2012 IT Salary Survey: Wages on the Rise
After years of flat wage growth, IT salaries are on the rise. The average Windows IT pro this year is earning $87,360 per year, up 3.25 percent this year, according to the 17th annual Redmond IT Salary Survey. Not a jaw-dropping figure, but respectable nonetheless.
The average salary in last year's survey increased only 1.2 percent, which was an improvement over 2010's meager 0.6 raises. The latest findings come as the overall U.S. unemployment rate remains stuck at 8.2 percent, with 5.4 million non-farm workers still jobless. IT pros, though not unscathed, are faring far better. The most recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics released last month found unemployment among tech workers at a healthy 3.6 percent.
In fact, IT pros are benefiting from a sharpening skills shortage in security, networking, analytics, management, and product areas such as SharePoint and SQL Server development and administration.
The online survey of 987 Redmond readers conducted in early June also revealed 58.2 percent got raises this year, compared with 56.4 percent in 2011. Fifty-seven percent expect to get raises in the coming 12 months. The average raise this year was $3,194, compared with $2,624 last year.
Not Like Old Times
While the higher average salaries are a welcome improvement over recent years -- when many IT pros saw their pay frozen, and a number even experienced wages cuts of 10 percent or more -- they hardly foreshadow a return of the dotcom boom when pay scales were unprecedented. "I see salary improvements for IT being low to minimal for an extended duration," says survey respondent Daniel Aracena, director of LAN and help desk technologies at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York.
In order to enjoy upward career mobility, Aracena says IT pros must stay on top of new technologies, be aware of emerging trends and be open to new ideas. "Successful IT people are not the ones that tell you they can't do something. They ask, 'When do you need it by?'" he says. "Companies are looking for people not only with technical skills but with intelligent business acumen, along with the ability to foresee what's coming and quickly assess new technology and its value."
Salaries aren't increasing across the board. Thomas Parisi, CIO of New York-based Stonehenge Management LLC, says the typical salaries for those who do hardware server break-fix will remain flat, while Internet-savvy developers' and integrators' pay will increase anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent. Those involved in business-driven IT management could see salaries increase anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent.
While more organizations are giving raises, many find the best route to more pay is finding employment elsewhere. A growing number of respondents (13.4 percent this year) plan to change jobs (compared with 11.7 percent last year).
Among those who changed jobs is Geoff L., now a data architect with an integrator that builds health-care and employee benefits management solutions. When he accepted the job, he took it on the condition of being considered for a salary revision six months after starting based on personal and corporate performance. "IT is still a tough marketplace," he says. "I see a lot of people shopping around to have backup or exit plans."
Dan W., virtualization specialist with a systems integration firm, believes there's nothing new in the notion that the best way to gain an increase is to leap from one employer to another. "I've always had to change positions to get a pay increase," he says. "Getting an actual raise internally was nearly impossible. Salaried positions in this local market stay fairly static no matter how many years you put into the position."
IT pros who have found changing employers more challenging in the tight job market may now be in luck. After years of putting projects and software upgrades on hold, many organizations find they need to step up investments -- and they feel comfortable the economy has improved enough to start hiring and taking better care of their existing staffs.
Unlike the old days, companies aren't just hiring anyone who comes along. "Companies are less willing to take a chance," says Tom Becker, VP of recruiting for Experis, a division of staffing company ManpowerGroup. "They want someone who's perfect for the job. They want someone who has experience in their industry as well as deep understanding of the technology of a specific platform. That continues to be a challenge."
The 3.6 percent unemployment rate among IT workers is relatively low, says Tom Silver, senior VP for North America at the popular tech job-posting site Dice.com. That bodes well for IT pros looking for jobs that pay higher than their current positions.
"The market for technology professionals is pretty tight," Silver says. "So what's going on is a function, to some extent, of supply and demand. When demand is high -- as evidenced by a low unemployment rate -- salaries eventually follow, and that's what I think is happening."
Upward Trend to Continue
Silver expects average salaries will continue to increase in the coming year. "I think the growth trend will continue," he says. "We hear a growing number of anecdotes from employers having a harder and harder time finding skilled tech pros. It's entirely possible we'll see an acceleration of employee turnover. And that can accompany an acceleration in salary increases."
Joshua Perry, an ICT senior analyst at Kerry Ingredients and Flavors, thinks organizations will want to augment their staffs. "I have a feeling that in the next year or two, we're going to see many businesses and institutions getting stuck without enough IT talent just to keep the business running," Perry says. "It's a great time to be working in IT, and salaries are likely to increase sharply for those with talent and experience -- especially those with skills in SharePoint, SQL Server, Oracle and SAP."
Sharpening IT Skills
Salary isn't the only factor driving IT pros to change jobs. Often it's the opportunity to find a job with an organization where the IT pro can develop more marketable experience, according to Silver. "Many people want to be working on interesting and strategic projects and making sure they keep their skill sets sharp," he says.
Nevertheless, a good number of IT workers are finding it increasingly difficult to count on their employers to help them keep their skills sharp. Only 44.6 percent of survey respondents report their employer provided training, down from 49 percent last year. "Training budgets seem nonexistent these days, or the 'training benefit' isn't much of one," Dan W. says. "It's a constant uphill battle with vendors like Microsoft, [which] require you to update your IT training or end-user training on a yearly basis because they've changed their product again -- even with something as simple as the UI."
For others training is a perk that has helped offset reductions, freezes or tiny increases in salaries. Take respondent Chad, an IT security specialist who's among the numerous IT workers subject to the federal government's pay freeze. "I'm working on more certifications and taking on outside-the-box projects to gain experience and apply for promotions," he says.
Though certifications don't always create salary increases, many believe they're a necessity. "I'm working toward a couple Microsoft certifications to make myself more valuable," says respondent Dean, a senior support engineer at a software company. "I'm always looking to increase my knowledge of related technologies. The industry moves fairly fast, so I don't want to get too locked into a particular niche for very long."
Despite a brighter compensation picture, IT pros are working harder. Only 18.9 percent are putting in the once-typical 40-hour workweek, down from 23 percent last year. While a small minority put in more than 61 hours a week, that number is up to 4.6 percent from 2.6 percent.
Moreover, a growing number of respondents say they're forgoing vacation time. The number of those who have taken no time off is up to 6.8 percent from 4.7 percent last year, while those using most of their time is down to 18.5 percent from 23.5 percent. There are many reasons for this, including shops with fewer people due to layoffs, or those simply afraid to take vacations.
"People are either afraid to take their vacations or there just isn't enough time," Dice.com's Silver says, adding that employers should encourage staff to take time off. "It contributes in the long term to burnout, which contributes to turnover."
Impact of Cloud
In last year's survey 8.6 percent of respondents said they had used the cloud to fill gaps. This year, Redmond looked deeper into the impact of cloud computing and found 14.8 percent have moved significant workloads to a cloud provider. Close to 20 percent believe those moves led to job reductions or reassignments this year, and 10.2 percent are concerned cloud computing will eventually put them out of work. Yet 64 percent see the cloud as an opportunity to gain new skills, and 78.7 percent intend to learn more about it.
"The projects I'm working on are designed to increase my exposure to cloud computing and the use of big data, which is one of the reasons that I made a switch in employment," Geoff L. says.
Offshore outsourcing was another issue, with 11.6 percent saying it cost them their job, slightly down from last year's 12.3 percent. Some respondents are trying to make the best of companies' use of offshore outsourcers, such as David Vaughn, a data architect with a major packaged-food company. Vaughn, who now supervises those offshore providers' database development tasks, says it has its own sets of challenge.
"I had to spend quite a few months getting the offshore resources up to speed with regard to optimal SQL programming techniques," Vaughn says. "In this regard, there's no substitute for a heavily invested local technical expert to keep everyone honest."
Overall, nearly 85 percent of respondents either like or love IT as a career, consistent with last year's views. "I think an IT career is still a good choice for those starting out," says survey respondent Dan. "The demand for skills is still growing, and it's projected to continue to grow over the next decade. Combine that with the decrease in American students choosing IT, and the law of supply and demand could lead to nice compensation and benefit increases for IT pros. The Facebook and Google campuses are nice examples."
Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.