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13th Annual Salary Survey: IT Salaries on the Rise

The 13th Annual Redmond Salary Survey shows IT job and salary strength.

A looming recession should affect salaries. So should reports of IT budgets being slashed for the rest of 2008. And so should global economies going crazy with every dollar fluctuation, mortgage crisis or the closing down of another subprime-laden bank or brokerage.

But get this: Those events haven't made any such visible impact on IT compensation -- at least, so far -- as this year's joint Redmond/MCPmag.com 2008 Salary Survey indicates. For a fourth year in a row salaries have risen, as have raises, bonuses and job stability, sidestepping any rising recessionary tide.

Robert Laposta, a systems admin for a government contractor based in Sierra Vista, Ariz., believes salaries have continued to go up because "demand for IT is not subsiding." He points to his own experiences facing a federal mandate to keep government workers on the cutting edge of technology: "Our programming staff will be increasing as the government looks for more programming support" to keep those applications humming, he says.

Laposta's observations are validated by data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), whose Occupational Outlook Handbook 2008 states that companies across the United States will need to fill some 854,000 jobs between 2006 and 2016.

More Salary Survey
Get the complete 2008  Salary Survey from the Tech Library as a PDFThe PDF format of this article boasts many more charts, including salaries for non-Microsoft certifications and a look back at 13 years of IT salaries. Free registration is required to get the PDF. Get it here.

With the combination of additional bodies needed to occupy IT positions and a drop in enrollment in computer science courses -- a Computing Research Association study pegs the drop at 20 percent in 2008 -- the trick will be how to keep valuable and skilled employees. Thus, companies are providing incentives to employees by way of bumped-up compensation.

In our survey, besides comparing our results against BLS data, we also look at year-over-year data based on other factors, such as technology expertise, education, years in IT and certification. Let's start from the top.

Survey respondents this year report that their base salaries -- sans raises and bonuses, at $78,087 (see Chart 1) -- have risen a bit more than 8 percent from 2007. The rise beats last year's 2006-to-2007 increase of 2.7 percent, and keeps these wages ahead of inflation as indicated by the latest BLS numbers for the Consumer Price Index (at press time, that number stood at 5.5 percent).

Chart 1: Overview of 2008 IT compensation
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Chart 1. Overview of 2008 IT compensation

Whether the upward trend will continue is anyone's guess. For Kate Forster, an application developer, salary increases are on autopilot because she works for a local government in Joliet, Ill. "By contract [we're] guaranteed a 4 percent cost-of-living adjustment" at the beginning of 2009, she explains.

There are those who aren't as lucky, like Baltimore-based IS manager Joe Grosskopf, who expects the recession to have some impact in the IT world. "The recession is preventing a lot of companies from increasing salaries," he says, adding that "with all the layoffs, many workers aren't complaining. If they have a job, they feel lucky."

Chart 2 may explain why salaries jumped the way they did. More than 21 percent of respondents specify that their salary exceeded six figures, a six-point increase from last year's figure. Additionally, managers and those with project management expertise make up more than a quarter of respondents, a testament to the changing demographic of the Redmond reader; the majority readership used to be IT administrators.

2008 Salary of All Respondents by Range
Chart 2: 2008 Salary of All Respondents by Range
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Chart 2. Respondents were asked to specify a range for their base salary (bonuses and other compensation not included). Most salaries for 2008 fall between the $55,000 and $89,999 range. Interestingly, the number of respondents claiming six-figure incomes has risen from last year. Mean salary is $71,988.

Looking again at Chart 1, there are a few more numbers worth highlighting. Age and years in IT have increased by more than a year each from last year's figures, indicating that the respondent list has changed very little, yet on the whole they've all fattened their salaries. At a mean of 42.7 years, respondents continue to age. That's disconcerting if it provides some evidence that, indeed, fewer college graduates will fill IT roles as older workers retire.

Still, those older workers who continue to work also continue to see their salaries rise. And if they're the same respondents year over year, that four-year run upward bodes well for a rise next year with salaries. Interestingly enough, the number of years that respondents on average say they've toiled in IT is 13.7 years. That's a 12-month increase, matching respondent ages.

Just like last year, the ratio of men to women in the IT industry hasn't changed much; it remains at 6-to-1 in the field.

A Little Extra
Respondents who say that they got raises on average took home an extra $572 from last year, which is an increase of 12.5 percent. Nearly 9 percent claim more than $10,000, with 2.8 percent getting more than $20,000. On the opposite side of the bank statement, 20 percent saw no gain at all. (For advice on seeking a raise, see "Getting a Raise: Secrets from a Manager.")

Read What Others Say About Their IT Jobs
Kate Forster Safe Computing:
Kate Forster, Joliet, Ill.
Chris Blickley One Success at a Time:
Chris Blickley
Margret Thomas Never Giving Up:
Margaret Thomas, South Bend, Ind.
Elise Crull Big Sky IT:
Elise Crull, Missoula, Mont.

The Bonus Question
Bonuses last year made a surprising jump from 2006 to 2007 of nearly 86 percent. From 2007 to 2008, there was not so much of a jump. Overall, bonuses went up a mere $398, or 6.23 percent. But consider any bonus a plus. "Since I work for a nonprofit," says Mark Jones, an IT security and compliance officer in Bethel, Alaska, "I'd expect a raise only if our funding and revenue grow, which may be problematic in a slow economy." Almost 40 percent of respondents predict ominous news for next year's bonus season.

But optimism remains among some readers, with nearly 44 percent expecting some compensation between $1,000 and up to $10,000. About 4.8 percent figure that their bonus compensation will top out at more than $24,000.

Stepping Up
As we've seen in past surveys, titles can impact salaries in big ways -- and the more responsibilities and years in the position, the higher the salary (see Chart 3 and Chart 4). Management continues to top the list at $94,567, which is about 8 percent higher than last year's $87,103. About 20 percent of respondents claim to be managers. Programming project leads make out even better, with about a 10 percent increase. Increases for other positions are slight, but all went up this year.

Average Base Salary by Job Title
Chart 3: Average Base Salary by Job Title
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Chart 3. If you’ve been keeping up with the survey over the years, we don’t need to tell you that managers are the major breadwinners every year -- and this year is no different.

Average Base Salary by Microsoft Certification
Chart 4: Average Base Salary by Microsoft Certification
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Chart 4. Good news for those earning the "new generation" certifications, as the CITP: Consumer Support Technician beats out all titles.

Earning Power of Expertise
Differentiating one's skills from other IT experts can influence salary upward, as Chart 5 and Chart 6 show.

Average Salary by Microsoft Product Expertise
Chart 5: Average Salary by Microsoft Product Expertise
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Chart 5. We asked respondents to choose the Microsoft technologies that they’re working on, and surprisingly, a little more than 30 percent say they’re working with Windows Vista. We also expect Windows 2008 to grow in deployment.

Average Salary by Technology Expertise
Chart 6: Average Salary by Technology Expertise
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Chart 6. We asked respondents what general technologies they've become proficient in. New this year is virtualization, which seems to be finally getting some legs.

Looking at Microsoft technology first, those with Project Server knowledge top this year's list at $92,532. Last year, Identity Integration Server experts were number one, with a whopping $104,333; this year, they come in at a more realistic $85,338.

Noteworthy are those who claim to be BizTalk Server experts, who report a lower income this year at $88,733, but who still manage to remain third on the list this year, down from No. 2 in 2007.

Windows Server 2008, introduced earlier this year, makes the list with 15 percent claiming expertise in the new server technology; they report making $84,108 on average. The percentage is expected to grow, as admins realize the positive effect Windows Server upgrades can actually have on cost savings.

The Employment Situation

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics refines data in its Occupational Outlook Handbook, and one indicator of whether the data is on track is a monthly report, simply called "The Employment Situation." Indications from the July 2008 report, released on Aug. 1, are of a decline of 13,000 jobs in July and 44,000 jobs for the year in the information industry. Computer systems and design, meanwhile, added 7,000 jobs for the month. Across all segments, unemployment climbed to 5.7 percent; contrast that number with the low 4.4 percent unemployment back in March 2007. The report will be updated with August data on Sept. 8, 2008. Click here for more information.

-- M.D.

"We'll slowly migrate to Windows 2008 with new servers for sure," says Dan Yatzeck, a PC technician with a health-care company in Waukesha, Wis. "We'll probably upgrade from 2003 on the servers," continues Yatzeck, who will tap it so they can run Hyper-V and Exchange 2007. "It was a great feeling to run the P2V on our very old Web server and bring it up in the virtual environment."

Mark Teslow, an IT manager for a church in Chanhassen, Minn., says he'll be testing the new server this fall, but is excited about another technology: "I'm a SharePoint convert, and the process taught me a great deal about this powerful tool and platform." The ranks of SharePoint experts have ticked upward, with 16.5 percent of respondents -- compared to 2007's 15 percent -- claiming expertise in it, with an average salary of $83,869.

Margret ThomasNever Giving Up: Margaret Thomas, South Bend, Ind.
As a systems administrator, my job is to keep the technical systems running, upgraded and supported. Nothing unusual here, but:
  • Not one piece of equipment is still under the original manufacturer's warranty. This includes every server, router, switch, PC, laptop and printer.
  • Many support contracts were canceled in an effort to reduce costs.
  • Oh, and, of course, there's no budget for anything new.
  • So how do I keep enthusiasm up in this seemingly dire situation?
"Never give up"-these three words keep me going, no matter how bad it seems for the business, as well as for the IT industry overall.

Dot-com bust? Techies leaving the industry in droves? Fewer systems people who are female? Declining enrollment in computer science and engineering programs? Those trends give me all the more reason to stay put and enjoy what I do. Sure, it's a challenge to be in a thriving, fast-paced company-who wouldn't prefer that? But it's a bigger challenge to be where I am, in a company struggling to grow and thrive in a toxic economic climate. What doesn't kill me makes me stronger.

What about Windows Vista? Unlike many of the respondents we contacted via e-mail, Teslow has taken a fifth of his company to it, with the rest upgrading "through attrition under our replacement plan." More than 39 percent of respondents say they're working with the OS, up from 30 percent last year. Vista experts also make $75,818, up almost 8 percent from last year's figure.

On a broader scale, experts who work for outsourcing firms filtered to the top of the list this year, averaging $91,388 -- last year, they made $78,963. Those developing for embedded devices and who work in research and development bring up the rear, inching closer to the $90,000 mark.

Elise CrullBig Sky IT: Elise Crull, Missoula, Mont.
I view my job as a chance to make a difference in the daily lives of my users.

At the Missoula City-County Health Department, I try to make each day different from the previous one. It isn't hard. The beauty of my job is that problems change daily and the work is never boring. It's frequently stressful because my users-who are trying to make our city and county a healthier place-want more every day: more file space, more e-mail, more capabilities to do their job well by using new software.

I research new solutions and try to find economical answers, all the while trying to keep ahead and be proactive. People thank me every day for small fixes and that's its own special reward. I'm happy with what I do and lucky to be doing it.

We added a new tracking stat this year, virtualization, for which 30 percent of respondents, including Yatzeck, claim expertise. Those respondents also say that they're making $80,307.

Why Certification Matters
Certification hasn't had the cachet it used to have with readers in years past, but there are still some legitimate reasons to obtain a cert. For some, it can help to get a toehold in IT.

"My certifications got me hired -- I think," says Paul MacDonald, an IS director in Newport News, Va. "Day to day, my job varies greatly and much of what I do doesn't require or goes beyond what I learned in getting my certifications."

Mark Jones looks beyond salary and sees certifications as more useful to providing "some measure of ongoing learning -- if they're kept current and new certifications are added as technology and job requirements evolve."

For Yatzeck, the payoff is also indirect: "In my position, professional certification is held in high regard, especially for a small business, and it does play a role, mostly reflected in yearly raises and annual reviews." A majority -- 61 percent -- of respondents agree with Yatzeck, while a negligible 0.9 percent believe a certification can have a negative effect.

Certifications that seem to have more earning power this year include: MCITP: Consumer Support Technician ($97,608), MCSD: VS.NET ($95,269) and MCITP: Database Administrator ($92,752).




2008 Redmond Salary Survey Methodology

The Redmond Media Group compiled the results of the survey internally using specialized survey software; thanks goes to Rita Zurcher for compiling the results into something meaningful and useful. As we've done the last three years, we sent out a survey with approximately 120 questions encompassing salary, bonus and raise expectations, as well as respondents' outlooks on topics as varied as outsourcing, training methods and job satisfaction.

In addition to hitting the names on Redmond and MCPmag.com newsletter subscription lists, we sent the survey to Redmond Channel Partner and Redmond Developer News newsletter and print subscribers for whom we have valid e-mail addresses. We also linked to the survey through several editions of the MCPmag.com newsletter during the weeks the survey was conducted, from June 13 to July 3.

Once we removed duplicates and respondents from outside the United States, we ended up with about 1,476 valid responses -- once again, a higher number of respondents than in 2007 -- with a margin of error +/-3 percent.

-- M.D.

Wait Until Next Year
We keep hearing about the volatility of the economy, IT spending and the toll that the mortgage crisis and fuel prices are taking on general spending. We do expect to see some impact of all of this next year. How much is anyone's guess at this point, and the four-year upward trend in salaries can't last much longer -- or will it? We'll let you know how it shakes out in 12 months.

Click here to read "Getting a Raise: Secrets from a Manager."

More Information

More Salary Survey
Get the complete 2008  Salary Survey from the Tech Library as a PDFThe PDF format of this article boasts many more charts, including salaries for non-Microsoft certifications and a look back at 13 years of IT salaries. Free registration is required to get the PDF. Get it here.
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