average numbers were calculated. In fact, I'm jaded enough that the first thing I look for is a methodology explainer that answers those questions before I can begin to take such ratings with anything other than an unhealthy serving of sodium chloride.


Before you get too excited about stuff that shows up in such lists, you should probably see if you can figure out where and how they got the data that determines their contents. My estimation of credibility goes way, way up as the provider supplies more details about where the data came from, how it was collected and compiled, and the margins of error involved.


That's why I vastly prefer annual member population surveys like the Global Knowledge 2018 IT Skills and Salary Report to reports like this one.


Caveat Emptor, Baby! It's up to you to decide what sources of data you're willing to accept, and act upon. Choose them wisely. If you do, then your expectation of earning for yourself what the reports claim goes up enormously. That could be worth a lot, couldn't it?


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.