In the IT career field, hands on experience goes a long way in showing that you have the chops to do the job you are applying for; however, in order to stand out and get paid, IT certifications are what you need. There has been a long standing argument that experience trumps certifications, and I think for most positions, that argument is true. However in the cleared space, IT certifications are a must to meet the requirements for specific contracts. In the case of contracts that require DoD 8570 compliance, experience alone doesn’t cut it.

There are many individuals in the IT career field that are “paper certified” meaning they just crammed for the exam and don’t actually have any real world experience. There are also many in the career field that have been doing the work for a long time and have a decade or more of real experience but no certifications. While we don’t need to argue the pros and cons of experience versus certifications, adding certain certifications to your resume will enhance your chances of landing a dream job or even boosting your salary.

top 5 IT certifications that will get you paid

Amazon Web Services Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

Three out of the top five certifications in this list are cloud related.The cloud is here, and it is here to stay. If you don’t have a cloud certification, it is imperative that you get one ASAP! Every year, more organizations adopt the cloud hosted model for their infrastructure. Right now, the leader of the pack seems to be Amazon Web Services (AWS). The AWS Certified Solutions Architect certificate validates your ability to architect, design, implement and scale large AWS cloud infrastructures.

According to the AWS website, “The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate examination is intended for individuals who perform a solutions architect role and have one or more years of hands-on experience designing available, cost-efficient, fault-tolerant, and scalable distributed systems on AWS.” The exam consists of multiple choice questions with a 130 minute time limit. The exam will cost you $150 and you have the option of purchasing a $20 practice exam created by AWS.

Average salary: $149,446

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

You can’t preach enough security to clients these days. As the attacks get more sophisticated and elegant, so should the customer’s security posture. Security professionals are in high demand and there is a low supply, which is good if you want a career in security. Having at least a year or two of direct security work experience and an entry level certification like CompTIA’s Security+ will set you up for success with the CISSP exam. The CISSP cert validates your ability to implement and maintain complete security systems for large enterprises.

According to ISC2’s website, the CISSP, “proves you have what it takes to effectively design, implement and manage a best-in-class cybersecurity program. With a CISSP, you validate your expertise and become an (ISC)² member, unlocking a broad array of exclusive resources, educational tools, and peer-to-peer networking opportunities.”

Average salary:$141,452

VMware Certified Professional/VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCP/VCAP)

Virtualization is a given in today’s datacenter. There aren’t many customers left who don’t employ some form of virtualization in their infrastructure. VMware has been the market leader since their inception in 1998. With demand so high for qualified and skilled virtualization engineers, VMware’s certification program helps candidates stand out in the crowd. There are three tracks to take, Professional, Advanced Professional, and Design Expert. Both the VCP and the VCAP are on this list because they prove that you have knowledge of the VMware concepts (VCP) and that you are capable of doing hands on work (VCAP).

There are many VCP certification tracks such as Datacenter Virtualization, Cloud Management and Automation, Network Virtualization, and Desktop and Mobility. The VCP exams consist of 85 multiple choice questions and cost $250 per voucher. The VCAP exams are much more extensive, consisting of up to 34 scenarios in a live lab-based environment where you’re required to fix any issues and configure certain features. The VCAP exams cost $450 per voucher.

Average Salary: $130-$150,000

Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate

Microsoft has become a trusted cloud provider for both the private and public sector. They are challenging the big players like Amazon and Google for market share and becoming more than just a niche player. Due to the increased adoption of Microsoft Azure products, such as Azure AD and Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), there is a need for skilled and certified individuals to manage and maintain them. The Azure Administrator Associate certification validates your ability to manage, implement, and monitor your organization’s Microsoft Azure environment.

Average Salary: $125,993

Google Certified Professional (GCP): Cloud Architect

Next to AWS, Google is the next best certification you could invest in. The Google Cloud Professional certification is a highly valued certification in the cloud space. The recommended prerequisites to taking the GCP exam are fairly hefty. First, Google recommends a minimum of three years experience with cloud solutions, and secondly a year of designing and managing solutions with Google Cloud Platform. The payoff is amazing though as this cert is the highest paid on the list, coming in at just over $175k annually. The exam consists of multiple choice questions and a 2 hour time limit. A voucher for the exam is $200.

Average salary: $175,761

Where to start?

This is a very common question, and it can be hard to decide where to start. A good rule of thumb would be to start with your current skillsets. If you have a lot of experience with VMware virtualization, get your VCP and then work towards getting a VCAP certification. From there, figure out where you would like to branch out. If you find that you are doing a lot of VMware work, maybe focusing on Amazon or Azure as a secondary certification track would help because many customers are hosting their VMware infrastructure in the cloud lately. What matters is you first do what your job role requires and then focus on where you want to go. Figure out the path that is best for you, get certified, and get paid! Many areas provide opportunities to put your experience and certifications to work right away.

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Greg Stuart 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 has 20 years of IT experience and currently works as an IT Consultant both in the private and public sector. Greg holds a BS in Information Technology and an MBA degree. He currently resides in Southeast Idaho. You can follow him on Twitter @vDestination, read his blog ( and listen to his podcast (