fwiw, the AOL guy I mentioned is not apocryphal. I actually interviewed him for a job at a company i used to work for. And he made his large sum of money on straight consulting fees (a long 1.5 - 2 year gig), not stock options. As I said, he had intimate knowledge of NDIS drivers (a rare knowledge specialty) which was instrumental in forming the core of AOL's proprietary technology. He was too expensive for us - his consulting fee came out to around 500K per year and he was in no short supply of clients.
But see, he probably made less as a consultant than he would have as an employee. $500K in consulting fees is roughly equivalent to a $250K salary. A friend of mine who spent 2 years at AOL, starting as a call center rep, leaving as a support document writer, ended up with over $300,000 in options.
In every proffession you can find *someone* who makes bank. When I questioned the 250K claim, it was on the basis that said person made 250K because of their IT skills alone with little more than an MCSE to explain the salary. Anyone in any field who is making way above the average in their field is not doing so because of their membership in that field - i.e. their disproportianately high salary is not due to what they have in common with other practitioners in that field. Rather, the high salary is due to the fact that they are somehow atypical of the professionals in that field. Thus, in explaining the high salary for such individuals it is misleading to put forth as the explanation for the high salary mere membership in the field.
And I'd question (and thought I did question) it in the same way. Certifications without experience don't buy you much in IT. "IT" as a category is way too broad, anyway. My skills as a senior Unix sysadmin and occasional developer are considerably different than those of someone riding a help desk phone. Meanwhile, a number of those helpdesk people likely have certifications, while I have none.
It would be silly of me to argue that the legal profession doesn't involve a certain amount of prestige. But I also believe sometimes people get a little too carried away obsession about where they go to school, rather than where they might want to end up or how they think they're going to want to live. A big name's a lot of like an IT certification; it will get you in a door, but it's not going to entirely define your future. Those who want to take on mountains of extra debt to decrease the numbers of doors they'll need to knock on puzzles me. But maybe they really want those jobs they'll have to take to service that debt.
Hopefully, those salaries will not have been raided by the time they emerge.