On the whole, the financial news has been good for IT professionals. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that IT employment grew 3.1% in 2015, and 44% of IT managers who participated in Computerworld's 2016 IT Salary Survey said they expect to expand their IT staffs this year.
Salaries are growing, too. Computerworld survey participants reported an average compensation increase of 3.9% this year, the highest year-over-year pay hike we've seen in our survey results since 2001.
Other industry watchers have seen similar gains: Research firm Foote Partners reports a 3.3% overall rise in IT skills and certification pay premiums for 2015, and IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology predicts that starting salaries for tech pros will rise 5.3% in 2016.
But pay raises are higher in some IT disciplines than they are in others. "The competition for some niche skills is driving up salaries for those positions. In some areas for some skills there are rapid gains; in other areas the gains are more modest or flat," says Tim Herbert, senior vice president of research and market intelligence at the nonprofit trade organization CompTIA.
According to Computerworld's 2016 IT Salary Survey, these are the 10 IT specialties seeing the biggest salary increases.
People who work in enterprise resource planning reported a bigger year-over-year compensation gain — 5% —than survey respondents in any other area of IT.
Because ERP can refer to both a business process — automating and integrating key parts of an organization's business functions — and the software suites that facilitate that process, it's easy to assume that a role in enterprise resource planning is all about managing a software system. But Drew Moen, CTO at StratServ, a tech services firm in Browns Summit, N.C., says it's really about managing the business and understanding how technology supports that job.
"ERP is operations. It's process engineering, and it's what gives you a quantitative advantage. It's why your call center has 10 people and not 100 people," Moen says.
To do the job, Moen says, an ERP expert "has to be a master of many trades, and someone who can speak truth to power." In other words, an ERP pro needs to have the expertise and the strength of character to explain to executives what works — and what doesn't — in operational processes, how to improve them and where technology fits within those scenarios.
Those are traits that companies are willing to pay increasingly higher rates to get, recruiters say.
2. Cloud computing
As detailed in Computerworld's Forecast 2016 report, moving enterprise systems and applications to the cloud has become a top priority for U.S. businesses. As more organizations do more in the cloud, competition for people with cloud experience heats up, and that in turn has driven up salaries, says Herbert.
Pay for cloud experts is up 4.8% this year, according to our survey, and people who work in the field say they're feeling popular. Take Eric McDuffee, senior director for data and technology at the American Lung Association of the Northeast in East Hartford, Conn. The nonprofit no longer has on-premises applications, so McDuffee, a 16-year employee with the organization, has become a cloud expert. That gets him noticed. "I don't have people beating down my door, but there definitely has been an uptick in recruitment," he says.
No surprise here: One of the most in-demand specialties today is information security expertise. Our survey shows an average pay gain of 4.6% over 2015 for those who work in security, and more than a quarter of IT managers who plan to expand their staffs this year cited security as an area in which they will be adding personnel.
In his more than 20 years in IT, Bob Riley says he has seen security move from a side role in everyone's job to a front-and-center function that's in demand. Riley is a mobile security architect at Duluth, Ga.-based NCR, and he says his employer's security team has grown from three people three years ago to 26 today.
"The average systems administrator can't keep up with the threats that are coming every day, so security became a new role," he says. "Now security has the CEO's focus. That means budgets are up."
Riley himself isn't looking for a new job, but based on what he sees in the job market and what he's hearing from colleagues, he says companies are offering higher salaries for top-notch security talent.
4. Web design/development
Companies continue to invest in their websites, so they still need skilled Web designers and developers, says Blake Angove, director of technology services at Chicago-based staffing and recruiting firm LaSalle Network. Computerworld's IT Salary Survey shows that pay was up 4.6% for these workers in 2016.
Job seekers with strong portfolios and broad sets of Web design and development skills can get multiple offers and command $70,000 to $90,000 or more annually, even if they have only a few years of experience, Angove says. Developers with Java and .Net programming skills are most in demand, he adds.
5. Business intelligence/analytics
The push to put data into the hands of workers at every level is driving demand for business intelligence and analytics systems — and IT professionals who support those systems and their users. Survey respondents who work in those areas reported an average pay bump of 4.2% in 2016.
Lauretta Ayers, a business analyst at the Turlock Irrigation District in California's Central Valley, says she sees that demand firsthand. In her part of the country, government agencies, farming operations and businesses of all kinds are using data to drive decisions related to everything from water requirements to livestock feed schedules.
With data playing such an important role in business today, IT workers who specialize in BI and analytics can command ever-higher salaries, recruiters say.
Pay in this field is up 4.2%, according to our data, with average compensation ranging from $62,000 for network administrators to $112,000 for network architects. CompTIA's Herbert notes that the number of job postings for network and computer systems operators increased 37% from 2014 to 2015, and postings for computer network architects jumped 44%.
"Demand for network engineering skills has remained consistently high," says Angove. "As the number of data centers in the country increases, we will see the demand for engineers grow." He notes that people with Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert certifications continue to command the highest salaries; network engineers with strong firewall and security knowledge are also up there.
7. Application development
Enterprise IT shops have a continuing need for application developers to deliver not only back-end software to help run their operations but also customer-facing apps, recruiters and IT leaders say. Companies are willing to pay a premium for experienced people with proven skills. Pay jumped 4% for developers who took our survey.
But a bigger paycheck alone isn't enough to draw in the most talented developers, says Ben Vesta, development manager at Aceyus, a Charlotte, N.C.-based maker of contact center management tools. Savvy developers are looking for companies that have more to offer than just generous pay. "Location, work environment, and the ability to grow skill sets and advance in the company are equally important," he says.
8. Data center management
As more companies move to private clouds, they need people who can manage the data centers that support those setups, Herbert says. And the vendors selling cloud services likewise need skilled professionals to manage their data centers. New business models, notably streaming services, also require significant data center capacity.
All that adds up to competition for data center managers, and that, in turn, has driven up compensation. Computerworld survey respondents who manage data centers reported an average boost in pay of 3.9% this year.
9. General IT
It might seem unusual to find general IT work in a list of hot specialties, but Andrew Ho isn't surprised. As vice president of technology at Global Strategy Group, he is the public affairs firm's sole IT staffer. Ho, who oversees consultants and vendors, says small and midsize companies increasingly want people like him who are capable of handling a range of IT duties.
"In that market, there's not enough money to pay for specialists," he says. "Companies see the value in people who can wear multiple hats." Computerworld's survey data backs him up: Nearly 20% of the IT managers who are looking to hire this year said they need IT generalists, and the general IT workers who took the survey said their pay is up 3.9%.
10. Help desk/IT support
With companies using a growing number of increasingly complex systems and devices, there's a need for more expertise in the tech support role — so it makes sense that help desk compensation is on the rise, Herbert says. IT Salary Survey respondents who work in tech support reported an average pay increase of 3.6%. And tech support is the second most sought-after skill among managers who plan to hire this year, 33% of whom said they were looking for people to work on the help desk.
Jean Everson, a Level 2 service desk specialist at rail freight company CSX in Jacksonville, Fla., has worked in tech support for nearly two decades and says she has seen demand for her services (and pay) steadily increase over the years.
She says the job keeps her and her colleagues busy, and she doesn't expect that to change anytime soon. "I'll have a job as long as I want one," she says.