Hot tech skills and certifications that will get you through the beginning of 2021 (and maybe further)

The pandemic has generally been very good to tech professionals but not every tech job and skill is crushing it. These skills and certifications are doing better than most right now.

skills programmer data scientist graduate school college certification mortar board valedictorian c
Cole Keiste_modified/Thinkstock

In the modern history of economic recessions, technology has led us to the light. And it always will because no matter what upheaval is happening in the world of commerce and industry, technology innovation persists. Evolving technology barrels down the train tracks at breakneck speed no matter what, often out-distancing the ability of humans to adopt it or quickly turn it into drivers of competitive advantage, market share, or profitability.

The difference right now is that prior to COVID-19’s arrival, some companies had banked enough cash prior to withstand its disruption. Others have been fortunate to be able to surf new pandemic economy opportunities---think online retailers, banks and financial services, logistics and shipping companies, to name a few.  And then there are those outliers who simply know how to extract winning solutions from the innovation freight train and are able to make fewer mistakes in their execution. Key to their success is they have the talent and skills in place at the right time, in the right place, and in the right intensity to build and deliver the products and services consumers want. Because without the human element they cannot execute on these tech opportunities know matter how smart and well-financed they are.

Winning tech skills and certification right now

As long-time forecasters and analysts of tech labor markets and the supply and demand for tech talent and skills, Foote Partners focuses on this human element. We’ve pulled the latest data from our long-running IT Skills and Certifications Pay IndexTM (ITSCPI) to determine what tech skills and certifications are good bets right now and into the new year for being attractive to employers who are either hiring or exploiting tech innovation.

How we chose the winners. We focused on hard statistics: cash pay premiums employers are willing to pay for certified and non-certified tech skills. Further, we searched for those that meet two prerequisites: they are earning workers pay premiums well above the average of all 1,110 skills and certifications reported in our ITSCPI and also recorded the biggest gains in market value in the six months ending October 1, 2020. We have no reason to believe their attractiveness to employers will not continue into 2021.



1.      Security architecture and models

      Average pay premium: 19 percent of base salary equivalent

      Market value increase: 5.6 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2020)           

Two fundamental concepts in computer and information security are the security model, which outlines how security is to be implemented—in other words, providing a “blueprint”—and the security architecture of a computer system, which fulfills this blueprint. Security architecture is a view of the overall system architecture from a security point and how the system is put together to satisfy the security requirements. It describes the components of the logical hardware, operating system, and software security components, and how to implement those components to architect, build and evaluate the security of computer systems. With cybersecurity related skills gaining prominence and the threat landscape continuing to be a core business issue, we expect security models and architecting skills to continue to be strong going forward.

2.      Marketo

Average pay premium: 17 percent of base salary equivalent  

Market value increase: 41.7 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2020)           

Marketing automation is the process of using software to complete repetitive marketing tasks designed to nurture sales leads, personalize marketing messages and content and, in the process, save marketers’ time and effort. It is part of a massive stack of marketing technology tools that includes around 8,000 solutions in the marketplace. Marketo is one of the most popular software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based marketing automation software solutions owned by Adobe and built to help organizations automate and measure marketing engagement, tasks and workflows. The software aims to allow B2B and B2C marketers target qualified leads, produce lead-to-revenue opportunities and execute automated, personalized marketing campaigns across multiple digital channels and includes SEO and content creation. Marketo supports large enterprises to fast-growing small businesses across a variety of industries from technology to higher education.

3.      Ethereum

Average pay premium: 17 percent of base salary equivalent  

Market value increase: 30.8 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2020)           

Ethereum is one of the most popular decentralized open source, public blockchain-based distributed computing platform and OS for smart contract functionality. If you want to become a blockchain expert, learning how to build apps on Ethereum is a great place to start. It is the second-largest cryptocurrency platform by market capitalization, behind bitcoin, serving as the platform for over 1,900 different cryptocurrencies and tokens, including 47 of the top 100 cryptocurrencies. And with bitcoin value now at an all-time high, the timing couldn’t be better to be involved in Ethereum.


4.      Apache Flink

Average pay premium: 17 percent of base salary equivalent  

Market value increase: 13.3 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2020)           

Apache Flink is an open-source, unified stream-processing and bulk/batch-processing runtime system framework developed by the Apache Software Foundation. The core of Flink is a distributed streaming data-flow engine that can be written in Java, Scala, Python and SQL, and executes arbitrary dataflow programs in a data-parallel and pipelined (hence task parallel) manner. Alibaba’s real-time computing platform, powered by Apache Flink, this year processed data streams totaling four billion items per second during peak time, a considerable surge from 2.5 billion last year. The system provides a high-throughput, low-latency streaming engine as well as support for event-time processing and state management. Flink applications are fault-tolerant in the event of machine failure and support exactly-once semantics. Programs are automatically compiled and optimized into dataflow programs that are executed in a cluster or cloud environment.

5.      [Tie]    Natural language processing

Master data management

Average pay premium: 17 percent of base salary equivalent        

Market value increase: 6.3 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2020)           

Human language doesn't speak in zeros and ones, but there's a lot of benefit and productivity that can be gained when machines are taught to read, decipher, understand, and make sense of the human language in a manner that is valuable. That's the goal of natural language processing, usually shortened as NLP. It’s the driving force behind such common applications as Google Translate, the grammatical checking in Microsoft Word, and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) applications used in call centers. NLP is also essential when it comes to working with many types of unstructured data such as the data in electronic health records, emails, text messages, transcripts, social media posts -- anything with a language component. It's through NLP that we can get to more advanced technologies such as sentiment analysis.

Systems based on machine-learning algorithms have many advantages and they are all driving NLP forward as a hot skill area to invest in. Consider the following:

  • Learning procedures used during machine learning automatically focus on the most common cases, whereas when writing rules by hand it is often not at all obvious where the effort should be directed.
  • Automatic learning procedures can make use of statistical inference algorithms to produce models that are robust to unfamiliar input (e.g. containing words or structures that have not been seen before) and to erroneous input (e.g. with misspelled words or words accidentally omitted). NLP’s advantage is that creating systems of handwritten rules that make soft decisions is extremely difficult, error-prone and time-consuming.
  • Systems based on automatically learning the rules can be made more accurate simply by supplying more input data. There is a limit to the complexity of systems based on handcrafted rules, beyond which the systems become more and more unmanageable. But creating more data to input to machine-learning systems simply requires a corresponding increase in the number of man-hours worked, generally without significant increases in the complexity of the annotation process.

Master data management (MDM) arose out of the necessity for businesses to improve the consistency and quality of their key data assets, such as product data, asset data, customer data, location data, etc. Many businesses today, especially global enterprises, have hundreds of separate applications and systems where data that crosses organizational departments or divisions can easily become fragmented, duplicated and most commonly out of date. When this occurs, accurately answering even the most basic but critical questions about any type of performance metric or KPI for a business becomes hard. The basic need for accurate, timely information is acute and as sources of data increase, managing it consistently and keeping data definitions up to date so all parts of a business use the same information is a never-ending challenge. That’s what has and will continue to drive a premium on MDM skills.

6.      Keras

Average pay premium: 16 percent of base salary equivalent  

Market value increase: 23.1 percent (in the three months through October 1, 2020)           

Keras is a high-level deep learning API written in Python and running on top of the machine learning platform TensorFlow, an end-to-end, open-source machine learning platform. It was developed with a focus on enabling fast experimentation: being able to go from idea to result as fast as possible. You can think of it as an infrastructure layer for differentiable programming, combining four key abilities:

  • Efficiently executing low-level tensor operations on CPU, GPU, or TPU.
  • Computing the gradient of arbitrary differentiable expressions.
  • Scaling computation to many devices
  • Exporting programs ("graphs") to external runtimes such as servers, browsers, mobile and embedded devices.

Keras is an approachable, highly-productive interface for solving machine learning problems, with a focus on modern deep learning. It provides essential abstractions and building blocks for developing and shipping machine learning solutions with high iteration velocity. It contains numerous implementations of commonly used neural-network building blocks such as layers, objectives, activation functions, optimizers, and a host of tools to make working with image and text data easier to simplify the coding necessary for writing deep neural network code. The code is hosted on GitHub, and community support forums include the GitHub issues page, and a Slack channel.

In addition to standard neural networks, Keras has support for convolutional and recurrent neural networks. It supports other common utility layers like dropout, batch normalization, and pooling. Keras allows users to productize deep models on smartphones (iOS and Android), on the web, or on the Java Virtual Machine. It also allows use of distributed training of deep-learning models on clusters of Graphics processing units (GPU) and tensor processing units (TPU).

7.      [Tie]    Apache Cloudstack

Cloud Foundry


Six Sigma/Lean Six Sigma

Average pay premium: 16 percent of base salary equivalent             

Market value increase: 14.3 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2020)           

Apache CloudStack is open source software designed to deploy and manage large networks of virtual machines, as a highly available, highly scalable infrastructure as a service (IaaS) cloud computing platform. The platform has been around since 2012; since then, its promise of compute orchestration, network-as-a-service capabilities, user and account management, and resource accounting has convinced companies like BT, Apple, Autodesk, Citrix Systems, Disney, Nokia, and SAP to join the CloudStack user base as an on-premises cloud offering or as part of a hybrid cloud solution.

CloudStack is a turnkey solution that includes the entire "stack" of features most organizations want with an IaaS cloud--compute orchestration, Network-as-a-Service, user and account management, a full and open native API, resource accounting, a first-class user interface—and currently supports the most popular hypervisors: VMware, KVM, Citrix eServer, Xen Cloud Platform (XCP), Oracle VM server and Microsoft Hyper-V. Users can manage their cloud with an easy to use Web interface, command line tools, and/or a full-featured RESTful API. In addition, CloudStack provides an API that's compatible with AWS EC2 and S3 for organizations that wish to deploy hybrid clouds.

Cloud Foundry is an open source, multi-cloud application platform as a service (PaaS). Unlike most other cloud computing platform services — which are tied to particular cloud providers — Cloud Foundry is a container-based architecture running apps in any programming language over a variety of cloud service providers. If desired, you can deploy it on AWS, but you can also host it yourself on your own OpenStack server, or through HP Helion or VMware vSphere. Cloud Foundry is promoted for continuous delivery as it supports the full application development lifecycle, from initial development through all testing stages to deployment. Its architecture runs apps in any programming language over a variety of cloud service providers, allowing developers to use the cloud platform that suits specific application workloads and move those workloads as necessary within minutes with no changes to the application.

Cloud Foundry is optimized to deliver fast application development and deployment; highly scalable and available architecture; DevOps-friendly workflows; a reduced chance of human error; Multi-tenant compute efficiencies. Key benefits of Cloud Foundry that power its popularity include:

  • Application portability
  • Application auto-scaling
  • Centralized platform administration
  • Centralized logging
  • Dynamic routing
  • Application health management
  • Integration with external logging components like Elasticsearch and Logstash
  • Role-based access for deployed applications
  • Provision for vertical and horizontal scaling
  • Infrastructure security
  • Support for various IaaS providers

Erlang is a general-purpose, concurrent, functional programming language and a garbage-collected runtime system used to build massively scalable soft real-time systems with requirements on high availability. It is currently the gold standard for developing complex multithreaded systems designed for high availability. Some of its uses are in telecoms, banking, e-commerce, computer telephony and instant messaging. Erlang’s runtime systems have built-in support for concurrency, distribution and fault tolerance. The term Erlang is used interchangeably with Erlang/OTP, or Open Telecom Platform (OTP), which consists of the Erlang runtime system, several ready-to-use components (OTP) mainly written in Erlang, and a set of design principles for Erlang programs.

The Erlang runtime system is designed for systems with these traits: distributed; fault-tolerant; soft real-time; highly available, non-stop applications; hot swapping, where code can be changed without stopping a system. It has immutable data, pattern matching, and functional programming. The sequential subset of the Erlang language supports eager evaluation, single assignment, and dynamic typing.

Six Sigma is a method that provides organizations tools to improve the capability of their business processes. The increase in performance and decrease in process variation helps lead to defect reduction and improvement in profits, employee morale, and quality of products or services. Six Sigma focuses on reducing process variation and enhancing process control, whereas lean drives out waste (non-value-added processes and procedures) and promotes work standardization and flow. The distinction between Six Sigma and lean has blurred, with the term "lean Six Sigma" being used more and more often because process improvement requires aspects of both approaches to attain positive results.

Lean Six Sigma is a fact-based, data-driven philosophy of improvement that values defect prevention over defect detection. It drives customer satisfaction and bottom-line results by reducing variation, waste, and cycle time, while promoting the use of work standardization and flow, thereby creating a competitive advantage. It applies anywhere variation and waste exist, and every employee should be involved.

Lean and Six Sigma both provide customers with the best possible quality, cost, delivery, and a newer attribute, nimbleness. There is a great deal of overlap between the two disciplines; however, they both approach their common purpose from slightly different angles:

  • Lean focuses on waste reduction, whereas Six Sigma emphasizes variation reduction.
  • Lean achieves its goals by using less technical tools such as kaizen, workplace organization, and visual controls, whereas Six Sigma tends to use statistical data analysis, design of experiments, and hypothesis testing

Often successful implementations begin with the lean approach, making the workplace as efficient and effective as possible, reducing waste, and using value stream maps to improve understanding and throughput. If process problems remain, more technical Six Sigma statistical tools may then be applied.

8.      [Tie]    Elixir

Functional Programming

Average pay premium: 16 percent of base salary equivalent

Market value increase: 6.7 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2020)

The rise of fault-tolerant, distributed systems led to greater programming complexity. Both Elixir and Erlang offer unique benefits for developing always-available and highly concurrent systems. Concurrent programming power web-based and mobile technologies as well as online collaborations between users, machines and smart devices.

Elixir is a dynamic, functional, concurrent general-purpose programming language that runs on the BEAM virtual machine used to implement the Erlang programming language. Elixir builds on top of Erlang and shares the same abstractions for building distributed, fault-tolerant scalable and maintainable applications while also being successfully used in web development, embedded software, data ingestion, and multimedia processing domains. Elixir also provides productive tooling and an extensible design.

Elixir incorporates and builds on some of the key capabilities found in Erlang and statically typed language Kotlin. For example, it uses asynchronous messaging and eliminates shared memory to ensure concurrent handling for thousands of requests. These features of Elixir benefit microservice architectures, and enable Elixir applications to scale both vertically on multiple cores and horizontally across nodes.

Similar to Erlang, high fault tolerance also helps make Elixir immune to external networking problems and internal issues like bugs in logic and data. For example, if an application user makes a request with a bug in it, that specific process will crash, but other users will remain connected. In Elixir, the process scheduler will preemptively shift control to a different process to avoid downtimes. And since it's a compiled language, mistakes in code will prevent programs from running.

Functional programming has become a really hot topic in the JavaScript world. Just a few years ago, few JavaScript programmers even knew what functional programming is, but every large application codebase we’ve seen in the past four years makes heavy use of functional programming ideas. Often abbreviated to FP, functional programming is the process of building software by composing pure functions, avoiding shared state, mutable data, and side-effects. Functional programming is declarative rather than imperative, and application state flows through pure functions. It’s really a programming paradigm, meaning that it is a way of thinking about software construction based on some fundamental, defining principles. Other examples of programming paradigms include procedural programming and object-oriented programming, which by contract is application state that is usually shared and collocated with methods in objects.

Functional programming promotes a coding style that helps developers write code that is short, concise, and maintainable and has become a really hot topic in the JavaScript world. For example, pattern matching allows developers to easily destructure data and access its contents. When mixed with guards, pattern matching allows us to elegantly match and assert specific conditions for some code to execute. Functional code tends to be more concise, more predictable, and easier to test than imperative or object oriented code — but if you’re unfamiliar with it and the common patterns associated with it, functional code can also seem a lot denser, and the related literature can be impenetrable to newcomers.


1.      CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+)

Average pay premium: 14 percent of base salary equivalent

Market value increase: 7.7 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2020)         

The Advanced Security Practitioner from CompTIA is the only hands-on, performance-based certification for practitioners — not managers — at the advanced skill level of cybersecurity. While cybersecurity managers help identify what cybersecurity policies and frameworks could be implemented, CASP+ certified professionals figure out how to implement solutions within those policies and frameworks.  This certification validates advanced-level competency in risk management, enterprise security operations and architecture, research and collaboration, and integration of enterprise security. It measures knowledge in the following:

  • Enterprise security domain expanded to include operations and architecture concepts, techniques and requirements
  • More emphasis on analyzing risk through interpreting trend data and anticipating cyberdefense needs to meet business goals
  • Expanding security control topics to include mobile and small-form factor devices, as well as software vulnerability
  • Broader coverage of integrating cloud and virtualization technologies into a secure enterprise architecture
  • Inclusion of implementing cryptographic techniques, such as blockchain, cryptocurrency and mobile device encryption 


2.      Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT))

Average pay premium: 11 percent of base salary equivalent

      Market value increase: 37.5 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2020)   

With 6,100 having achieved the Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT) certification from ISACA as of August 2020 and an 11 percent growth rate over the past two years, tech professionals who have achieved this vendor-neutral certification hold senior-level positions in their organizations. The CGEIT is designed for professionals who are deeply entrenched in enterprise governance and assurance—two areas that were growing in popularity before the pandemic and having only increased with the chaos it has created. They know how to align business with IT, follow best practices and standards for IT operations and governance, manage IT investments, and foster environments that continuously improve on processes and policies.

To achieve CGEIT certification, candidates must pass a 150-question exam that has five domains:

  • Domain 1 (25 percent of exam) includes establishing a framework for governance of enterprise IT that helps the organization realize its goals and objectives, while considering risk and optimization. It also covers all the basic requirements, policies, principles, processes, organizational structures, infrastructure, skills and competencies necessary to build, oversee, and manage a framework IT governance.
  • Domain 2 (16 percent) focuses on aligning IT with enterprise objectives creating a strategic plan that helps the organization understand how changes to business strategy will impact IT strategy. This domain covers knowledge of IT roles and responsibilities, prioritization processes, documentation and communication methods, potential barriers for strategic alignment and current and future technologies.
  • Domain 3 (24 percent) covers benefits realization, which is the process of managing, tracking and reporting on the performance of IT investments to ensure they deliver optimized business benefits. This domain includes knowledge of KPIs, benefit calculation techniques, how to measure and monitor outcome and performance, and knowledge of continuous improvement concepts and principles.
  • Domain 4 (24 percent) encompasses risk optimization, which is the process of ensuring IT risk management frameworks help identify, analyze, mitigate, manage, monitor and communicate IT-related business risk and that they’re aligned with the enterprise risk management (ERM) framework. Risk optimization also includes an understanding of appropriate legal and compliance regulations and the ability to communicate risk to senior-level executives. You’ll need knowledge of disaster recovery planning (DRP), business continuity planning (BCP), standard risk management frameworks, key risk indicators (KRIs) and the skills to report on analytical data.
  • Domain 5 (15 percent) covers the optimization of IT resources, including information, services, infrastructure and applications, and people. This domain includes everything you need to know to ensure the correct processes are in place to reach enterprise goals. You’ll need knowledge of IT resource management, service level agreements (SLAs), operation level agreements (OLAs) and data management and data governance.  

Candidates must also provide proof of work experience (a minimum of five years of professional-level enterprise management, or serving in an advisory or governance support role). The work experience requirement for the CGEIT is more specific than for other ISACA certifications. One year of experience must be related to enterprise IT governance frameworks, and the other years must be related to strategic management, benefits realization, risk optimization or resource optimization.

3.      Certified Scrum Product Owner

      Average pay premium: 11 percent of base salary equivalent
      Market value increase: 22.2 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2020)   

From a business standpoint, one of the most vital roles on any Scrum team is the Product Owner. It is a challenging role, one that requires the PO to take accountability for making business decisions about the product–decisions such as which features to include and the priority of those features. However, these decisions cannot be made in a vacuum. Because the PO must get input from other business stakeholders, they need skills such as facilitation, conflict management, creative thinking, and the ability to influence the team and other stakeholders.

While the Certified ScrumMaster helps the Scrum Team work together to learn and implement Scrum, the Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) creates the product vision; writes or participates in the writing of product requirements; develops and prioritizes the list of these features called a product backlog; reviews, tests and accepts the product; and makes sure the best possible job is done to satisfy the customer. To achieve this certification, the candidate attends a live online or in-person course taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST®), or receives private coaching from a Certified Agile Coach (CAC). After successfully completing the course, you will be asked to accept the CSPO License Agreement.

Benefits of a Certified Scrum Product Owner certification:

  • Expand career opportunities across all industry sectors adopting Agile practices
  • Demonstrate your attainment of core Scrum knowledge
  • Learn the foundation of Scrum and the scope of the Product Owner role
  • Engage with Agile practitioners committed to continuous improvement


4. Certified Technical Architect 

Average pay premium: 10 percent of base salary equivalent

      Market value increase: 11.1 percent (in the six months through October 1, 2020) is one of the top vendors of customer relationship management (CRM) products for all size companies but especially for small businesses. You'll find Salesforce products and services in use across a wide swath of industries, from automotive and healthcare, to nonprofits, retail, media and communications, and finance. Initially offered as sales automation software, Salesforce is now best known for its Intelligent Customer Success Platform, which provides cloud solutions for sales, communities, service, analytics, marketing, platform, apps, the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence.

Among three architect certifications offered by Salesforce, at the top is the Salesforce Certified Technical Architect, the crème de la crème of the Salesforce architect portfolio. This pinnacle credential recognizes professionals who implement and design custom customer solutions on the platform, a more specialized platform as a service (PaaS) built specifically to integrate custom apps with Salesforce cloud offerings.

To obtain this designation, you must first earn the other two domain architecture credentials (Salesforce Certified Application Architect, Salesforce Certified System Architect). At that point, you're qualified to take the Salesforce Certified Technical Architect Certification Review Board Exam. During the exam, you will be provided with a hypothetical scenario, with detailed customer requirements, and be asked to present and justify your recommended architecture solution. Candidates must complete each task in order and may not move on to the next item until the prior task has been successfully completed.

Honorable Mention certifications that are earning at or slightly below the average cash pay premiums for all certifications in the latest ITSCPI but are showing outstanding growth vectors going into 2021:

  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional
  • AWS Certified SysOps Administrator-Associate
  • Red Hat Certified Systems Administrator
  • SUSE Enterprise Engineer (SCE)
  • TIBCO Certified Professional