If there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that you’ve got a few more hours in the day without your usual commute. Beer and TV is one way to spend it, but another way that’s more rewarding long-term is to spend at least a few hours a week improving your IT skill set. Remote learning and a wide range of available IT courses can offer remote workers many opportunities to upgrade their skill sets, gain new areas of specialization, and transition to new careers. Making sure you’re qualified for the most in-demand and highest paying IT jobs means completing the right certifications, and there’s no better time than now.

Eighty percent of IT professionals say that certifications are useful in moving their careers forward, and we’re seeing a number of new and hot specializations, ranging from architect-level tracks, like information systems management, project management, and cloud computing, to more hands-on specializations, such as networking and cybersecurity. Demand for IT professionals has only increased during the pandemic.

Where the Money Is

We looked at data provided by professional development solutions and course provider Global Knowledge to determine the highest-paying IT certifications in the world right now. The data is based on what Global Knowledge’s customers are studying as well as the jobs they find after they graduate. We’ve broken down the top choices based on a description of the specialization as well as a corresponding pay range. Cloud and project management certifications currently dominate the top five spots. Some interesting factoids from Global Knowledge are the 81 per cent of North American IT departments are affected by skill gaps and are actively looking for talent. Global Knowledge also noted that IT professionals earned $5,000 more in 2019 compared to 2018.

Note that these figures change from year to year, so we update this feature whenever Global Knowledge releases new data. Be sure to return to this list to check out which certification tops the rankings the next time you’re thinking of changing career gears. Let’s look at the most in-demand certifications for 2020 and their corresponding salaries.

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Where to Find Online Learning Sources

These days, most IT professionals will be looking for online options not only to access training courses, but also take their certification tests. Here are some alternative choices and what they offer.

Coursera is an online learning platform boasting 3,500+ courses, many of which are affiliated with over 200 colleges and universities. Coursera has a range of accredited and non-accredited IT-focused courses available. Learners can earn college accreditation only if they are receiving a degree. But, they can earn industry credentials for non-degree work. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Coursera is offering free access to students from any university or college impacted by the virus and is offering access to 3,800 courses and 400 specializations.  

LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) is a massive on-the-job learning portal; it has 16,000 courses and many of them are focused on tech and taught by real-world professionals. Certifications are available for IT courses, but they usually cost extra and not all of them are accredited. LinkedIn leverages its professional network to create course recommendations that are tailored to users, and the courses can be accessed by PC or by smartphone.

Udemy is another colossal online learning platform with 130,000 video courses on a wide range of subjects. Udemy is popular because it offers massive discounts on courses and is one of the more affordable options for online learning. That said, Udemy enables uncredited instructors to sell courses for profit, which diminishes its credibility in more academic tracks. While it has many resources for learning programming languages, it’s a tough sell for serious IT pros looking for accredited certifications.

edX is a learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT. It has 20 million users and is offering 2,600 online courses from 140 institutions including tech giants Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM. Some of the areas of concentration at edX include a Professional Certificate in IT Project Management from UWashingtonX and Professional Certificate in Data Science for Executives from ColumbiaX. To help during the coronavirus pandemic, edX  created the edX Online Campus, so that any university across the globe can offer in-demand and on-demand learning for their students, alumni and employees.  

While immediately going for the cheapest training resource listed above might seem fiscally sound, especially these days, it’s worth noting that with many of these services, you really do get what you pay for. Several offer free trial courses or trial periods, and we’ve found it’s definitely worth the effort to explore your online school a bit before committing.

As far as what courses to take, based on the Global Knowledge survey, we’ve listed 2020’s 10 highest-paying IT certifications below.

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10. Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)

Sliding from from the seventh spot last year to 10 in 2020, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is the most widely accepted framework for IT management in the world. It has held this distinction for the past 30 years. Covering a set of best practices for providing IT services with the needs of organizations, it is a wide-ranging discipline covering a laundry list of important specializations such as IT operations, incident management, capacity management, and availability, to name a few. Best practices aim to control or reduce IT costs, improve IT services, and balance IT resources. 

The ITIL Foundation is the starting point for the certification and offers a general understanding of the IT service lifecycle. ITIL Foundation-certified managers earn an average of $129,402 annually.  

9. VCP-DCV: VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization

New for this year. the VCP-DCV: VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization validates the skills needed to build a scalable virtual infrastructure using VMware vSphere 6. Certification candidates will learn how to deploy, consolidate, and administer virtualization technologies, such as vSphere High Availability and Distributed Resource Scheduler clusters.

IT professionals with this credential have earned an average of 7.4 career certifications, the highest amount on the Global Knowledge list. IT pros that have attained this certification will earn an average salary of $130,226 per year.

8. AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

New to the top 10 list this year, the AWS Cloud Practitioner is the starting point for a variety of popular cloud certifications, including AWS Solutions Architect, Developer, DevOps Engineer and SysOps Administrator.

This foundational certification is designed for professionals seeking an overall understanding of AWS cloud services. As a fundamental-level certification, it is often held by individuals early in their careers, as it is a springboard for more specialized AWS certifications down the road. With the uptick in cloud and AWS cloud management demand this year, AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certs will continue to rise.

AWS Cloud Practitioner validates the ability to define basic cloud infrastructure and architectural principles, as well as key services on the AWS platform. A certified professional should also be able to describe basic security and compliance aspects of the platform. Over 12% of U.S. IT professionals plan to pursue this certification in 2020 according to Global Knowledge. They can expect to make an average of $131,465 per year.

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7. Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

One of the oldest and most respected credentials is the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) track. New to list this year, the CISA accreditation validates audit, risk and cybersecurity skills. CISA-certified IT experts are hired to ensure that a businesses’ critical assets are secure and well-maintained. 

To achieve this certification, you must pass the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) exam, which consists of five domains, namely Auditing Information Systems, Governance and Management of IT,  Information Systems Acquisition, Development, and Implementation,  Information Systems Operation, Maintenance, and Service Management, and Protection of Information Assets. Most likely job roles for this certification are IT auditors and the average pay for CISA cert holders is $132,278 per year.

6. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

If you work in analysis, auditing, systems engineering, or anything in between, then the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) might be the perfect certification for you. CISSPs are information assurance pros who are mainly responsible for determining the architecture, management, design, and controls that ensure the security of your company.

Should you pass the test, which requires you to have a minimum of five years of relevant experience, you can look forward to the average pay of $141,452 per year. It’s worth noting that, even after getting the certification, you will still need to receive Continuing Education credits each year to maintain your credentials.

5. Project Management Professional (PMP)

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification was created and administered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is one of the most recognized project management certifications available today. This certification demonstrates that you are competent when it comes to managing projects and project teams. You will be tested in five specific areas: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.

Before you become certified, however, you’ll need to have completed at least 35 hours of related training before you can take the exam. If you have a Bachelor’s degree, then you’ll also need 4,500 hours of project management experience (those without a degree will need 7,500 hours). Getting PMP certification takes years but it’s worth it. PMPs currently earn an average of $143,493 per year.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional

4. Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)

Take the Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) exam and you’ll be tested in four major areas: Identification, Assessment, Response, and Mitigation, as well as Control Monitoring and Reporting. Previously the ninth most in-demand IT cert, CRISC has surfaced near the top as a reflection of the industry’s renewed focus on evaluating IT risk in business. If you have the prerequisite three years of relevant experience, and identifying and managing risks sounds interesting to you, then the CRISC certification might be worth checking out.

If you pass the exam and find a role, pros with the CRISC certification earn an average of $146,480 per year. The test has 150 questions and lasts roughly four hours.

3. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

Leapfrogging from the eight-place position last year to the third spot in 2020 is the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) cert. This becomes the highest-paying discipline whose main focus is on information security management. Your job will be to design and engineer security protocols as well as manage a company’s security. As a CISM, you’ll have access to lines of business outside of IT, putting you face to face with company stakeholders. Registration is via the ISACA website as well as this exam locator.

CISMs are well-paid, too. On average, Global Knowledge says you can make an average of $148,622 per year as a CISM. However, if you choose to go down this route, then you’ll have to take a 200-question test on topics such as information security governance, information risk management, and incident management.

2. AWS Certified Solutions Architect- Associate

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect certification found its way back on the list last year and has propelled itself to the second most in-demand IT certification for 2020. The AWS Certified Solutions Architect exam tests your expertise in designing systems on AWS. If you have hands-on experience with AWS services and are used to architect large-scale distributed systems, then this certification may be exactly what you’re looking for.  To achieve this certification, candidates must pass the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate (SAA-C01) exam. The AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification is a prerequisite. AWS also recommends a year of hands-on experience designing systems on AWS before taking this exam.The exam takes 80 minutes and is administered at PSI centers across the United States. Successful AWS Certified Solutions Architects can make an average of $149,446 per year.  

1. Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect

Debuting in 2017 and making it to the top of the list for the last two years in a row is the Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect, the discipline that allows IT pros to certify as cloud architects on the Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Completing this certification ensures you’ll have the capacity to design, develop, and manage Google’s cloud architecture using GCP technologies.

Earning this certification entails a deep knowledge of what solutions to apply in different scenarios. Cloud skills continue to be in high demand and mastering Google’s tools for secure, scalable, and reliable solutions will be critical to most organizations for the foreseeable future. Google Certified Professional Cloud Architects can expect to earn an average of $175,761 per year.

Have any questions you need answered about the top IT certifications? Join the PCMag@WorkPCMag@Work business community on LinkedIn, and you can ask vendors, other pros like yourself, and PCMag’s editors

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