10th Annual Salary Survey: Moving On Up

After a flat year, salaries for Microsoft Certified Professionals have gone up, as this year's 10th Annual Salary Survey shows.

What a difference a year makes. The average salary increase reported by the nearly 1,700 readers responding to our 10th Annual Salary Survey was 5.3 percent from 2004 to 2005. While that may not be a tremendously impressive number, it becomes more so when juxtaposed against last year, when readers reported an increase that amounted to a mere 0.3 percent -- essentially no increase at all.
More Salary Survey
The PDF format of this article boasts over 30 charts, including average salary by state, by certification and job title, salaries by certification for over 40 metropolitan areas, certifications impact on employability -- and much more. Free registration is required to get the PDF. Get it here.


But what is impressive indeed is comparing the average annual salary of this year's respondent pool --$68,535-- with that of last year's, which was $61,400. That's a difference of $7,135, or slightly more than 12 percent (see "2005 Compensation").

If you're thinking, "Wait a minute, I didn't get an increase even approaching 12 percent," perhaps we can explain. In years past our sample focused on the Microsoft Certified Professional demographic. As such, fewer than 20 percent of respondents held titles such as manager, program lead and networking project lead.

But our readership has been evolving over the years, none more so than this past year, and in large part it's due to the influence wielded by our sibling/spin-off magazine, Redmond, which has influenced the demographic we canvassed to take this survey (see "Methodology"). Our reader base was clearly taking on new responsibilities and, with them, assuming management titles -- and salaries. This year, management-level folks made up 30 percent of all survey respondents -- and reported average salaries of more than $83,000 per year.

In other words, you're progressing up the IT ladder, taking on new responsibilities, and getting paid accordingly.

He's the Boss of Him
Christopher Dow
Consultant, Trainer
OdysseyNetworks, The Computer Trainers
Mobile, Alabama
Salary: $65,000
Years in IT: 15
Certifications: MCDST, MCSA, MCSE, MCT, Microsoft Office Specialist, CIW Certified Instructor/Security Analyst, Cisco CCNA, CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+
The idea of being a small-business owner appeals to many folks: the ability to set your own schedule, call the shots and make big money if your business is successful sounds like a fast boat to happiness.
Well, as the immortal Meat Loaf sang, two out of three ain't bad.
Christopher Dow of Mobile, Alabama owns a network consulting firm. Although he sets his own hours and calls the shots, the big money part has yet to happen. It's not that he's starving, but working 80 hours per week for $65,000 per year means that, with vacation, he earns somewhere in the vicinity of $16-$17 per hour.
On the other hand, how do you put a price on a job you love? Dow says one of the best things about his job is "Change. I didn't want a job that would [always] have to do the same thing the next day. In IT things are always being updated, and new technologies appear every day, so I am never bored."
Dow's consulting firm is called Odyssey Networking, and includes a training division called The Computer Trainers. The company has 10 employees, including Dow. He's been in the biz for 15 years now, after stints as a search-and-rescue helicopter crewman, soldier in the U.S. Army, lifeguard and farm hand.
Now Dow is his own boss, and although his life is hectic, Dow says he made the right choices. "Salary is very important, but not as important as being able to wake up every morning wanting to go to work."
--Keith Ward
The picture gets even rosier when you look at the job outlook for IT professionals from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS indicates an increase that will be "faster than the average for all occupations through 2012, as organizations continue to adopt and integrate increasingly sophisticated technology." (Details at http://bls.gov/oco/ ocos268.htm.) It points specifically to "cyber-security" as a specialization that will outpace other areas of tech.

The Department of Labor Web site also points to positive evidence of job opportunities in the non-farm sectors, which includes IT. You only need to go as far as the July employment data, which shows, over the year, professional and technical services jobs up by 22,900, computer systems and design services up another 2,200, and management and technical consulting services higher by 6,200 jobs (see http://bls.gov/news.release/ empsit.t14.htm).

Accounting for job losses, an additional 23,000 jobs were tacked on that month, which adds to the 188,000 jobs in the overall sector that were added in the previous six months. (See the July 2005 Employment Situation Summary at http://bls.gov/news.release/ empsit.nr0.htm for the hard numbers.) That, along with the positive outlook that the BLS cites above for computer job growth to 2012, makes for some powerful evidence that companies are keen to invest in updating their software and hardware technology while there's money to spend.

What this all means is that IT workers are once again in demand, enabling you to potentially gain an upper hand in salary negotiations.


The Measure of Happiness
If you think that's wishful thinking, talk to David Glenz, an MCSE and lead systems administrator for a retail company in Mount Laurel, N.J. The 12 percent increase we saw compared to last year is in line with the salary bump he received this year. "I think management at my company is well aware of the tendency for technology professionals to job hop," he says, "and they are willing to do what they can to hold on to the right people."

The $68,535 overall average salary among the 1,675 valid respondents to our survey is also more than 4 percent higher than the average salary figure reported by the BLS: For computer and mathematical occupations, its number is $65,510. Our result is more on the money when compared to the BLS's result for computer systems analysts, at $68,370. (See http://bls.gov/oes/current/oes_15Co.htm.)

And while the mean salary increase of $3,472 is above 5 percent year-to-year, the news is even better for the 18 percent of you who reported raises of $5,000 or more. (For more on this, see "Increase in Salary.")

On top of rising salaries, more than half of all respondents -- 55 percent -- expect to receive a bonus this year, with 20 percent of them t

Dave, Your Friendly IT Guy
David Guibord
Network Administrator
Shufelt. Inc
Farmington Hills, Mich.
Salary: $74,500
Years in IT: 8
Certifications: MCSA: Security, MCSE, CCSA
Dave Guibord is living proof that soft skills, particularly people skills, can not only help your long-term career, they can very directly affect your pocketbook. A few years back, his reputation as a friendly, helpful IT guy got him a significant raise at Shufelt -- without him even having to ask.
"I fell onto the radar of the owner -- he had an IT problem and I helped him out, so he started asking around about me," he explained. Because the managers all came back with such positive feedback about how genial and willing to help he is, Guibord said that soon after the owner pulled him into his office and gave him a 14 percent raise on the spot to put him on equal footing with another IT coworker: "I didn't even know [it was coming]."
It doesn't hurt that Guibord genuinely likes people. He said a main reason he enjoys his current job so much is the opportunity it gives him to interact with so many employees on a regular basis: "I support a fairly large-sized building, and we're always out fixing something, helping a user . We cover almost the entire building once a week. I couldn't get that kind of interaction if I was in accounting."
He also gets satisfaction from helping users. "You can call it a hero complex if you want to," he laughed.
But he said what really drives him is the technology and doing something different every day. He's currently working on numerous projects, and while sometimes putting out the day-to-day fires can get frustrating, "that's what I like about the job too, so I can't complain."
--Becky Nagel
otaling $5,000 or more (see "Expected Bonuses"). That's down a bit from the 59 percent who expected bonuses last year, but still adds up to a pretty good year to be working in IT.

Certification's Impact
Historically, this survey has focused on the impact of certification on salary. But increasingly, that impact seems to be muted. This year, more than half of you -- 51 percent -- either weren't sure certification made a difference in salary or flat-out said that it didn't (33 percent).

That still leaves a healthy population that is seeing a benefit from certification, of course. When David Guibord, a network administrator in Farmington Hills, Michigan, obtained his MCSE in 2005, "It helped me get a job … [with] a 47 percent increase," he says.

Guibord says he tacked on other certs since 2001, such as an MCSA: Security and a Check Point CCSA, but those are ones he hangs out on a shingle for more personal reasons. "Unfortunately, now it's more for my knowledge and for my market value, as management does not seem to care what my certifications are," he adds.

Certifying beyond the boundaries of Microsoft technology is not just smart, it's a good way to expand one's marketability, and that notion's never been lost on our readership. "Many [companies] require Microsoft and Cisco certifications, which is a definite plus to get an interview," says Casey Wood, a systems administrator with VistaCare in Scottsdale, Ariz. His goals lean toward Cisco titles. The same goes for Lee Ann Swanson, a network engineer in Watertown, S.D.: "My certification goals are to upgrade my MCSE and to obtain the Cisco CCNA."

Wood's and Swanson's goals, if met, will place them among the 52 percent of respondents to this year's survey who count at least one other certification besides an MCP. Specialization dictates the best salaries, as Chart 5 shows, with IBM's WebSphere and Hewlett Packard's Master ASE breaking six figures, followed by the Project Management Professional in the third spot. Those possessing a Cisco CCNA, which is a goal for Swanson, reported making $68,730 on average. Based on popularity among non-Microsoft certifications, the Computer Technology Industry Association's A+ and Network+ rank first and third, Cisco's CCNA is second, and Novell's CNA and CNE round out fourth and fifth.

As "Base Salary by Microsoft Certification" shows, all certifications, with the exception of the MCSA: Windows 2003 and MCSD: Visual Studio 6.0 titles, ticked upward. MCDBA: SQL 7 holders experienced the highest increase, up $12,509 from last year.

Nearly half the respondents believe that obtaining a certification has improved or enhanced their chances of finding or keeping a job (shown in "The Reasons for Certification").

2005 Compensation
 


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Overall, a view of the respondents demographic averages looks like this chart. Details for each can be found elsewhere in this article or on the PDF version
 
Expected Bonuses for 2005
 

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How Bonuses Are Calculated
 


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When Bonuses Are Paid
 

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Only 55 percent of readers expect a bonus this year; it was slightly higher last year, at 59 percent. Of the half expecting a bonus, 23 percent predict bonuses will be within $1,000 to $5,000.

 

 

Base Salary by Microsoft Certification
 

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All respondents provided their current annual income before taxes. Only those salaries for MCSA-Windows 2003 and MCSD: VS6 titleholders took slight hits this year. Those holding the MCDBA: SQL 7 realized better than average gains, with an increase of $12,509 over last year. (*Includes Win2K and Win2003 versions.)

 

The Reasons for Certification
 

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We asked the respondents to list all the reasons they achieved their most recent credential.
 

Certification's Fringe Benefits
A correlation can be made between certification and salary -- if you get one and see a boost in salary, it can't get any more obvious -- but it's not all about salary, says Bill O'Sullivan, an IT specialist with a federal agency in Springfield, Illinois. "I can organize, plan and troubleshoot much better than I believe I could without certification," he explains, "and I believe employers understand this and compensate accordingly."

Development Doctor
Stefan Panayotov, Ph.D.
PL*SQL/Web Developer
Academic institution
Philadelphia, Penn.
Salary: $65,000
Years in IT: 21
Certifications: MCAD, Sun SCJP, SCSA
Stefan Panayotov, Ph.D., started working in IT 21 years ago, right after earning his doctorate in computer science for a project creating a kernel for a real-time multiprocessor OS with increased fault tolerance. However, despite his years of experience and educational background, he still felt the sting of the dot-com bust a few years back.
"It’s definitely a pay cut," he said of his move from a small development start-up back then to his current position as a PL*SQL/Web developer for an academic institution with approximately 3,700 employees. "To some extent, I didn’t anticipate the downturn in the economy. That was a disappointment."
While his salary isn’t quite where he’d like it to be, Panayotov said that the strong medical, vacation and retirement benefits offered by his employer do help make up somewhat for the shortfall.
And Panayotov is somewhat optimistic about the future of development in the United States, citing quality issues with offshoring and the need for many companies to keep at least security-related modules in house.
But that doesn’t mean he’s complacent. "That’s one of the reasons I’m moving to .NET … I like having the big player behind it," he explained.
And he’s genuinely impressed by the technology. "Microsoft did a good job this time," he said of .NET, adding that’s he’s looking forward to the 2.0 release later this year. "I’ve read some things…tried different versions, but I’m still interested to see when it’s officially released what will be offered."
--Becky Nagel
Respondents cite "personal goals" (75 percent) and "to get a better job" (39 percent) among two popular reasons for obtaining certification (see "The Reasons for Certification"). Interestingly, only 21 percent of those surveyed say they got certified in order to obtain employment. It can get you in the door, as Stefan Panayotov, PhD, who works as a PL*SQL/Web developer in Philadelphia, can attest, "but not very attractive compensation." Despite being slighted on salary, he, like Guibord, still finds intrinsic value in certifications, and is "thinking about getting the Project Management Professional or the new Microsoft Certified Architect."

Tech Experts and Specialists
Technological expertise can factor in strongly with salary; the more specialized, the higher the salary (see "Salary by Skill"). Outsourcing experts topped the list this year, at $84,139. This was followed by those in research and development, at $78,438. Those possessing strategic planning, extranet and software design skills rounded out the top five positions.

The BLS cites security as a hot area of employment in the next seven years. In our survey, those with security expertise indeed made out nicely, averaging $70,268. But security fell into the middle of the salary pack, among those with Web site development ($70,992), telephony ($70,810), database administration ($69,593) and systems management ($69,601).

The highest paying industries, ranked by salary of its IT professionals, are topped by aerospace companies ($88,571), followed by ISP/ASP ($77,778), marketing/entertainment ($75,288) and computer-related manufacturing ($75,139). The defense/military industry is another hot area, as more federal money is poured into programs to maintain a tech-driven U.S. armed forces.

In terms of which Microsoft product skills pay best, at the top of this year's list is Identity Integration Server, at $93,333, followed closely BizTalk Server, at $90,441. Content Management and Windows Server 2003 Datacenter follow, at $85,385 and $84,938, respectively. Rounding out the top five is Host Integration Server, at $82,321. What's evident here is that, with more highly-specialized expertise, salary is commensurate. Less than 1 percent claimed expertise with Identity Integration Server. BizTalk, Content Management Server and Host Integration Server ranged from 1 to 2 percent. Four percent claimed expertise with Datacenter Server.

Bringing up the rear are those who deploy Small Business Server, at $62,212. Just above that are those with Windows client skills, at $64,442, which is still a touch lower than this survey's overall salary average.

Education adds another ingredient. According to this year's results, respondents who earned a four-year degree or lower have averaged no more than $67,340. Those who've gone on to post-graduate study and beyond, though, fared better on salaries, to the tune of $73,024. Almost 22 percent have claimed the latter, a slightly higher percentage than last year. (See "Salary by Education Level".)

Salary by Skill
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Specialists enjoy greater compensation, and those whose expertise extends beyond the bounds of Microsoft technology tend to make more.
 
Salary by Education Level
 

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The correlation between formal education and compensation is obvious, although it's simply one variable among many. More than half of the respondents hold at least a four-year degree.

Employment Outlook
Survey respondents were split on whether their companies would be in a hiring mood in the com

Chaos Theory
Andre Walker
Client Support Specialist
Alexandria, Virginia
Salary: $50,000
Years in IT: 7
Certification: MCP
For having only one certification under his belt, Andre Walker has seen his salary rise $14,000 over the seven years he's been in the IT industry. That's good news for a guy who was originally drawn to IT by the money, as many were in the heyday.
Walker stuck with it through the dot-com bust and gained considerable experience despite it all, landing gigs with Arthur Andersen, Accenture and Booz Allen Hamilton. Helping establish a central help desk for the Internal Revenue Service and migrating 50 computers a night for six months might sound like daunting tasks, but it all started as a part-time hobby for Walker, taking apart and fixing up old computers.
During this time, Walker worked as a system manager of a Nordic Systems store, and a manager taking classes for his MCSE sparked Andre's interest in pursuing IT more seriously. Walker found a job with an IT recruiter, where he learned about the help desk side from the company's desktop support technician: "When I had time, I would just go over, talk to him and pick his brain."
After intense self-study, Walker passed an MCP exam with flying colors, scoring well above 900. Besides preparing for the MCDST and MCSA exams, he's also looking into getting certified as an e-commerce consultant. That way, he can get back to his marketing roots and be able to "generate revenue for companies by bringing them from brick and mortar to the World Wide Web."
Walker currently works as a client support specialist at a PR firm that deals with grassroots politics. His job: to build a customer care center to address the technical issues the client managers were being asked about and "bring some order to the chaos."
--Dan Hong
ing months (see "Hiring IT Professionals"). About 40 percent said that their company had plans to hire more IT professionals, while 37 percent had no plans to do so. That edges last year's result, when 35 percent had plans to hire IT workers.

But by all indications, not too many of those surveyed were out of work in the past year. Only 5 percent stood in the unemployment line. (The number is closely aligned with BLS data, which put unemployment at 5 percent as of June 2005.) Of those, 85 percent found work or were rehired by the same company that let them go. According to our survey, the average that anyone was out of work was four months.

Last year, 11 percent of respondents predicted their jobs would be outsourced in 2005. We're happy to report that only 6 percent said they actually lost a job to outsourcing by the time of this survey. Yet the fear remains: 11 percent of respondents continue to believe that the next 12 months harbor a threat of job loss due to outsourcing.

"My job could certainly be outsourced, but it's not something I worry about daily," says Guibord, who places lots of value on soft skills to lessen the impact that outsourcing might have. He does add one caveat: "In the back of my mind, I remind myself that everyone can be replaced."

Those holding job titles like help desk/support and network project lead, jobs that have been easy to export in bulk, were more vulnerable to the outsourcing threat. Help desk workers lost out to outsourcing 12 percent of the time, while networking project leads were close behind, at 11 percent.

Programmer titles, such as programmer analyst and database administrator/developer, didn't suffer as much, with losses under 6 percent, despite those types of jobs being traditionally easy targets for outsourcing.

Still, the outsourcing threat remains. You need no further evidence than the fact that managers with outsourcing expertise are the highest paid in this year's survey.

Regional Variations
It's a well-known fact for just about any type of job that where you live can have a bearing on your salary. Our survey shows no evidence to the contrary. For the third year in a row, those working in the mid-Atlantic region came out on top, averaging $76,858. Maryland leads all states in gross IT income, at $95,449. In its shadow are IT pros in New Jersey, with $81,324, followed by Virginia at $76,964. Arkansas is at the lower rung, averaging only $51,923.

A survey of metro areas shows Boston at the top of the compensation ladder, with IT pros making an average of $91,250. Washington, D.C. is a close second at $90,183, with New York and San Francisco holding the next two spots, at $89,940 and $87,500 respectively.

For state and regional salaries broken down by certification, see the PDF version of this article.

Hiring IT Professionals
 

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We asked respondents if their companies plan on hiring more IT professionals in the coming months. Responses were split among those who knew, with 40 percent planning to add to their ranks, while 37 percent with no plans to hire. Of the 40 percent, those companies plan to hire an average of 8.8 people.

Career Happiness
 

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New this year: We asked how you felt about certain aspects of your career, compensation and job. By ranking, Very Satisfied is a 6, while Very Dissatisfied was a 1.
 

Sometimes, the Grass Is Greener
Bill O'Sullivan
IT Specialist
Dept. of Justice
Springfield, Ill.
Salary: $58,000
Years in IT: 6
Certifications: MCSE, MCSE: Security, CCNA
Bill O'Sullivan has seen the downside of the IT life; now he's experiencing how the other half lives.
About a year ago O'Sullivan switched jobs from an environment so miserable that he sometimes couldn't sleep. Now he's earning $58,000 annually, what he calls a fair wage, and doing work that fascinates him. O'Sullivan, of Springfield, Ill., works as an Information Technology Specialist for the U.S. Dept. of Justice, "supporting people who do their best to protect the United States and their community every day," as he puts it. Now that sounds like a man with job satisfaction.
But it wasn't always that way. His old position, he says, "was so extremely micromanaged that I could not excel in that environment." The situation was so negative, he says, "due to the carelessness and thoughtlessness of our boss at the time. I knew that all of the long hours and weekends that we were putting in were going unappreciated."
The final straw, O'Sullivan says, was "When I asked for fours off to attend free training and was denied. I knew it was time to leave."
Now he's doing envelope-pushing work "with interesting, intelligent people that I respect and admire more than they will ever understand." A recent project for O'Sullivan involved setting up the infrastructure for Illinois courthouses that were capturing audio feeds from legal proceedings and dumping the data onto servers for later retrieval.
And now he gets a good night's rest!
--Keith Ward

What's My Motivation
A new set of questions we asked this year related to career satisfaction. Empirically, more than 60 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with their flexible work schedule, paid time off and work responsibilities (see "Career Happiness"). Access to new technology and job security also ranked above 50 percent on the satisfaction scale.

Living the Campus Life
Jerry Gonzales
System Analyst III
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Salary: $64,000
Years in IT: 25
Certifications: MCSE
Jerry Gonzales was actually offered a job at the University of New Mexico -- where he now works -- back in the '80s when he first graduated, but he turned it down: "I wish I knew then what I knew now -- I would have taken it."
Having worked for years for corporations, the government and even running his own business, he describes his current position as "heaven," saying that the benefits and the job itself more than make up for the higher salaries generally offered by the private sector.
Some of the benefits are unique to campus life: Employees can send their children to the university for up to 18 units per semester for eight semesters, paying only a regular student fee of a few hundred dollars. "Many people, when their kids get close to college age, try to get a university job just for that reason," he said.
And a university environment is ideal for anyone wanting to get their hands on new technology. "We're always using the latest technology, always on the bleeding edge," he remarked. "The experience you get here is unparalleled . you get exposed to so many things."
He said his colleagues at the university continually drive him to keep learning. "The environment itself is scholastic and competitive, but in a healthy way," he explained. "There's not any question -- literally any technical question, no matter how obscure -- that someone here won't know the answer to. You can send out an e-mail to one [of 180 IT people] and someone will know the answer in-house."
--Becky Nagel
Corporate culture likewise ranked high, above other fringe benefits. Interestingly, raises/bonuses didn't live up to most respondents' ideal.

Salary has its place, but is not a key motivator in this industry. People in IT seem to have a genuine sense of accomplishment that comes with doing work that's otherwise perplexing to the rest of the computing world.

Jerry Gonzales, a systems analyst at University of New Mexico, remembers taking a basic programming class in high school that didn't go well. "I guess you could say I really stunk at it." Fast forward to college in the late '70s, when he was required to take a four-month-long computer class and he remembers that "for whatever reason, I fell in love with it." The class, which he finished in four weeks, had a life-changing impact that made him switch his pre-law major to data management, which, in 1977, was the precursor to what today is called systems analysis.

Gonzales' story is of the type told in various iterations, always including the word "love." "I love computers and a challenge. What can I say?" adds Kausch. "It's voodoo to most people and I enjoy making sense out of it all for my organization," says Mark Evans, a network administrator for the Indian Health Service in Oregon .

"Obviously, we live in a money-driven society . salary is of the utmost importance," says Brian O'Connor, a network engineer with Branford, Conn.-based Harco Labs. "However," he adds, "the amount of praise and appreciation I receive makes me love my job that much more."

Dissatisfaction didn't run deep with respondents, which begs the question: Will most IT professionals working today stick around for the long haul? If the overall career satisfaction numbers are to be believed, 86 percent of you will be around for another five years - which may be long enough to roll out Windows Vista and Longhorn server.

Compare/Contrast: More Surveys
The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor statistics compiles national data on wages and employment for all sectors, including IT. It takes some hunting, as the BLS updates its data frequently. (See http://bls.gov.)

Many IT magazines and Web sites compile their own IT-related surveys of salaries and career satisfaction:
  • InformationWeek: http://informationweek.com/advisor/
  • ComputerWorld publishes its survey in October: http://computerworld.com/ careertopics/careers/ salarysurvey2004/home/
  • Salary.com compiles salary data quarterly and provides numbers using its salary calculator: http://salary.com/ . Several companies use it, including IT job site Dice.com.
    IT management firm Janco Associates compiles a survey, but it's not free: http://e-janco.com/Salary.htm
    Staffing agency Robert Half keeps track of hiring data and salaries for several industries, including IT. The survey is free, but is not available on their Web site. Instead, you fill out a form at http://roberthalftechnology.com /FreeResources and receive the report in the mail.
    --M.D.

    More Salary Survey
    The PDF format of this article boasts over 30 charts, including average salary by state, by certification and job title, salaries by certification for over 40 metropolitan areas, salaries for the self-employed, the impact of certification on employability -- and much more. Free registration is required to get the PDF.
    Get it here.

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