The 7 Best IT Certifications of 2020

Boost your skills and your salary

We publish unbiased reviews; our opinions are our own and are not influenced by payments from advertisers. Learn about our independent review process and partners in our advertiser disclosure.

As businesses continue to rely on increasingly complex information systems, the need for experienced IT professionals continues to grow. Individuals with particular IT certifications are even more sought-after since the rigorous exams and certification prerequisites showcase both deep knowledge and real-world experience.

There’s also evidence that IT certifications can boost earning potential. A recent survey showed that 23% of IT professionals experienced a 20% salary increase after getting certified. According to CompTIA, 72% of employers actually require IT certifications for certain positions, and 92% believe IT certifications help ensure the credibility of their IT staff.          

We looked at over a dozen popular IT certifications and chose the best—those with the highest demand, earning potential, and opportunities for advancement. These are our top picks. 

The 7 Best IT Certifications of 2020

Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect

Google

Google

While Amazon Web Services (AWS) owns 33% of the cloud marketplace versus Google Cloud Platform’s (GCP) 8%, Google is increasingly appealing to newer startups with modern modular applications compatible across any cloud environment. As a result, GCP certification is in high demand and commands one of the highest IT salaries, averaging around $175,000 per year.

As more and more businesses leverage the power of the cloud, they are finding it difficult to find qualified candidates to fill cloud IT positions. GCP certification caters to this need by showing that an individual has the skills to design, develop, and manage a secure, scalable cloud architecture using GCP technologies.

The GCP exam takes two hours to complete, costs $200, and can be taken online or at a local test center. GCP certification is valid for two years, and then an individual will need to get recertified by taking the exam again.

Google recommends at least three years of industry experience including at least one year of designing and managing solutions using GCP for anyone wanting to take the GCP certification exam. 

Recommended Training Provider

As a company-sponsored certificate, professionals seeking GCP certification should go straight to Google for training. Google offers an exam guide, a practice exam, and a number of free online training resources for GCP certification. 

AWS Certified Solutions Architect—Associate

Amazon Web Services

Amazon Web Services

Despite the growing popularity of GCP, AWS remains the most recognized and widely used cloud provider. AWS Solutions Architect certification indicates that an individual has the skills to design cloud infrastructures, reference architectures, and deploy systems and applications on AWS. This popular and lucrative certification can command a salary of $149,000 or more per year.   

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam takes 130 minutes to complete, costs $150, and is available at Pearson VUE and PSI network testing centers. An AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification is a prerequisite for AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate certification. 

Recommended Training Provider

As a company-sponsored certificate, professionals seeking AWS should turn to Amazon Web Services for training. The company recommends “one or more years of hands-on experience designing available, cost-efficient, fault-tolerant, and scalable distributed systems on AWS” and offers an exam guide, sample questions, a practice exam, and other training resources.

Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

ISACA

ISACA

The Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) offers the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certification for professionals looking to make the move from security technologist to IT manager. A CISM’s role is to design and engineer security protocols and manage a company's security. The salary for this position typically comes in at about $148,000 per year. 

The CISM exam costs $575 for ISACA members and $760 for non-members and can be taken online or at a local test center. It costs an additional $50 to request a certificate once the exam has been passed. Individuals can apply for a certificate within the first five years of passing the exam. 

The requirements for retaining CISM certification include a minimum of 20 continuing professional education (CPE) hours per year, a minimum of 120 CPE hours for a three-year reporting cycle period, and an annual $85 renewal fee ($45 for ISACA members).

Recommended Training Provider

ISACA offers training and prep for the CISM exam including an online review course, e-book study guides, and virtual and in-person instructor-led training.  

Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)

ISACA

ISACA

Another offering from ISACA, the Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) certification, is for individuals looking for a security manager or director position. Certification shows that the individual is skilled at identifying and managing IT risk and implementing and maintaining information systems controls. The average salary for a CRISC certified professional is around $146,000.

The CRISC exam costs $575 for ISACA members and $760 for non-members and is available online or at local test centers. It costs an additional $50 to request a certificate once the exam has been passed. Individuals can apply for certification within the first five years of passing the exam. 

The requirements for maintaining CRISC certification include a minimum of 20 CPE hours per year, a minimum of 120 CPE hours for a three-year reporting cycle period, and an annual $45 renewal fee for ISACA members or $85 for non-members.

Recommended Training Provider

As an organization-sponsored certificate, professionals seeking CRISC certification should turn to ISACA for training. The organization’s training and prep include an online review course, e-book study guides, and virtual and in-person instructor-led training.

Project Management Professional (PMP)

Project Management Institute

Project Management Institute

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is administered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) for individuals who want to expand their skills as a project manager. Certification shows that an individual has the skills to define, plan, and manage complex projects and teams. The average salary for a certified PMP is $143,000.

Prerequisites for the PMP certification include a four-year degree, three years of experience leading projects, and 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM Certification. Alternatively, an individual can apply for certification with a high school diploma or an associate degree, five years leading projects, and 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM Certification.

The fee for the PMP is $405 for PMI members and $555 for non-members. The exam is 200 questions and can be taken online. PMI requires PMP certificate holders to earn 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs) over three years to maintain their certification.

Recommended Training Provider

As an organization-sponsored certificate, professionals seeking PMI certification should turn to PMI for training. The organization offers a variety of PMP exam preparation resources including an exam outline, handbook, and sample questions.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

(ISC)2

(ISC)2

The International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2 is considered by some the world's largest IT security organization and specializes in training and certifications for cybersecurity professionals. The organization’s Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credential is one of the most sought-after cybersecurity certifications worldwide and showcases an individual’s skill in designing, implementing, and managing a best-in-class cybersecurity program. CISSP certification professionals earn an average salary of $141,000.

Prerequisites for CISSP certification include a minimum of five cumulative years of paid, relevant work experience in two or more of the CISSP Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) domains. Individuals without these requirements can still take the exam and have up to six years to obtain the required experience. A four-year college degree or regional equivalent or an additional credential from (ISC)2 counts as one year of the required experience.

The CISSP exam costs $699, is 100–150 questions long, and takes three hours to complete. Exams are available at local Pearson VUE testing centers. Certification holders are required to pay a single annual maintenance fee of $125, which is due each year upon the anniversary of their certification date. Individuals can renew their CISSP certification by obtaining 120 CPE credits before the certification expires, 40 of which must be earned each year. Alternatively, an individual can retake the exam.

Recommended Training Provider

As an organization-sponsored certificate, professionals seeking CISSP certification should turn to (ISC)2 to get training for this certification. The organization offers training and prep for the CISSP exam including study guides, practice tests, a self-paced review course, and virtual and in-person instructor-led training.    

Information Technology Infrastructure Library Foundation (ITIL)

AXELOS

AXELOS

Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a set of practices for IT service management that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of businesses. Its aim is to establish best practices for controlling or reducing IT costs, improving IT services, and balancing IT resources. 

Since 2013, ITIL has been owned by AXELOS, which currently accredits licensed examination institutes for ITIL Foundation certification. Professionals with ITIL Foundation certification earn an average salary of $129,000.

The ITIL Foundation certification exam costs $363, takes an hour to complete, and can be taken online or at a local test center. There are no prerequisites to take the exam, and an ITIL certificate never expires.  

Recommended Training Provider

As an organization-sponsored certificate, professionals seeking ITIL certification should turn to AXELOS for training for this certification. The organization offers sample ITIL exams as well as a directory of ITIL training providers through its educational portal, PeopleCert. 

What Is IT Certification?

IT certifications provide proof of an individual’s particular level of expertise in a specific IT field of knowledge. The certificates are often attained with a set of prerequisites that showcase minimum education and real-world requirements. They always include passing a rigorous exam that indicates a detailed depth of knowledge of the particular IT specialization. 

IT certifications rarely help individuals enter IT fields, but rather expand the knowledge and career options for professionals already in IT jobs. These can range from professionals who want to move into new specializations like cloud architecture and cybersecurity to management positions like security and risk management.  

What Does an IT Certificate Include?

All IT certifications require passing an exam, and many also require a minimum of one to five years of real-world experience in a particular area of specialization. Most certifications need to be renewed every one to two years and require a certain amount of continuing education hours to ensure that the knowledge of their certified professionals is up-to-date.  

Many of the certifications we reviewed are offered exclusively by particular companies or organizations that either require or offer membership. These memberships can provide educational resources for recertification and new certification including practice exams and instructor-led training.       

What Is the Cost of an IT Certification?

The main cost of IT certifications is the exam, which can range from $150 to $760. Free and paid certificate training courses are generally available, as well as free continuing education classes. Most certifications need to be renewed every one to two years, with renewal fees ranging from $45 to $200, and require a certain number of continuing education hours.  

How Much Do Certified IT Professionals Earn?

In general, most certified IT professionals earn above $100,000 a year. The certifications we reviewed range from an average salary of $129,000 to $175,000. While many certifications focus on hands-on development, a number are also available for professionals wanting to move into managerial roles.

Is Becoming Certified Worth It?

Businesses are becoming increasingly reliant on complex technologies, which in turn increases the demand for skilled IT professionals who can work with those technologies. Certifications give businesses the confidence of knowing that they’re hiring skilled IT professionals with real-world experience and in-depth knowledge instead of recent graduates with little more than classroom experience.

IT certifications are essential for any professional looking to either pursue other IT career opportunities or to gain essential IT skills (and higher salaries) in their current specialization    

How We Chose the Best IT Certifications

We looked at over a dozen IT certifications before choosing the seven that we reviewed. We were initially guided by certifications that commanded the highest salaries since that indicated both the need and career opportunities for those professionals. However, we also tried to cover the most sought-after certifications in each field, including cloud development and security management. Finally, we made sure to include foundational certifications (like ITIL) as well as certifications for up-and-coming technologies (like GCP).   

Article Sources

The Balance requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy .
  1. EXIN. "The Value of Certification Infographic." Accessed May 22, 2020.

  2. CompTIA. "5 Reasons Why Employers Look for IT Certifications." Accessed May 22, 2020.

  3. Cloud Academy. "Google Cloud vs AWS: A Comparison (or can they be compared?)" Accessed May 22, 2020.

  4. PC Magazine. "The 10 Highest-Paying IT Certifications for 2020." Accessed May 22, 2020.

  5. Global Knowledge. "15 Top-Paying IT Certifications for 2020." Accessed May 22, 2020.

  6. Business News Daily. "(ISC)2 Certification Guide: Overview and Career Paths." Accessed May 22, 2020.