IT Salary Survey 2014: Who's hot, who's not

A shortage of workers with both technical and business skills has employers scrambling and (some) IT pros smiling.

Businessman selecting a group of people.

It's poaching season at Truven Health Analytics. The Santa Barbara, Calif., company has been up to its eyeballs in new projects since the federal government's Medicaid business systems group enlisted Truven's help to improve its Web-enabled reporting systems.

With business booming, Randy Lum, director of Truven's software and database design group, needed two highly skilled developers -- fast. But the rules of supply and demand were not in his favor. Nearly half of all managers who are in the hiring mood are looking for developers, according to Computerworld's 2014 Salary Survey. So Lum took a tried-and-true course of action.

"I steal people," he says, "people that I've worked with in the past that I know are good. I'm not shy about that. If I can offer them something they're after, I won't hesitate."

In fact, five out of seven of his direct reports -- all senior-level computer scientists -- are former colleagues. Most of them are looking for job security, Lum says, but a competitive salary doesn't hurt either. Right now his staffers earn between $128,000 and $143,000 per year. Their unique skill sets make them well worth the price, he adds.

"It is difficult to find developers with the right mix of technology skills for what we do," he explains. "We're not a large group, and my development staff is expected to have a wide range of skills -- so they can work on any part of any project, ranging from database to the Web interface and everything in between."

IT employees who participated in Computerworld's annual salary survey share that view of the market. They say a shortage of IT workers with the right skills, an uptick in new projects and a shift in the way IT works with business units have given them renewed optimism about IT careers -- though salaries and bonuses are advancing slowly.

Compensation and job security inch up

IT salaries continue to chug along, with pay increases averaging a modest 2.1%, according to the survey of 3,673 IT workers. Bonuses are up by an average of only 0.7%, slightly lower than the 0.9% increase seen in 2013.

On the bright side, companies are spreading pay increases among more IT workers. Some 60% of the respondents reported a raise, while only 8% reported a pay cut. That's slightly better than last year, when 57% reported raises and 9% reported pay cuts, but well above 2012, when less than half reported a raise.

As the economy has improved, the percentage of respondents who feel secure in their jobs has also inched up, from 57% in 2012 to 59% in 2013 and 61% this year. Workers are also more optimistic about IT as a career: In 2012, only 29% said they believed that a career path in IT and the potential for salary advancement was as promising as it was five years prior, but that percentage increased to 38% in 2013 and to 42% this year.

The rising optimism among IT pros coincides with an increase in the number of open positions and a shortage of workers with the skills to fill those jobs. But while some people are in high demand, others find themselves sitting on the sidelines.

Hot, hot, hot

For the third year in a row, application development was the most sought-after skill: 49% of all managers who expect to hire this year said it was on their wish list.

Help desk and IT support skills ranked second, with 44% of managers expecting to fill jobs in those areas this year. That's up from 37% in 2013 -- the biggest year-over-year increase in our survey.

Not surprisingly, some organizations are having a tough time meeting salary demands.

It took six months to find a do-it-all help desk staffer to meet the growing technology demands of the Monadnock Regional School District in Swanzey, N.H., says Neal Richardson, the district's director of technology.

"We had very highly qualified candidates; we just couldn't meet their salary requirements," which were $15,000 to $20,000 higher than the district could pay, he recalls. "We ended up going with [someone with] less experience."

Public school IT professionals once accepted lower salaries in return for perks such as low-cost insurance and summers off, Richardson says. But school boards are whittling those benefits away. For instance, IT jobs are now year-round positions, he says.

Third place on the list of the most in-demand skills saw a tie between business intelligence skills and database analysis and development expertise, with 29% of hiring managers saying they planned to increase staffing in those areas.

"All things data" are red hot, says David Foote, CEO at Foote Partners, an IT labor market analyst firm. Titles such as data administrator, database developer and database architect are grabbing recruiters' attention, especially for positions in larger companies.

Rounding out the top 10 in-demand skills among 2014 survey respondents were security, network administration, networking, cloud computing, Web design and development, and data management.

Headhunter calls, unfilled positions

With demand outpacing supply for many positions, more than half of our survey takers (54%) said a headhunter has contacted them in the past year.

"I get a lot of job offers from staffing companies and corporations that need a ton of DBAs and SQL administrators," says Erin Baker, CIO at payroll processing firm Fastpay Payroll in Lubbock, Texas. He says he receives five to 10 calls a year from recruiters, and "most often they're looking for SQL DBA or SQL programming skills."

Though some offers have been tempting, Baker says no company has been able to beat the perks of his current job, which include weekends off, flexible hours and the opportunity to work from home.

David Fitzgerald, network and security engineer at Ariad Pharmaceuticals in Boston, says he gets a call or an email from a recruiter "probably once a day." But like Baker, he doesn't see himself leaving his current employer anytime soon. "It's a small cancer-based pharma. They're doing good things for people," he says. "I have a great deal of autonomy. I can make a difference."

(Many survey respondents ranked intangible factors such as recognition for good work and a positive corporate culture as important aspects of their jobs. See "What Do IT Workers Want?")

All of those recruiter calls point to a growing challenge facing employers: It's taking them longer to fill open positions. Half of the managers surveyed by Computerworld said that it has taken at least three months to fill open IT positions in the last two years.

Lance Abla, principal systems engineer and specialist SE manager at EMC, spent more than six months finding the right candidates for three positions in EMC's presales consulting group. He says he's not seeking one specific skill but a wide range of knowledge in storage, networking, operating systems and "everything middleware and below."

"They have to be able to talk intelligently to C-level execs and customers, and make a case for why we should assist that customer in not only the services and software, but the hardware that they use to run their IT platforms. It's pretty hard to find people who have that breadth and depth of knowledge," not to mention the personality and professionalism that's required for the job, he says. "That quality where everyone perks up when they speak, or when they enter a room they have this presence -- I can't teach those things."

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