10 hottest IT contractor certifications for 2017

With a massive 96% of HR managers now using IT certifications as screening or hiring criteria during recruitment, it's hard not to consider getting certified in 2017, writes Alex Bennett of Firebrand Training.

It’s an almost age-old, timeless piece of advice (perhaps refreshing when there are so many changes to IT contracting), because it’s based on some fundamentals. Certifications can help you demonstrate the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to put you ‘head and shoulders’ above the crowd. 

But with thousands of IT certifications available, which is the best fit for your contracting skill-set this year? Using data from ITJobsWatch and our insider training industry knowledge, we’ve identified the top IT contractor certifications for 2017.

10. Microsoft MCSD: App Builder

Due to continual demand, the median daily rate for web developers has increased by over 40% since 2009. Developer certifications are common but Microsoft’s stand out as among the most well-supported and recognised.

Build and validate your modern web development skills with the MCSD: App Builder. You’ll prove your advanced knowledge of HTML5, CSS3, Javascript and your ability to create well-structured web applications.

To achieve this high level certification, you’ll need to pass three exams that correspond to three MOCs (Microsoft Official Curriculum). The first two of these exams will certify you for the prerequisite MCSA: Web Applications certification.

Next, take one other Microsoft development elective module (and its associated exam) to achieve the MCSD: App Builder. These electives will build on your already proven web development knowledge and range from SharePoint to Azure. A full list of potential electives can be found online via Microsoft.

The company’s recommended training courses are five days per MOC, so achieving this certification will take time.

9. Amazon Web Services - AWS Certified Developer - Associate Level

Developer contract opportunities are massive and continue to grow. In fact, according to the ITJobsWatch data, development contractors are the most in-demand contracts at the time of writing.

And right now it’s well worth expanding your knowledge to include Amazon Web Services (AWS), because AWS dominated 2016 as the leading cloud infrastructure service provider.

There’s a massive number of potential clients utilising Amazon Web Services. And with the continued uptake of cloud technology by businesses, this number will only increase.

To validate AWS experience for professionals, Amazon has introduced several AWS certifications, including the AWS Certified Developer - Associate.

This certification proves your expertise in developing and maintaining applications on AWS. You’ll learn how to pick the right AWS services for your app, use SDKs with AWS and write AWS-optimised code.

To pass the certification exam, you’ll need a working knowledge of Java, C#/.Net or Python - making it ideally positioned for intermediate-level developers interested in diversifying their skills. The AWS Certified Developer - Associate certification is also a prerequisite for the advanced AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional.

8. The Open Group TOGAF 9.1 Certification – Level 1 & 2

Getting TOGAF certified proves you’re at the top of the enterprise architecture field. This  certification will help you learn and demonstrate a full understanding of the reasons behind every element of TOGAF’s enterprise architecture framework.

Plus, TOGAF demand is soaring as IT and other sectors begin to realise the long term importance of enterprise architecture. As IT technology advances, it’s becoming equally crucial to plan how your client’s business enterprise architecture will be managed.

If you are looking to compound knowledge developed through hands-on work with a globally-recognised certification, TOGAF accreditation is an excellent place to start.

7. EC-Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker

In 2016, Yahoo discovered they were the victims of the largest hack in history, with over 1billion accounts compromised. This year, with cyber crime costs to businesses hitting £4.9 trillion in 2017, the need for proven IT security professionals has never been greater.

Demand for contractors holding EC-Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification has jumped massively since 2015. Achieve it and you’ll prove your comprehensive knowledge of penetration testing, network scanning and social engineering.

The popular CEH certification will teach you how to hack your own systems to find faults, backdoors and potential vulnerabilities. You’ll also study common threats to business infrastructure, like:

  • Trojans, viruses and worms
  • MAC and DHCP attacks
  • Direct-Denial-of-Service (DDoS)
  • SQL injection

The CEH will prepare you to undertake EC-Council’s Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator Certification, teaching you how to investigate cyber crime within a legal framework.

6. AXELOS PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner

Demand is so large that it’s expected 15.7million new project managers will be required globally by 2020. The PRINCE2 will prove your project management knowledge in a role where daily rates can hit £600.

The PRINCE2 consists of two certifications: Foundation and Practitioner. It’s a structured project management methodology constructed from thousands of projects, academics, trainers and consultants.

And in mid-2017, the world’s most popular project management certification will be updated to reflect expert feedback from PRINCE2 practitioners. Whilst the core of PRINCE2 is not changing, there will be a greater focus on practical application of the methodology.

Contractors can wait for the changes to take effect, or get the certification now and update their skills later. Either way, the soon-to-be-updated PRINCE2 will teach you invaluable project management skills.

AXELOS has also built a complementary PRINCE2 Agile certification, which teaches agile concepts within the PRINCE2 project management method.


The UK is investing heavily in cyber security with a £1.9billion budget over 5 years to support the growing industry and develop a world-class cyber security workforce (among other things).

More than ever, organisations need skilled cyber security professionals. Prove you’re among the top IT security professionals in the country with (ISC)2’s CISSP -- the benchmark certification for IT professionals in managerial and technical security roles.

This certification is no pushover and you’ll need comprehensive knowledge of the eight CISSP domains:

  • Security and Risk Management
  • Asset Security
  • Security Engineering
  • Communications and Network Security
  • Identity and Access Management
  • Security Assessment and Testing
  • Security Operations
  • Software Development Security

To qualify for the CISSP certification you’ll also require five years cumulative paid work experience in two or more of the above domains. Because of this experience requirement, the CISSP is definitely one for top level information security experts -- and as such it can help you command higher rates.

4. APMG Agile Project Management

The ability to work in an agile way is increasingly becoming a requirement for software development teams and the demand for contractors skilled in agile software development has never been higher.

If you need a refresher on modern agile practices, or require tangible proof of your knowledge, get APMG’s Agile Project Management certification. While it’s not a developer-centric certification, you’ll still boost your knowledge of agile practices and methodologies and prove you can lead agile project teams.

Plus, the content covered in Agile Project Management integrates well with APMGs popular PRINCE2 certification.

3. EC-Council's Certified Network Defender

The Certified Network Defender launched in 2016 and is positioned parallel to the Certified Ethical Hacker cert. Efforts to prevent breaches are minimised if you lack trained network engineers that can detect and eliminate threats on their networks.

Or as Symantec CEO Michael Brown has put it: “While there will be over 1.5million cyber security jobs that remain unfilled by 2019, millions of IT and Network administrators remain untrained on network defence techniques.”

Achieve the Certified Network Defender and you’ll get a detailed understanding of how to design a secure network in your end-user’s organisation. You’ll also learn the fundamentals of network defence, including how to detect and respond to network attacks.

Given the Certified Ethical Hacker’s success, EC-Council’s reputation as a certification vendor is already secured. If you’re considering expanding your network security knowledge, this certification is one to get.

2. Cisco CCNP Routing and Switching

A Cisco report in 2015 found there was a shortage of 1.2million professionals skilled in IP networking -- with the number expected to grow in the coming years.

Achieve the Cisco CCNP Routing and Switching and you’ll develop your networking skills and learn how to implement enterprise-scale networks. In other words, this certification is ideal for experienced contractors hired to bring Cisco routing and switching technologies to both enterprises and small-medium-sized businesses.

A maintained Cisco certification proves you’re up-to-date with the latest Cisco technology. The CCNP Routing and Switching is no exception and Cisco continually surveys the landscape for anything that may have an impact on your certification or job role.

1. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The EU General Data Protection Regulation will come into force in 2018, governing how enterprises handle their customers’ data. Compliance to the law won’t be easy, and the risk of non-compliance is massive, with fines of up to €20million.

Even in the UK, where Brexit has cast uncertainty on GDPR’s applicability, the consensus is that businesses must still comply with the law if they want to do business in Europe.

Organisations will need to hire professionals skilled in GDPR to ensure they can secure their data and avoid fines. Contractors can now prove their knowledge of GDPR with a certification from a number of different vendors. With a GDPR certification, you’ll prove you can:

  • Embed general data protection legislation
  • Understand and implement governance and enterprise architecture

Businesses will be rushing to improve their data protection before GDPR comes into effect, but don’t hang around; the Information Commissioner’s Office has reminded it’s only 16 months until the legislation comes into play.

Wednesday 1st Feb 2017
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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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