All 2024 compensation surveys updated on JANUARY 1, APRIL 1, JULY 1, AND OCTOBER 1

Top 10 fastest growing, highest paying tech skills – and no certification required

My last column reviewed cash pay premiums for tech certifications in the first half of 2018, specifically which ones pay exceptionally well and are still growing in market value. But did you know there are at least 536 tech skills for which employers are willing to pay extra that either don’t have certifications or it just doesn’t matter to employers that invest in them?

That’s a lot of skills. And the survey demographics behind them are impressive: 74,644 U.S. and Canadian tech professionals in as many as 3,231 private and public-sector employers who are earning dollars for their certified and noncertified skills. We’ve tracked and reported them since 2000 in the quarterly-updated IT Skills and Certifications Pay IndexTM (ITSCPI).

Not all ranked hot skills lists are alike

You may have noticed there is no shortage of tech related top ten lists of hot jobs, hot skills, hot cities, and best employers for tech professionals. Says who?  You have to ask yourself how these lists were created.

Hot skills and certifications articles featuring ranked lists typically rank by salaries paid to individuals with these skills but salaries are paid to workers for entire jobs. Using this methodology, is it even possible to separate how much of a salary is earmarked for a specific certified or noncertified skill and how much is paid for the various duties and responsibilities, knowledge and competencies, or necessary soft skills? No attempt is ever made to ferret this out.  

Another popular source of ranked hot skills lists are jobs boards that use keyword searches to tally the number of mentions in job postings and then rank them. Still another methodology is employed by recruiting firms that survey executives or track compensation data from their job placements. These approaches have their strengths and weaknesses to be sure and they all deserve attention as long as you are savvy enough to understand how the results may be skewed based on factors such as data sample demographics, survey methodologies, timing, and bias.

Our firm has been independently tracking and reporting jobs, skills, and certifications performance for more than two decades with the simple goal of vendor independence, higher than average reliability data validation and, above all, the most accuracy attainable.

Fastest growing noncertified tech skills that also earn the highest pay

The following noncertified tech skills meet two prerequisites: they recorded gains in cash market value in the first six months of 2018 in our surveyed data and they are earning workers a pay premium well above the average of all 538 skills in the ITSCPI. No skill is earning less than the equivalent of 15 percent of base salary—the average for all skills reported is 9.4 percent—and are listed below in descending ranked order of cash premium (including ties).

1. Risk analytics/assessment

Pay Premium: 17 percent of base salary equivalent (average)

Market Value Increase: 6.3 percent (in the first six months of 2018)

Evaluating risk is an obsession for many businesses. For others it is something to ignore at great peril to their future success. Most employers will reward people who can incorporate data and insights from many sources to better identify, measure, and mitigate risk. McKinsey & Company recently published an excellent paper entitled “Risk Analytics Enters Its Prime,"  which describes what this is all about.

2. Ethereum

Pay Premium: 16 percent  

Market Value Increase: 6.7 percent   

Blockchain!  Ethereum is arguably the most popular open source, public blockchain-based distributed computing platform and OS for smart contract functionality.

3. Cryptography (encryption, VPN, SSL/TLS, Hybrids)

Pay Premium: 16 percent  

Market Value Increase: 14.3 percent   

Until modern times, cryptography referred almost exclusively to encryption and decryption of linguistic and lexicographic patterns, most recently made famous in a Hollywood movie for the decryption of German ciphers during WWII. Today the focus is on cryptosystems designed to provide particular functionality (e.g., public key encryption) while guaranteeing certain security properties. Examples: RSA encryption, Schnorr signature, PGP. More complex cryptosystems include electronic cash systems, signcryption systems, and others.

4. Big Data analytics

Pay Premium: 16 percent

Market Value Increase: 14.3 percent in the first six months

For all the interest in the use of advanced data analytics to enable companies to understand, package, and visualize data for enhanced decision making, the truth is that the marketplace for so-called Big Data skills has been surprisingly volatile. But in a good way, with 85 Big Data related noncertified skills averaging just over 12 per cent in skills premium pay. Nearly 33, or 30 percent, have changed market value in the first half of 2018.

5. Data Governance

Pay Premium: 16 percent  

Market Value Increase: 6.7 percent   

Data governance is the overall management of the availability, usability, integrity and security of data used in an enterprise, and having a solid one is critical. A sound data governance program includes a governing body or council, a defined set of procedures and a plan to execute those procedures. Processes must then be defined to effectively cover how the data will be stored, archived, backed up and protected from mishaps, theft or attacks. A set of standards and procedures is then developed that defines how the data is to be used by authorized personnel. A set of controls and audit procedures must be put into place that ensures ongoing compliance with internal data policies and external government regulations, and that guarantees data is used in a consistent manner across multiple enterprise applications.

6. Data Science

Pay Premium: 15 percent  

Market Value Increase: 15.4 percent   

Notes:  Data Science is a market basket of skills covering coding, statistics, machine learning, multivariate calculus and linear algebra, data cleansing, data visualization, data architecture, communication, problem solving, critical thinking, and a slew of risk analysis, process improvement, and systems engineering skills among others. Some employers will lump them all into a broad single skill pay category and attached a cash premium, allowing them to choose various combinations for individual workers.

7. Apache Spark
8. Artificial Intelligence
9. Penetration testing
10. Scala

Pay Premium: 15 percent  

Market Value Increase: 7.1 percent  

These skills recorded identical growth and pay premiums so far this year.

Apache Spark has become one of the key big data distributed processing frameworks in the world, deployed in a variety of ways to provide native bindings for Java, Scala, Python, and R programming languages. It supports SQL, streaming data, machine learning, and graph processing among other uses, all very in demand skills.

The Scala programming language—short for ‘scalable’--makes up for a lot of deficiencies in Java, integrating with Java while optimizing code to work with concurrency. It appeals most to enterprises that have already invested in Java and don't want to have to support anything new in their production environments.  

More companies than ever, across many industries, are making big bets on machine learning, deep learning, automation, and artificial intelligence. Staffing in all these areas is competitive; we believe demand will continue to rise as will pay for AI skills. The question of whether AI will wipe out entire job categories as machines replace humans is open for debate although the most recent research suggests there are plenty of tasks that human excel at over AI and machine learning. In other words, the workforce will only be partially affected by AI but investment in AI skills will continue to grow in the foreseeable future.

Penetration testing is an authorized simulated attack on a computer system, performed to evaluate the security of the system. It almost goes without saying the investments in good pen testing talent has been in direct proportion to the increased level and complexity of cyberattacks.