Redmond's 2013 IT Salary Survey: Upward Mobility
Compensation for Windows information technology pros continues to rise, and the 18th annual Redmond Magazine Salary Survey reveals more IT pros might change jobs, a move fueled by an IT labor shortage and sustained economic growth.
After years of staying put, a growing number of IT pros -- ranging from support personnel, systems administrators and managers -- are changing jobs or are open to doing so. The reason more IT people are making career moves is quite simple: because they can.
A greater number of employers are hiring more IT pros and they're offering higher salaries than they have in past years, thanks to an improved economy and a declining overall unemployment rate in the United States. All of those trends have collectively given tech workers, especially those with strong, in-demand skills, the confidence to flex their muscle and seek new jobs where they can earn more and move into higher roles.
In all fields, people change jobs for a variety of reasons, but the common denominator is upward mobility -- and in most cases it's fueled by the opportunity to enhance their skills and earn higher compensation. A number of surveys and government economic data show the market for IT pros has improved and salaries in most specialties (though not all) have increased. Experts say there's a tech labor shortage, creating these favorable conditions for IT pros.
There's a good chance you're among those who are considering making a move in the coming year. According to the 18th annual Redmond Salary Survey, 26.8 percent of respondents said they're considering changing jobs, up from 13.1 percent last year. Moreover, the average salary of Redmond magazine readers has increased this year once again.
Overall, the average base salary of Redmond readers this year ($89,973) was 3 percent higher than last year's $87,360. The increase is slightly less than last year's rise, which was 3.25 percent. This year's readership survey represents the second consecutive year of healthy wage growth after the dismal 1.2 percent increase in 2011.
The striking spike in the percentage of those who are open to changing employers is consistent with what analysts and recruiters uniformly describe as improved business and economic conditions driving higher demand for IT skills, coupled with pent-up demand by tech workers and managers to put their skills to better use and earn more than they believe they can by staying in their current jobs.
That shift is in step with what Dan Pollock, a regional VP for IT recruiter Modis, has observed. "We aren't getting the noes from passive candidates we used to get," Pollock says. "People are more willing take our phone call and hear us out. They realize they can jump for an extra 10 or 20 grand, better benefits, or a shorter commute or telecommuting."
The rise of social networking and career-oriented sites, notably LinkedIn, is leading people who have traditionally been happy in their jobs to consider their options, Pollock adds. "People are moving into a passive job-seeker status, where they're just listening more, especially if they have an in-demand skill set," he says. "Everyone's hiring and they know it. IT unemployment is incredibly low compared with national unemployment."
Other reasons people are more comfortable making career moves include improvements in their personal situations; perhaps a spouse has found employment or a home is no longer underwater, says Mike Durney, CEO-designate of Dice Holdings Inc., a New York-based IT recruiter that also conducts IT employment surveys. Durney points to IT unemployment at a low 3.6 percent, compared with the Labor Department's overall unemployment rate of 7.4 percent.
"You have this pent-up demand where people were afraid to move for whatever reason, their own personal situations," Durney says. "There are lots of reasons people are afraid to make the leap, but it looks like this year, they're finally starting to make that leap."
Putting out Feelers
Among those respondents to our readership survey who plan to test the waters is Chris, an IT pro working for an aerospace company. "I'm definitely looking," says Chris, an expert in a number of key Microsoft technologies including Exchange Server, SharePoint, Windows Server, System Center and managing Active Directory domains. "I'd have to say, with more than 13 years of experience in this industry, I'm seen as a low-level player even though I could be a network administrator or manager."
Asked why his current employer doesn't value his systems administration skills, Chris says his organization puts more stock in software developers rather than those who deploy and manage systems. "While I do support software and troubleshoot systems, I don't write code. Right now there's more value given for that. I write scripts for the servers, automation-type things. It's been devalued for the past two years, for whatever reason. I really don't understand why."
Another participant in our survey, Lloyd, says he's also looking for upward mobility in his own organization after spending many years in his company supporting SAP AG applications running on Windows Server-based systems. "In the field I'm in, I'm very marketable. I plan to be in a supervisory or management position by next year," says Lloyd, who works for a well-known consumer packaged-goods company. "I've been training for it. I already have a lot of experience needed for it. Right now I'm waiting for a position to be created."
Survey respondent Paul, an IT pro with a government contractor, has seen an increased number of his colleagues leave for other jobs. But Paul is staying put because he's happy with his current situation, which gives him the flexibility to moonlight in the evenings. Now that the contract his employer had was renewed, however, Paul plans to take steps to improve his prospects. "I need to up my skills set so I can get into systems administration," he says.
IT Skills in Demand
What's driving opportunities for IT workers and boosting salaries is simple supply-and-demand economics. Looking at one key indicator, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were 144,900 tech jobs in 2012, up from 93,400 in 2011 and 80,800 in 2010. Based on this year's trending, the number of tech jobs filled is likely to reach 189,000, predicts David Foote, chief analyst and chief research officer of Foote Partners LLC, a Vero Beach, Fla., researcher specializing in IT employment and compensation trends. Overall, Foote sees IT salaries up 3.2 percent -- consistent with Redmond's findings -- but the firm tracks scores of technical specialties across the IT spectrum, and the increases and decreases in many disciplines can vary significantly and change swiftly.
In June and July alone, IT-related jobs accounted for 10.5 percent of all jobs filled, Foote emphasizes. For the first seven months of 2013, IT job growth increased 51 percent, Foote says. The key factor fueling this growth is the fact that companies are looking to grow again coming out of the 2008 financial meltdown that led to a severe increase in unemployment across the board.
"Companies are really going through transformations of their workforces in IT," says Foote, who's followed IT employment and compensation for decades. "They aren't just moving furniture around anymore. IT for years was an operations group, helping us work more productively and efficiently. Now technology is an innovation engine, not just an ROI engine. As more companies have seen that and have more strategically focused work forces, I've never seen such transformation going on in work forces. They're going into deep analysis of who they should be hiring in what parts of the organization and where their capabilities need to be greater."
Not surprisingly, some of the highest-paying jobs are going to those with skills in cloud computing, business intelligence (BI), database development and administration, and big data, notably those with expertise in Hadoop. Only 20 respondents to the Redmond survey said they have Hadoop skills. The average salary among them was $124,850, while the highest was $185,000. Because of the low number of respondents, we didn't include it in the Redmond rankings. But several experts say those salaries are in line with current trends.
"There are Hadoop developers making a quarter of a million a year," Foote says, though he warns it's important to bring in the right mix of experts when making more data available to analyze. "A lot of companies are siloed. They don't share data -- they hoard it," he says, noting organizational changes can shift that practice. "They need people with good process skills."
Likewise, only 30 respondents to the survey said they're Windows Azure experts, and two-thirds of them boasted six-figure salaries, with a handful close to $200,000. Cloud transitions remain in their early stages. Only 19 percent said their company is making significant cloud moves, up from 15 percent last year. Only a marginal number saw the cloud as a threat to their jobs.
"There's always been this belief that moving to the cloud would reduce jobs, and we're not seeing that," Durney says. Over time, though, as more workloads move to cloud services providers, many IT pros could end up working for them, he adds.
Like many respondents, Chris sees the cloud as an opportunity, not a threat. "Even with cloud services you still have to have the hardware and people to support it," he says.
The Redmond survey showed other skills that pay well. Those with strategic planning skills earned $100,168, up 4 percent over last year's $96,184. Others earning six figure salaries in our survey included those with skills in data warehousing ($101.056), developing and administering Oracle databases ($107,594), working with outsourcing providers ($107,038), private cloud ($101,632), and public cloud (102,625).
The highest-paying salaries for IT pros with Microsoft-specific skills went to those with expertise with SharePoint ($100,817), Visual Studio ($98292), SQL Server ($95,214), Hyper-V ($91,853), Windows PowerShell ($91,070) and Lync ($90,319). Particularly striking is the fact that those with cloud skills are drawing the highest salaries. The average salary for those specializing in Office 365 was $100,659, practically tied with the leading specialty, SharePoint.
One curious change: Despite the fact that SharePoint developers and administrators command robust six-figure salaries, compensation dropped by a marked 7 percent over last year, when the average SharePoint expert averaged $107,063. Others have noticed the downward trend in SharePoint pay and are somewhat miffed because there's still healthy demand for SharePoint expertise.
"I've noticed that trend also, and I don't understand because it seems everybody wants to use it more," Chris says. "I see SharePoint expertise required in job descriptions all the time."
Also driving demand for IT workers and salaries is a growing number of vacancies arising from a steady increase in employees who are deciding to retire. Many eligible retirees in all fields were forced to put off their retirement plans in wake of the financial crisis, when the stock market fell sharply -- and had a corresponding effect on the value of retirement portfolios.
"A lot of people put their retirements on hold, but now as the economy has gotten better, especially with the stock market improving, they're deciding it's time for them to retire," says Art Langer, chairman of New York-based Workforce Opportunity Services, a non-profit organization that provides extensive IT training.
"Firms know they have real exposure, especially those with people who have a lot of implicit knowledge about what goes on in the organizations," Langer adds. "There's also the areas of legacy systems, which can't really be outsourced that well. There are a number of firms that we've been involved with that are really concerned about how they replace that talent."
Langer says another factor driving demand for IT talent is a realization by many companies who used offshore outsourcing firms that those decisions were ill-advised. Many IT projects farmed out abroad more than a decade ago not only failed to achieve the expected cost savings, but have slowed down the pace of completing projects, Langer says. Inflation in popular offshore locations such as India has also pushed up the cost of IT labor overseas. As a result, many firms are bringing some of that work back.
"Companies now understand that not everything they've been outsourcing should be outsourced," Langer says. "I think there are more things coming back in-house, and as a result of that there's been more need to hire. This is particularly true in my mind in two areas -- one in the management area, and the other in certain development areas that haven't done well offshore and have created certain risks. I'd say with 20 percent to 30 percent of the IT stuff that's outsourced, companies aren't exactly thrilled with the results but have problems finding alternative channels of talent."
While many firms and the public sector are looking to fill their employee ranks, a formidable number continue to use contract labor as well. "There's a move toward contract because it's the easiest thing to do," Durney says. "The big staffing firms are doing quite well."
Pollock of IT staffing firm Modis concurs, saying demand for contract workers has picked up. "Companies are hiring more contractors and temp workers," Pollock says. "Average bill rates have been increasing. So if average bill rates increase, that means pay rates are increasing as well."
Contract workers with Modis and others are salaried employees with the staffing firm and receive benefits.
For the foreseeable future, the prognosis for upward career and salary mobility looks promising. But like anything, mileage will vary. Emphasizing skills that are in demand will position IT workers to command the highest salaries, while those who fail to stay on top will see their pay remain stagnant.
Nevertheless, the shortage in IT labor will remain a pressing problem for some time to come, Durney predicts. "There are a lot of initiatives out there, in areas like health care and the growth of mobile," he says. "I'd say there's good room to run and turnover will only facilitate it."
Foote agrees, and he believes the value of IT as an asset is making a sustained comeback.
"We've finally gotten to a point where companies realize IT is strategic," Foote says. "That has put pressure on CIOs to think about how their work forces should look.