The Best Jobs for IT Compensation
By Mary K. Pratt
Frank Sirianni finds himself in an unlikely situation during this recession: He's having trouble filling an IT position.
Sirianni, vice president and CIO at Fordham University in New York, already tried to hire a director of business intelligence once, but he couldn't. He figured it was the age-old principle of supply and demand: There weren't enough qualified people to fill all the open slots.
Sirianni is again trying to fill the BI director's position. But he's concerned that he won't succeed, even with an advertised salary of more than $100,000.
It's not the first time he's had trouble filling positions that required highly sought-after skills. He says he recently filled three IT security positions, but it took him a year. "And all three I had to pay more than I originally anticipated," he says.
Sirianni's situation parallels the findings of Computerworld's 2009 Salary Survey. The title of information security manager had the highest total compensation increase in this year's survey, followed by network engineer/wireless network engineer, business intelligence analyst, software developer and storage administrator/architect/engineer.
Although the salary increases for these jobs -- ranging from 1.4% to 2.3% among the 5,861 IT professional surveyed this year -- are modest compared with previous levels, career experts say the increases indicate that these positions require some of the most in-demand skills in IT today.
"Salary is an indicator of demand," says Kate Kaiser, who runs the Society for Information Management-sponsored IT Workforce Research Project and is professor of IT at Marquette University.
Ralph Spencer Poore, chief cryptologist at Cryptographic Assurance Services LLC, a security consulting firm in Arlington, Texas, says he's not surprised to see "information security manager" top the list of biggest compensation increases.
"It's a blossoming field internationally and has undergone a great deal of maturing, so there has been tremendous growth as a career," he says. As a result, information security jobs have become elevated in organizations, putting upward pressure on pay.
"If you had the title of information security manager in the '70s -- it was a rare title -- you were paid as a programmer. Now you're at a director's level, at the vice president level or higher in stature in a company, commanding that kind of salary," Poore says.
Yet while organizations are increasingly facing regulations and compliance challenges that require top-flight security professionals, there aren't enough experienced security managers to meet demand, he says. That, too, pushes up pay.
Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based IT staffing firm, says the salary findings for information security managers track with the data gathered by his company.
"Based on the CIOs we survey, information and network security is a No. 1 concern," says Willmer, who is a Computerworld columnist.
He cites an April RHT survey of 1,400 CIOs in which seven out of 10 respondents said that they will invest in IT initiatives in the next year, with 43% saying that information security projects top their lists. Virtualization (28%) and data center efficiency (27%) were next.
Willmer says that other positions getting bumps in pay are those involved in projects that address CIOs' top priorities, such as expanding wireless infrastructures to enhance employee mobility, improving the efficiency of storage systems -- particularly through virtualization -- or using BI tools to better support business decision-making.
How to Find What's Hot
Kaiser and others caution against focusing on job titles, since titles vary from company to company and can evolve rapidly. They say it's better to focus on the skills involved if you want to determine what's hot today -- and what will command the highest pay tomorrow.
"Jobs are simply packaging. You take competencies and cluster them and give them a name. So you want to focus on what needs these jobs take care of, and what are the competencies," says Caela Farren, president of MasteryWorks Inc., a career consulting firm in Falls Church, Va.
Analysts, career experts and IT professionals see a host of up-and-coming IT skill sets, many of which are put to use in jobs that go well beyond the responsibilities of the job titles that enjoyed the biggest raises in the Computerworld survey.
"We're in the business of not thinking about titles, but what does this person really do," says David Foote, CEO and chief research officer of Foote Partners LLC in Vero Beach, Fla.
In his firm's August update of its 2009 IT Skills Trends Report, Foote put knowledge of Linux, virtualization, Microsoft's .Net, SAP's NetWeaver and Java EE, SE and ME at the top of the list of hot noncertified skills.
Foote Partners identified the top certifications as GIAC Certified Incident Handler, EMC Proven Professional Technology Architect-Expert, Citrix Certified Integration Architect, HP Master Accredited Systems Engineer, and Cisco Certified Security Professional.
Research firm Gartner Inc. also highlighted in-demand skills in its 2009 IT Market Compensation Study. Analyst Lily Mok says IT professionals that are in high demand have Oracle, SAP, Java EE, .Net, service-oriented architecture and PeopleSoft expertise.
"Most of these [professionals] will be paid a premium," Mok says, noting that a lack of adequate supply will fuel salary increases.
She says other IT positions that will rise in priority (and compensation) include enterprise architects, database administrators and network architects.
Other skills expected to experience an increase in demand include those dealing with cloud computing and managed services, wireless and telecommunications network engineering, and energy engineering, says Todd Thibodeaux, president of CompTIA.
Thibodeaux suggests looking through the postings on job boards to find trends in what skills employers want and are willing to pay the most for.
Acquiring in-demand skills is increasingly the responsibility of employees themselves, which means they have to look for classes, certifications or on-the-job training, he says.
"This is the best time to plan, to seek opportunities to do work on a project that you might not have had time to work on in the past," Mok says. "So ask your manager if there's a project on hold that you might be able to work on and learn from. That makes you more marketable, particularly if the project isn't just technical but connects to business as well."
Mike Zuro, network integration manager at CompTIA, moved into his position, which focuses on wireless systems and telephony in addition to other duties, when it was created about a year ago. Zuro says he combines independent learning with formal training: Like many in IT, he tinkers with technology on his own time, and he also recently finished a weeklong class on telephony, with his employer picking up the $3,100 tab.
He acknowledges that his evolving expertise is very marketable right now. "Demand is actually quite high," he says. And his salary reflects that. Zuro says he got a bump in pay along with a title change when he took on his new job.
Few IT professionals would call 2009 a banner year for pay increases, but some IT job titles suffered especially tough cuts. Those that fared worst included systems analyst, down 4.9% in total compensation since 2008; technician, down 3.9%; and product manager, down 3.4%.
However, such pay cuts don't signal a death sentence for these positions. Analysts and IT leaders say the fact that survey respondents in these positions reported losses is likely a sign of both the sagging economy and changes in the IT field.
Todd Thibodeaux, president of CompTIA, says the drop in compensation might stem from an increase in the number of employees competing for those positions, which are often lower in the IT organization. Those jobs attract recent graduates, people transitioning into IT from other fields, and even experienced out-of-work IT professionals who are willing to step down a few grades. That creates a glut of people looking for the same jobs, putting downward pressure on pay.
One factor driving down technicians' pay is the ongoing push to outsource and offshore that job, says Gartner analyst Lily Mok, who notes that as long as a function can be outsourced, its pay won't likely recover.
Mok says that isn't the likely scenario for systems analysts, though. "Good, seasoned systems analysts, particularly those with business skills, they're still in demand," she says. That means that any pay cut is probably temporary.
Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at email@example.com.