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Salaries rise as storage grows

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"It's expensive to stay on the bleeding edge, but you have to stay up to date," Veronneau said. However, he admitted that he let his SAN certification with EMC Corp. lapse recently. "It had to be renewed, but I've been too busy to go out and get it," he said.

In an EMC shop, Veronneau said, every six or nine months customers get an announcement letter with a "90,000-foot view of what's happening. But you have to drill into that." He believes his EMC certifications over the years have helped get his resume noticed, and he looks for some certifications when making staffing recommendations.

Much has been made of the value -- or lack of value -- of certifications in the storage industry. A survey by Vero Beach, Fla.-based Foote Partners LLC, released in the second quarter of this year, showed the average salary increase for holders of a single certification was at 7.5% of base pay this year vs. a peak of 8.6% in 2001.

According to our 2009 Salary Survey, there was no significant benefit to having one or two certifications, but having three or four certifications did translate to higher salaries for our respondents. Those without any certifications averaged an annual salary of $85,277, slightly higher than respondents with one or two certifications. But storage pros with three certifications reported average salaries of $96,053. At four certifications,

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the average salaries peaked at $96,400, but then dipped to $82,858 for those with five or more.

In the Foote Partners survey, several storage-specific technology certifications did buck the trend and manage to rise in value in 2009, including the EMC Technology Architect (EMCTA) and the EMC Proven Professional Certification program.

Mike Horvath, 38, is one of three data storage administrators at Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati, and a relative storage newbie, with 15 years of IT experience but just two in storage.

In his opinion, the lack of documentation, the need for new application knowledge depending on the environment and the learn-as-you-go aspect of storage management mean certifications quickly lose value.

"What I found is that there are two kinds of people -- one that was book smart and one that knew the job," Horvath said. A single father with a three-year-old daughter, Horvath has carved out a long-term plan for his career that relies on excelling at storage.

"The next 15 years will be spent digging deep into storage," he said. "Finding out everything I can about allocation, storage management. I intend to go into consulting because I've done it before."

A resume that's chock full of dedicated storage experience does mean fatter paychecks for storage professionals, according to our survey. College graduates who spent more than five years specializing in storage did reap the rewards. The average salary for those graduates with three to five years dedicated storage experience was $88,717. That jumped to $95,440 for college graduates with six to 10 years of dedicated storage experience. At 10 years, salaries rose to $105,921.

This was first published in December 2009

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