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Career Watch: In IT, you don't have to be a star

By Jamie Eckle
November 4, 2013 05:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Editor's note: The original version of this installment of Career Watch had incorrect information in the item about Linux skills sought by employers. The story has been updated with the corrected information.

IT: You Don't Have to Be a Star

If you're studying computer science or a related discipline, we hope it's because you love working with technology. But it's always good to know that the field you've decided on will be rewarding in monetary as well as emotional terms. Several compensation studies over the years have shown IT to be a reliably well-paid sector, and a new survey of salaries in the U.S. confirms that finding, while at the same time showing some interesting contrasts with other fields.

The study in question is the 2013-2014 PayScale College Salary Report. It looks at how things like your major and your school can be expected to affect your earning power. It was interesting to note that seven IT-related majors show up in the top 30 (out of 129 majors listed) in a ranking based on average midcareer salary. (See the list below for details.) But it's also interesting to see where other majors show up on the list. Some that might seem guaranteed to put a graduate on the road to riches don't make the top 30.

In some cases, that's probably because we associate certain careers with its stars, but most of those who pursue majors that would prepare them for those careers fall well short of that status in the end. An obvious example is the entertainment field, whose stars are glaringly visible. But majors related to entertainment rank fairly low (theater, No. 96; drama, No. 107; radio and television, No. 99), which suggests that most of the people going out into the world with one of those degrees are not stars, and they aren't making as much money as your average code jockey. And of course, we all know that most actors actually get by doing things like waiting tables. Other careers that probably are attractive because of the rewards that accrue to their stars are advertising (No. 44) and architecture (No. 51).

Of course, IT has its stars too. People who studied (but did not necessarily complete degrees in) those seven IT-related majors include tech luminaries like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin. But in the IT field, as in the other majors clustered at the top of this survey, you don't have to be a star to do well.

— Jamie Eckle

Salary Potential Rankings for Undergraduate Majors


Major (overall rank)

Computer engineering (6)
• Average starting salary: $65,300
• Average midcareer salary: $106,000

Computer science (8)
• Average starting salary: $59,800
• Average midcareer salary: $102,000

Software engineering (12)
• Average starting salary: $60,500
• Average midcareer salary: $99,300

Management information systems (18)
• Average starting salary: $53,800
• Average midcareer salary: $92,200

Computer information systems (25)
• Average starting salary: $50,800
• Average midcareer salary: $87,400

Information systems (26)
• Average starting salary: $51,900
• Average midcareer salary: $87,200

Information technology (30)
• Average starting salary: $49,900
• Average midcareer salary: $84,100

Source: PayScale survey of 1.4 million U.S. workers with bachelor's degrees and at least 10 years of experience in their field

Contractors: Partying Like It's 1998

The ratio of IT contract workers at large organizations spiked last year and remains high in 2013, at a level not surpassed since 1998. That was the height of the Y2K contracting boom and the first big Web development push. Today's boomlet is probably fueled in large part by initiatives revolving around big data and mobile apps.

Median Percentage of IT Workforce
at Large Organizations Who Are Contractors

• 2009: 10%
• 2010: 5.5%
• 2011: 6%
• 2012: 17%
• 2013: 15%

Source: Computer Economics survey of 200 IT organizations with operational budgets of at least $20 million, October 2013

In-Demand Linux Skills

LinuxCareer.com did a a cluster analysis of Linux skills sought by employers as determined by specific mentions in job postings. The cluster analysis resulted in 10 groups of skills, with the following relative frequencies in job postings of combinations of skills from each identified group:

35%: MySQL, PHP, Apache, Tomcat, Java, C/C++/C#, Bash, Perl, Python
15%: Red Hat, VMware, Windows, vSphere, ESX/ESXi, XenServer, Citrix, MAS, NetApp, NFS
10%: JavaScript, HTML, CSS, JQuery, Ajax
8%: PL/SQL, RAC, Solaris, AIX, ITIL, SUSE, SAP, DB2, Sybase
8%: JBoss, Websphere, Weblogic, ANT, Eclipse, SOAP, J2EE, Spring
7%: Ruby on Rails, HTTP, Drupal, Postgre SQL, Android, Embedded, Git, Subversion, Jira, MongoDB, NoSQL
5%: Ubuntu, CentOS, Nagios, EC2, AWS, Chef, Puppet, DevOps
5%: DHCP, DNS, LDAP, SSH, FTP, SMTP
4%: .Net, ASP, Powershell, Microsoft SQL, Active Directory, IIS
3%: MS Cert, VOIP, VPN, Juniper, CISSP

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