Tech-friendly industries

How to get a job in energy IT

IT pros in search of a salary windfall should look to energy and utilities, where new exploration techniques, demand for renewable energy and new regulations are opening up jobs.

Nick Broskey likes to call the U.S. power grid "the most complex machine ever made -- but never designed."

The grid encompasses massive legacy infrastructure, owned and operated by a patchwork of power companies. It's subject to extensive levels of regulation, and is expected to be reliable 24 hours a day without a hiccup. And the industry is only going to get more complex, says Broskey, senior business systems analyst for OnDemand Energy Solutions, an energy broker in Moon Township, Pa., as solar and wind seek to join in.

"We have a complex environment," agrees Kenny Coleman, CIO at Southern Company, an Atlanta-based corporation that owns electric utilities in four southern states. "We have legacy infrastructure. We have also invested in nuclear, gasification and coal technologies. And we have a strong commitment to more research and development," which could yield further discoveries -- and further complexities.

In short, these and other executives say, energy is a field that's simultaneously entrenched and undergoing a rapid rate of change, and IT is playing a critical role in almost every aspect of its transformation.

Tech pros are needed for everything from developing roadmaps for plant operations to tracking infrastructure assets; from maintaining the internal corporate network to building out wireless mesh networks spanning the breadth and depth of a mine; and in deploying emerging technologies like mobility, geographical information systems and mapping and imaging software.

Ann Manal, partner in recruiting consultancy Mercer's Houston office, which specializes in IT for the energy industry, believes there's a bright future for tech professionals interested in energy.

Mercer tracks six levels of experience in IT and, in all of them, salaries in the energy sector are higher than the national average for all industry verticals. According to Manal, the percentage difference for entry-level positions in energy IT versus IT as a whole is up to 7%, but at higher-level positions, the difference can be as much as 10% to 15% in total compensation. "In management positions," she says, "it could be 20% or more." (See Energy aims high for details.)

Likewise, Computerworld's 2013 IT Salary Survey shows that respondents in the energy/utilities industries reported receiving an average increase in salary and bonus of 3.7% in the preceding 12 months, well above the average for all industries of 2.2% and second only to construction/engineering (3.9%) for industry verticals.

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Source: Mercer/Gartner IT survey of the 2013 Mercer Benchmark Database, with responses from more than 2,100 midsized and large organizations across all industries reporting compensation data for more than 318,000 employees in 363 positions.

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