11th Annual Salary Survey -- In the Money

Salaries have gone up for the third time in as many years, according to the 11th annual survey of compensation and benefits. So, are you getting what you deserve?

Good news once again: Redmond magazine's 11th annual survey of compensation for Microsoft IT professionals shows that salaries have gone up for a third year in a row. And
More Salary Survey
The PDF format of the survey boasts over 30 charts, including salaries by state, Get the complete 2006 Salary Survey from the Tech Library as a PDFcertification, job title and for over 40 metropolitan areas. Free registration is required to get the PDF. Get it here.
so have raises and bonuses. Overall, salaries climbed 3.3 percent, which might look more like a merit raise and pales in comparison to last year's 12 percent jump. Nonetheless, it's better than what the market is dictating.

But here's a sobering fact: The 3.3 percent salary gain is actually lower than the inflation rate. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Consumer Price Index rose 4.3 percent from June 2005 to June 2006. So, with inflation creeping up, how will you make up the difference?

According to some reports, such as one from AMR Research, U.S. companies on average were expected to increase their IT budgets by 19.5 percent this year. If your company is one of them, perhaps you can convince them to redirect some of that budget your way, in the form of a much-deserved raise.

The Big Picture
We'll look into how you might justify a raise, but before we get to that, let's jump into the rest of the big-picture numbers. This year's 1,280 U.S.-based respondents report an average base salary of $70,901. Maybe that 3.3 percent gain doesn't make you want to jump up and click your heels. After all, it hardly lives up to the big gains locked in between the 2004 and 2005 surveys. The good news: Even at that tepid pace, our Microsoft-savvy respondents were doing better than the IT arena as a whole.

2006 Compensation
2006 Compensation --  click on chart for a larger view
[Click chart for larger view.]
Chart 1. A quick view of the results show a nice 3 percent jump from last year's salary. Raises went up slightly, while bonuses also gained. Respondents this year are older and claim two more years of experience. Details for each can be found elsewhere in this article or in the Adobe .PDF version.

According to the most recent wage data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compiled from May 2005, network and computer systems administrators earned a mean salary of $63,210. That's just 0.3 percent above last year.

Our survey reveals that the community is not only getting richer, it is getting older and taking on more responsibilities as well. For yet another year, the majority of respondents say they are more than 40 years old -- 41.7 years on average, to be precise -- and collectively, the group claims an average of 12.1 years of experience. Like the real world, IT workers are making more and getting grayer (and maybe it's time you begin to plan your retirement).

At 54, Ken Scott, a senior server specialist with a regional medical center in Wichita, Kansas, says he is already "thinking about retirement, so salary and benefits are very important."

One more component of compensation -- raises -- is up again this year. Tack on another 19.4 percent to last year's figure -- in 2005, it was $3,472 -- and you're looking at $4,307. That figure gibes with the expectations of 8 percent of 2005 respondents, who predicted that raises would be in the $4,000-$4,999 range in 2006. (Only 19.6 percent of respondents thought there would be no salary increase or even a decrease in 2006.)

Bonuses, on the other hand, barely budged, ending 2 percent higher than last year. But combine that data and you begin to see some evidence pointing to companies looking to retain employees in a market short of skilled IT workers. BLS data, for example, shows that the network and computer worker segment has added 155,000 jobs since August 2003 and they expect job growth to continue at 4.2 percent yearly. What's more, the BLS expects job growth to remain positive through 2012. So, IT workers this year continue to be in demand or, at least, have some advantage going into upcoming salary negotiations.

Can Certification Make a Difference?
Because this year's survey is done as a joint venture with, one unique factor we look at with some depth is the impact of certification on compensation. In the past decade since we've conducted this survey, certification has had a positive effect. The last three years, however, the shine has been wearing off. About a third of you in 2005 said being an MCP carried no weight with your companies at the negotiation table. The same holds true in 2006.

2006 Salary of All Respondents, by Range
2006 Salary of All Respondents, by Range --  click on chart for a larger view
[Click chart for larger view.]
Chart 2. We asked all respondents to select the range of their annual salary before taxes, bonuses or other types of compensation. The majority of salaries landed somewhere above $50,000 and below $84,900. Mean salary this year was $70,901.
Computers for Life
Ken Scott
Sr. Server Specialist
Wichita, Kan.
Via Christi Health System
Salary: $80,000
Years in Computer Industry: 24
Certifications: MCP
Ken Scott began selling computers -- Tandy TRS 80 Models II and III to be exact -- back in 1982, shortly after his first time seeing what the machines might mean for businesses. "I originally saw a Sony PC dedicated to accounting at an Office Machine show in 1981," he told us. "I wanted to be involved with them ever since."He sold for other companies and eventually started his own business -- an endeavor that didn't work, but one that he says was very helpful in his IT career. "I've been told I work with business departments really well," he explains. "[It helps to] understand the flow of accounting and what affects productivity in a particular department."
Scott says that he's pretty happy in his current position as a senior server specialist at the non-profit that he's worked for since 1992. The benefits are good, he says ("although once you've worked for yourself, you appreciate any kind of benefits," he laughs), and he has a lot of say in what he works on every day. He's enthused about a new, three-stage project, which will let IT know if any application is malfunctioning -- before it impacts the end user. "It's fun to see a department excited about a product you're implementing."
Scott says his salary matches his current title, but he's actually doing a lot more than the moniker suggests, so Scott has been trying to get a promotion (with a raise) to a position that better reflects his duties. It hasn't happened -- yet. "When you work for a non-profit, one of the first things they'll cut back is money for promotions," he says.
Scott says he'll probably work with computers in some capacity for the rest of his life: "Something in the consulting field, advising -- something less strenuous, and hopefully not for a 24-hour shop."
-- Becky Nagel

Steve Andrews, a systems administrator with a county government agency, says his certification helped earn him a $2,000 increase at his last job. But he says that "certifications have no impact in my current [job]."

David Guibord, a network administrator with a marketing services company in Farmington Hills, Michigan, says "[certification] initially got me the job." But he adds that the letters after his name have had "no impact since." He's still playing the certification game since he plans to keep his Cisco CCNA current, which expired last year, and go after his CCSA, to keep up on any advances in router technology.

Guibord's example underscores a complex problem with certification: While it can help you gain or maintain expertise, which can in turn get you hired, there's often no lasting impact beyond that.

Add to that the fact that the market for IT workers with MCP titles has been saturated for some time -- last we checked, Microsoft claimed 1.8 million people worldwide have at least an MCP. For quite a few years, our survey has even shown that those without certification made more than those who claim the acronyms, with non-MCPs, at $78,962, gaining almost another thousand from last year. Still, more than a third of respondents say they'll continue to get certified on Microsoft platforms or otherwise.

Will You Be in IT in 5 Years?

Will You Be in IT in 5 Years? --  click on chart for a larger view
[Click chart for larger view.]
Chart 3. The results show that most respondents see an IT career as a long-term career choice, besting last year's result by 4 percentage points.

Narrowing the Field
Putting certification aside, one other strong salary factor is expertise. If you can specialize, you can separate yourself from the pack. Working for an outsourcing firm continues its hot streak, this year improving to $86,437 (it was $84,139 in 2005). Specializing in Oracle or data warehousing can help too, each earns $85,637 and $85,167, respectively. At the bottom of the list is help desk support, which still commands a respectable $65,828.

Work in specific industries also has advantages. Those fortunate enough to work in research and development are at the top of the list when it comes to 2006 salaries, at $98,750. Defense/military ($80,441) and transportation/utility ($80,242) industries rank a distant second and third, respectively. Aerospace salary averages this year have dropped, from $88,571 in 2005 (when it ranked at No. 1) to $79,423.

IT Power Trip
Timothy Carroll
Network Engineer
Morrisville, N.C.
Years in Computer Industry: 9
Salary: $60,000 + benefits
Certifications: MCSA: Security W2K, MCSE: Security W2K, CompTIA Security+
You couldn't find a person more fit for an IT job than Timothy Carroll, a network engineer with a small developer of custom Web applications in North Carolina. He wrote his first program on a Tandy/Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III computer -- at the age of 4. "I've been hooked ever since," Carroll confesses.
Over the course of his 11-year career in IT, he's gained three security certifications -- Microsoft's MCSA: Security, MCSE: Security and CompTIA's Security+ -- which he says gave him a competitive edge worth an extra $10,000 to $20,000 -- and he's looking to add more. "I want to understand the new technology, primarily, and I want to be able to prove I understand the new technology," Carroll says.
He's currently finishing up his MCSE: Security 2003 upgrade, and in the future, he's interested in getting the MCSE: Messaging and a SQL Server-specific certification, like the MCDBA -- all of which are Microsoft certifications. The certifications align with his company's Microsoft infrastructure, and help pave the way for Carroll to launch a career as a Microsoft expert or MVP.
And he feels he's in good hands: "I think it is evolving into a very mature program with very specific goals for each certification. I like that certifications are becoming more specialized; it adds meaning to them on what you can do."
Carroll says he's "especially attracted to network security" and jokes that he gets a "power trip" from being the guy with "the keys to the whole company's infrastructure." He also welcomes the challenges. "No two days are the same!" he says. "The other IT jobs I had weren't nearly as interesting. I really thoroughly enjoy all the security-related tasks I get to do each day."
-- Dan Hong

Base Salary, Job Title

Base Salary, Job Title --  click on chart for a larger view
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Chart 4. Job title, as in years past, is one of many determining factors in salary. We asked respondents to choose the title that best describes their current position. Managers and project leads top the list this year, while help desk workers remain at the bottom. Numbers are 2005 average base salary.

or those who specialize in Microsoft's more esoteric technologies, the figures get even bigger. Try Commerce Server on for size. Those who claim it as a specialty report an average salary exceeding the six-figure mark, at $108,125. Identity Integration Server experts come in just $5,000 shy of that figure, while one of the more hyped server technologies, BizTalk Server, nearly joined the club, at $99,583.

At the bottom of the list are those who deploy Small Business Server ($66,830, better than 2005 by $4,609) and Windows client support personnel ($67,275, better by $2,833 over 2005).

Base Salary, Microsoft Certification

Base Salary, Microsoft Certification --  click on chart for a larger view
[Click chart for larger view.]
Chart 5. All respondents provided their current annual income before taxes. The MCDST proved to be hot gainer for Microsoft last year, and the results here seem to prove it -- the title gained $14,299 over last year's result of $57,167. The MCDBA: SQL 7 was the biggest gainer last year; this year, it dropped back to 2004 figures.

We found that education plays a small factor in compensation. More than half the respondents say they attended some college, with more than one-third of those surveyed having obtained a four-year degree or pursued post-graduate studies. Only a tiny fraction claimed not to have any higher-level education.

Salary by Other Certifications

Salary by Other Certifications --  click on chart for a larger view
[Click chart for larger view.]
Chart 6. We asked respondents what certifications they held other than Microsoft's. (See Chart 5 for a breakdown of salaries by specific MCP title for comparison.) Numbers are 2005 average base salaries. As with many comparisons, there are myriad variables (such as experience and multiple certifications) that influence compensation other than the title itself. (*One caveat with the results reported here: We included some titles to compare to last year; however, those titles had 10 or fewer respondents, making them statistically invalid. Thus, they appear in order of descending salary after the CompTIA Network+ title, which is the lowest earning title. Use these numbers at your own risk.

The Future of Hiring
One negotiation tactic that can work -- one we never recommend if you intend to bluff -- is seeking other job offers. This year, more of you report that your companies plan to hire, at 44 percent (better than 2005 by 4 points). Of those who say their companies plan to hire, 42 percent believe they will take on at least one more person, while fully one in four expects to add at least 11 more IT workers.

Call, Raise or Fold
Asking for a raise can be a stressful experience. If you're brave enough, taking the direct approach and going in with a sincere disposition can work, as long as you don't put an ultimatum on the table.

"I personally just took a deep breath, walked into her office and explained to her what I wanted and why I thought I deserved it," says Mark Full, a SQL database administrator in San Diego. "She said she would review the request and get back to me. It actually worked out better than I had expected."

That kind of impromptu performance might backfire. After all, a salary negotiation is never a good time to appear unprepared. "Document, document, document," is the mantra of David Abowitt, an MCSE and senior systems manager with the non-profit Jewish Federation Los Angeles. "Show all your skills, projects and [provide] salary surveys to show your case."

"I've always listed, in as much detail as possible, the achievements over a long period of time [and] I've shown growth in accepting additional responsibilities," says Ken Scott, a senior server specialist with a regional medical center in Wichita, Kansas. "I never threaten to leave; I simply state the facts."

These words of advice offer no guarantee that you'll get what you want. So, Terry Constable, a systems administrator for NetBank, has one more suggestion to keep you grounded: "Prepare for rejection."
-- M.D.

The results back up job data that companies are seeking to fill IT positions. Yet again, the BLS is a good source here, projecting that some 1.1 million IT jobs will be added by 2012. More than a third of those jobs will be in computer systems design and related services, according to the BLS study. (See 2004/02/ art5full.pdf for comparisons.)

Those numbers bode well for the job seeker, especially when it comes time to negotiate salary.

All Salaries Are Not Created Equal
Why is it that your salary doesn't seem to mesh with the data you've just read? Simple. When poring over the numbers, be aware of some of the factors that may influence your compensation:

1. Company Health -- Is it doing well? How is it doing versus the competition? Does some of the wealth trickle down to employees?

2. Benefits -- How does your company's package compare? And does your company consider bennies a part of the compensation package?

3. Residence -- Pretty much the formula is: big city, big bucks.

4. Skill Set -- Some companies offer monetary incentives for learning something new and stepping in to do that job. They save money and get a more valuable employee in the process.

5. Personal Performance -- How much do you contribute to the bottom line, or how much did you save them? Some bonuses are tied to this factor at many companies.

6. Personality -- If you're generally pleasant, they'll want to keep you around.
These are just a few of the factors to consider as you evaluate your salary against the numbers. As well, remember that our survey shows an average of 12 years of experience. You're competing with a highly skilled workforce so, as job hunters like to say, "salary is commensurate with experience."
-- M.D.

IT: The Career We Love
You're working in IT for a reason and it's not because it's what you were born to do. Many of you find IT fulfilling after having toiled in other professions. Guibord knew life as a truck driver. David Abowitt, an MCSE and senior systems manager with the non-profit Jewish Federation Los Angeles, worked in sales.

Unlike surveys from previous years, this survey was done internally by Redmond Media Group and Rita Zurcher. From a battery of about 120 questions that were sent out to 40,000 people culled from our own database of IT professionals, we received 1,314 responses in the 12-day duration of the polling. Of those, we removed all non-U.S. answers and ended up with a total of 1,280 valid surveys. The survey was open The report has an error margin of 3 percent.
-- M.D.
"What interested me the most was how easily I resolved problems and pleased others," says Phillip Newberry, who also moved from a career in sales to IT consulting. "It appeared to be a natural for me, while others struggled with understanding it."

Our respondents generally seem satisfied with their current career choice. For the second year, we asked about your career happiness. On a scale of one to five, with five being "very satisfied," we found that overall compensation rated a score of 4.25, an improvement over last year (4.09). The lowest rated category, "Other fringe benefits," scored a 3.78, still better than last year's 3.47.

With job satisfaction running higher this year overall, it's only natural that 90 percent of respondents say they plan to be around in the next five years. That means most of them may actually be around when Windows "Vienna" finally ships.

More Information

More Salary Survey
Get the complete 2005 Salary Survey from the Tech Library as a PDFThe PDF format of this article boasts over 30 charts, including average salary by state, by certification and job title, salaries by certification for over 40 metropolitan areas, salaries for the self-employed, the impact of certification on employability, in-depth interviews with respondents -- and much more. Free registration is required to get the 24-page PDF.
Get it here from the Tech Library


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