It seems there is an IT certification for just about every new technology that comes out today. There are certifications that are vendor specific such as VMware’s certification track, Microsoft certifications, and there is non-vendor specific certifications such as CompTIA’s list of certifications. At times it can be a daunting task trying to decide which certification to spend your time and money on. Many of these certifications require a lot of effort and preparation before taking the test, while others you can pass the exam just by having the requisite experience in the actual field that you are tested on. Some of the more difficult certifications such as Cisco’s CCNA/CCNP/CCIE, require a lot of preparation as well as hands on experience with networking equipment. Many of us don’t have our own home labs or extensive lab environments at work where we can configure a switch, set up a port-channel or configure access control lists (this one killed me on the exam). Without the resources available to gain hands on experience you will either have to take a training course, which can usually be found at your nearest community college; or you can opt to take a week-long “boot camp” style course, which are not recommended for people with minimal Cisco experience, and can be very expensive.

Other certifications, like any of VMware’s offerings, require you to take approved course work from a VMware training partner or actually from VMware trained employees before you can actually get your certification, these can also be very expensive courses. Once you get trained and feel like you are prepared for the exam, you then have to register to take the exam and buy a test voucher. Test vouchers can range anywhere from $180 to $600 per exam (many of Microsoft’s certifications require multiple exams). When it’s all said and done and you walk out of the testing center with your passing grade, you may have spent somewhere in the ballpark of $3500-$5000 to get that certification. Ouch! With that being said, you should take the steps necessary to research which certifications can offer you the best salary, or salary increase. This is the only way to gauge a certifications worth, what will it get you in return.

After doing some research, I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the 10 best IT certifications that will pay you back when it’s all said and done. This list may not include certifications you think are most important; that is because this list is not about which certifications are most important, it’s about which one’s will give you the greatest return on investment (ROI). Afterall, isn’t everything these days based on ROI? For me it is, my time is limited and I’ll only pursue certifications that present good ROI. Here are the certs in no specific order:

10 Certifications that offer the best ROI

VCP – VMware Certified Professional on vSphere 4

    Becoming a VMware Certified Professional (VCP) is your first step toward gaining expertise in virtual infrastructure and the industry recognition that follows. This certification is designed to teach you what you need to successfully install, manage and deploy VMware vSphere 4. A VMware authorized instructor-led course is required.
    SALARY: Average annual salary $103,000**

VCDX – VMware Certified Design Expert

    VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) is the highest level of VMware certification. This elite group is comprised of design architects highly skilled in VMware enterprise deployments and the program is designed for veteran professionals who want to validate and demonstrate their expertise in VMware virtual infrastructure.
    SALARY: Average annual salary $118,000**

PMP – Project Management Professional (PMI)

    PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential is the most important industry-recognized certification for project managers. Globally recognized and demanded, the PMP® demonstrates that you have the experience, education and competency to successfully lead and direct projects.
    SALARY: Average annual salary of $101,695*

CAPM – Certified Associate in Project Management (PMI)

    PMI’s Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® is a valuable entry-level certification for project practitioners. Designed for those with less project experience, the CAPM® demonstrates your understanding of the fundamental knowledge, terminology and processes of effective project management
    SALARY: Average annual salary of $101,103*

ITIL V3 Foundations (Information Infrastructure Library)

    The Foundation Level of the ITIL Qualification Scheme focuses on providing knowledge and comprehension of the key concepts, structure, terminology and processes of ITIL. This entry-level certification offers candidates a general awareness of the key elements of the ITIL V3 Service Lifecycle, including the linkages between Lifecycle stages, the processes used and their contribution to Service Management practices.
    SALARY: Average salary of $95,415*

CCIE – Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (Routing & Switching)

    The Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification is accepted worldwide as the most prestigious networking certification in the industry. Network Engineers holding an active Cisco CCIE certification are recognized for their expert network engineering skills and mastery of Cisco products and solutions. The CCIE community has established a reputation of leading the networking industry in deep technical networking knowledge and are deployed into the most technically challenging network assignments.
    SALARY: Average yearly salary of $93,500*

CCNP – Cisco Certified Network Professional

    Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP®) validates the ability to plan, implement, verify and troubleshoot local and wide-area enterprise networks and work collaboratively with specialists on advanced security, voice, wireless and video solutions. The CCNP certification is appropriate for those with at least one year of networking experience who are ready to advance their skills and work independently on complex network solutions. Those who achieve CCNP have demonstrated the skills required in enterprise roles such as network technician, support engineer, systems engineer or network engineer.
    SALARY: Average salary of $84,161*

CISSP – Certified Information Systems Security Professional

    The credential for professionals who develop policies and procedures in information security. The CISSP was the first credential in the field of information security, accredited by the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) to ISO (International Organization for Standardization) Standard 17024:2003. CISSP certification is not only an objective measure of excellence, but a globally recognized standard of achievement.
    SALARY: Average annual reported salary was $94,018*

MCITP – Microsoft Certified IT Professional (Enterprise)

    The Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) certification helps validate that an individual has the comprehensive set of skills necessary to perform a particular job role, such as database administrator or enterprise messaging administrator. MCITP certifications build on the technical proficiency measured in the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) certifications. Therefore, you will earn one or more MCTS certifications on your way to earning an MCITP certification.
    SALARY: The average MCITP Enterprise salary reported was $82,941*.

RHCE – Red Hat Certified Engineer

    Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) is a performance-based test that measures actual competency on live systems. Called the “crown jewel of Linux certifications,” RHCE proves an individual’s ability to configure networking services and security on servers running a Red Hat OS. RHCE was recently named the hottest certification in all of IT by
    SALARY: Average salary of $83,692*


    CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+; consider these entry-level non-vendor specific certifications that you should already have if you don’t already. VMware’s VCAP-DCA, DCD are two new certs from VMware that are sure to help you pull down a good salary or increase in pay.

Again, this list in entirely based on the highest paying certifications out there. These are also pretty high level certifications, a couple of them require lower level certifications before obtaining the ones listed here. You ultimately will decide which certs are the most valuable to you in your current situation or career aspirations. That being said, take a second look at this list and you should get an idea of where the future of IT is headed. Security, virtualization, and it’s always good to have some management credentials to raise you salary requirements.

*according to recent salary survey by ZDNET’s Tech Republic organization
**according to surveys VCP, VCDX

Greg W Stuart
Greg is the owner and editor of He's been a VMware vExpert every year since 2011. Greg enjoys spending time with his wife and 3 kids. He works as a Sr. Consultant at VMware and resides in Northern Virginia, 15 minutes west of Washington DC.

6 thoughts on “Get Certified, Get Money!

  1. Compared to VCP it seems that VCDX is way too low. Especially considering there are roughly 50 VCDXs worldwide.

    Would have been interesting if you would have added up all the costs associated and the hours spent on learning and see which one really has the highest ROI.

    Anyway, in the end it is all about negotiating.

    1. Yes, that would have been interesting, but would have taken way to long to figure out. You bring up a good point though, maybe this is something people should do prior to taking on a certification. There are certifications out there that don’t require anything more than self study and passing the exam, those probably hold the best ROI. I aslo agree that the VCDX salary survey is probably was too low, I guess it all depends on where you are and what level of career you are at. Thanks for the comment Duncan.

  2. Greg, another great post. You hit it dead on. Passing certifications is no easy task. It requires a lot of time and dedication. I know I’ve spent a decent amount of cash while studying for my certifications. Besides books and CBT training courses, I spent $250 for a technet plus subscription, just so I could have unlimited trial versions for the Microsoft technologies that I was testing on. For Cisco, more CBTs and I used GNS3, since I had the IOS images handy, and a lot of remote rack rental, which also costs money. I haven’t realized my ROI yet, but the knowledge that I’ve gained along my journey has made it somewhat worth it.

    btw the Cisco CCNA is still the hardest exam that I’ve taken yet. 🙂

    1. Mike, I would agree with you, the CCNA exam is thus far the hardest exam I’ve taken as well. That says a lot about you that you have it under your belt. I still haven’t beaten the CCNA exam.

  3. Nice list. I agree with 75%, would probably add the CCNA along with the CCNP, and within the Microsoft certifications I think there are a few that are definitely worth the investment of time and money.

    While I studied a lot on my own for my CCNA/CCNP, I did find that the 21 day bootcamp at CED Solutions in Atlanta was worth the time and money. It allowed me to get away from all of the distractions at work and at home, and the instructors were very good. Hard work, but it paid off when I passed all of the tests.

    Greg, best of luck on your CCNA! It will feel good to have that notch on your belt.

  4. Good post.
    I have some different ones you dont have linked ITIL, BCFP/BCFA, NCDA/NCIE….

    Just thought I would pass you this list out of certification magazine:
    I think most CCIE get more than you have linked, Id be shocked if the same wasnt true for VCDXs too. For what its worth. None of my employers ever said that certifications were required, or asked me to work on one.
    That VCDX seems terribly low too…

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