Which IT certificates will give you the biggest returns?

New opportunities lie in wait.

It's hard to go wrong with a job in IT these days.

Between the ubiquity of computing devices, the unrelenting pace at which data is being creating, the rise of the Internet of Things, the explosion in consumer applications, the acceleration of cloud migration, the unending need for better cybersecurity – the list of trends just goes on – there are so many opportunities to be a part of something huge. And not surprisingly, a lot of technology professionals want to be a part of that something big.

Of course, that's easier said than done. Innovation demands experience, expertise, a willingness to work hard and talent. Maybe you already have the talent and the drive to work hard, and you're just missing the experience and expertise you need to ascend to the next echelon of your dream.

Fortunately, that's exactly what IT certifications help you achieve. They certainly aren't replacements for ambition, intelligence and a willingness to learn, but they can act as the springboard to better things. Let's take a look at some of the most relevant certifications of our time, and why they're sure to yield big returns. 

1. AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

"Public cloud will be a $204 billion industry by the end of 2016."

Public cloud will be a $204 billion industry by the end of 2016, and there's a clear leader in the space: Amazon Web Services. According to RightScale's "2016 State of the Cloud Survey," the majority of public cloud customers are turning to AWS; in fact, nearly 60 percent of respondents stated that they were using AWS. The closest thing that AWS has to a competitor at this point is Microsoft Azure at 17 percent. 

As such, the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification is arguably the most highly prized of all certificates at the moment. A survey conducted by Global Knowledge found that the average annual income of respondents was nearly $126,000. Some previous experience, including extensive knowledge of at least one high-level programming language is necessary for this exam. The registration fee is $150, which isn't bad at all, especially when you consider that the fee for the GRE exam is now at $200. For $50 fewer, you can be certified to work on the largest public cloud platform in the world. For more information about AWS certifications, click here

2. Project Management Professional (PMP)

Project managers essentially bridge the gap between business stakeholders and the IT professionals who execute their visions. Given the rate at which corporate IT landscapes are evolving, as well as the consumer demand for better digital services from businesses, the projected managers will be in high demand for the foreseeable future. these professionals play a central role in dissolving siloes between departments to create a more agile enterprise framework that can more effectively change with the times. According to CIO, project managers acting in almost any area of specialty (security, data science, application development, etc.) can expect to see salary hikes in 2016. 

Technically,a project management position isn't exclusive to the IT world. Project managers across the board need to have a very specific set of skills, all of which are represented in the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. If you're tech-savvy, proactive and a strong communicator, click here to learn more about PMP certification. 

PMP certification can be useful for a diverse range of IT professionals.PMP certification can be useful for a diverse range of IT professionals.

3. Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)

Operation risk is the scourge of every industry. It comes in all different flavors that range from injury on the job, data breaches, ransomware, theft of trade secrets, breach of a legal compliance, etc. Increasingly, organizations are attempting to mitigate these risk with information systems – not unlike a security engineer would monitor a network for cyberthreats or risky IT behavior that could leave an organization vulnerable (in fact, that's an important part of modern-day operational risk management). 

Enter "Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control," also known as CRISC. This certification is fairly advanced, and requires years of experience and preparation. However, high demand for these professionals paired with a lack of the talent needed to fill the positions means good returns: $122,954 per year on average, according to Global Knowledge. Learn more here

4. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

You probably already knew that a cybersecurity position would make it on this list, and the reasons are fairly obvious. The cyberthreat landscape is teeming with horrors such as ransomware, surveillance malware, data breaches and insider threats, as well as new struggles such as BYOD and shadow IT. To make matters worse, there's currently a global shortage of qualified cybersecurity experts who can hold down the fortresses that are modern enterprise networks. Not surprisingly, this has led to salary hikes across the board for any IT security mavens.

The "Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)" seems as though it was designed with specific goal of enhancing the business landscape's knowledge of cybersecurity. Candidates for this certification need to be highly skilled, preferably bringing five or more years of information security experience, with a minimum of three of those years having been spent working as a security manager. This is because CISM is proof that the recipient is capable of clearly assessing an organization's overarching cybersecurity strategy and policies. This entails choosing what third-party vendors to work with and which implementations are effective, as well as what working to establish policies that can better protect company data.

In many ways, a CISM professional is a cybersecurity architect. If that sounds like it would be in your wheelhouse, click here. There could be $122,291 at the other end of your efforts.

To learn more about the jobs that are open to IT pros like you, check out the prosourceIT career portal.