How to Get IT Job Security and a 6-Figure Salary

By Jessica Davis  |  Print this article Print

Even as the recession grinds on and unemployment remains high, virtualization engineers are enjoying boom-time salaries and job opportunities. But gaining your VCP VMware certification doesn't mean you're a shoo-in for the job, solution providers say.

Looking for a six-figure salary and a virtual guarantee of a job? Even as the recession grinds on and unemployment remains high, virtualization engineers are enjoying boom-time salaries and job opportunities.

As more companies look to server consolidation and virtualization as their big IT projects for saving money in 2009 and beyond, and others look to outsource their computing to "the cloud," virtualization engineers have become some of the most sought-after IT professionals on the market.

SmartSource, a Chicago-based personnel company that caters to solution providers nationwide, says while it mostly deals in filling temporary positions, the requests it gets for virtualization engineers are almost always for permanent placement.

"There is definitely a shortage," says SmartSource CEO Joe Iovinelli. "These professionals are definitely in demand."

They command six-figure salaries, and won't be worrying about whether they have a job this year or next. But not all those who describe themselves as virtualization engineers pass muster, warn solution provider executives.

"There's a skills gap," says GreenPages Technology Solutions CTO Mike Healey. That's because virtualization requires a different approach—there's a "logical leap of going from 50 servers down to four."

Solution providers agree that while an individual IT professional may be very talented and skilled, he or she may not have what's needed to be a virtualization engineer.

So if you are an IT professional looking to gain the job security that comes with being a virtualization engineer, how can you pick up the skills required?

Since VMware began offering a freeware version of its VMware ESXi technology, more IT professionals have been looking to gain virtualization skills by downloading the software and playing with it. VMware ESXi offers most of the functionality contained in VMware ESX.

"A lot of people are almost trying to forego training," Healey says. "They think they can pick this up and get going without it. But they need to build their skills to the challenge."

VMware offers a VMware certification on its product that requires IT professionals take a course and then pass an exam. The cost of the VMware certification program is between $5,000 and $6,000. The course itself takes four days to complete and is available over the Web.

For the more advanced, there's a VCDX (VMware Certified Design Expert) certification. Individuals with this certification are trained in the design of VMware infrastructure for enterprise data centers. Being a VCP is a prerequisite.

But there's more to being a virtualization engineer than just being certified. According to Healey, a good virtualization engineer should have some Microsoft skills, networking skills and applications skills.

Matt Murphy, director of professional services for San Diego-based managed services provider The I.T. Pros, says he received many applications for his recently placed Senior VMware Expert help wanted ad.

However, "The percentage of qualified applicants out there has been relatively low," Murphy says. About three-quarters of those applicants had "barely touched VMware." To pass the VCP VMware certification exam, Murphy says, you have to know enough to be a basic VMware administrator. But just passing the exam doesn't ensure that you are an expert.

To make sure he hires the right virtualization engineer, Murphy also looks at the applicant's experience. And the interview is an important part of the process, too, he says.

"I actually have a question-and-answer period I go through with interviewees to test their knowledge," he says.

Jessica Davis covers the channel for eWeek and Channel Insider. Her technology journalism career began well before anyone heard of the World Wide Web and has included stints at Infoworld, Electronic News/EDN, and the Philadelphia Business Journal. Her work has also appeared on CNN and Forbes.com. She has covered hardware, software and networking, as well as the business side of technology. She has won several journalism awards, including a national ASBPE award for best staff-written column, and was named Marketing Computers hardest working tech journalist on their inaugural list of top tech journalists. Jessica can be reached at jessica.davis@ziffdavisenterprise.com