Reap the rewards of getting certified

Certification from Microsoft and Cisco Systems are most popular among IT executives across the Asian region.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

IT certifications are getting increasingly important for IT professionals based in Asia.

In the ZDNet Asia IT Salary Benchmark Survey 2008, almost half of the 21,635 respondents across the Asia-Pacific region said they held at least one IT accreditation.

The numbers were close to 50 percent for many of the countries, with Hong Kong leading the way at 48.9 percent. Respondents in the Philippines and Indonesia, however, trailed the pack at 24.4 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively.

As for the preferred certificates, the votes unanimously went to Microsoft and Cisco Systems; specifically, 23.9 percent of respondents held the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certificate, and 21.9 percent held the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) accreditation.

The two least popular certifications were the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Sun Microsystems Certified Programmer for Java 2, with 14.7 percent and 9.4 percent of respondents holding these, respectively.

While the survey findings seemed to indicate that the higher the qualifications, the better the remuneration, Thailand was the only country in which that principle did not hold true.

Out of the seven countries surveyed in this region, only in Thailand did diploma holders and vocational and technical school graduates earn more than degree holders, even surpassing the national wage average across the given job profiles.

With the national per annum wage at an average of US$24,108, vocational and technical school graduates made US$35,351 per annum on average. Diploma holders were not too far behind at US$30,399 per annum. In comparison, Bachelor's and Master's degree and PhD holders, earned US$21,106, US$27,650 and US$26,735 per annum, respectively.

Additionally, on IT certifications, while the MCP and CCNA certificates were similarly popular in Thailand as they are in neighboring countries, those holding the SAP Certified Application/Technical consultant paper earned the most on average. The latter pocketed an average of 1,143,743 baht (US$34,998) per annum, while MCP and CCNA-holders earned 616,953 baht (US$18,878) and 615,886 baht (US$18,846) per annum.

Chris Bryant, who runs The Bryant Advantage which provides study packages to candidates sitting for CCNA examinations, shed some light on why these certifications are deemed valuable.

He explained that the CCNA is respected because the examination requires candidates to apply what they have learnt to demonstrate their understanding of the skill set.

Bryant said in an e-mail interview: "To earn this certification, candidates can't just memorize facts and then recite them on exam day--they've got to be able to apply what they've learned to answer troubleshooting questions and simulator questions, where the candidate is required to carry out a series of CCNA-level tasks."

"More and more employers are requiring the CCNA because it proves a certain level of expertise," he said, noting that certifications can help accelerate careers because they show employers and potential employers that IT workers have initiative.

Bryant recommended pairing other certifications to strengthen IT workers' portfolios. He named the Microsoft's Server 2008 certification as an example, as well as a security certification to build upon the network security techniques which are part of the CCNA's course material.

Sandy Walsh, Cisco's Asia-Pacific regional manager of education programs and corporate responsibility, said the emphasis placed on the CCNA by organizations can be attributed to increasing connectivity.

"The network has become the platform for all communications and IT," said Walsh, pointing to a network's mission-critical status within the enterprise.

Correspondingly, the number of CCNA-certified executives have grown "exponentially every year", he said.

Walsh said there are currently 165,760 Asia-Pacific students enrolled in Cisco's Networking Academy training program.

He added that the ubiquity of the network has made the relevant skill sets applicable to executives outside the network administrator's role. Cisco's recent introduction of a more basic certificate, the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT), serves as an introduction to networking skills for most executives, said Walsh.

The MCP certification is getting a similar response, according to Kyle Uphoff, director at Microsoft Learning Asia. He said in an e-mail interview that the number of credentials handed out has doubled over the past three years.

The reason: hiring managers trust certifications as a more objective measure of a candidate's competencies, rather than "self-reported skills", said Uphoff.

He said competitive employee markets have further contributed to IT executives seeking certifications to differentiate themselves.

Similar to Cisco's offering of an entry level certification to lower barriers for new IT workers, Uphoff recommended individuals certify themselves as specific technologies before stepping up to the next certification by job role.

"This provides the flexibility to the individual to define their career path and additional complimentary technology specialization that they require," the Microsoft executive said.

Regional IT Certification

Country Respondents with
at least one
IT certification
Hong Kong 48.9% 1
Singapore 41.9% 2
India 41.1% 3
Thailand 40.6% 4
Malaysia 37.1% 5
Indonesia 28.6% 6
Philippines 24.4% 7

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