Hiring Havens

If the economy is indeed slowing, as many economists believe, companies this year will be needing fewer new IT hires than last year, which may put a damper on many cities now perceived as hotbeds of technology opportunity.

But there are several markets that technical recruiters say should weather the year very well, regardless of what happens in the greater economy. Following are the 10 cited as the best bets for job seekers this year.

Chicago

Even after a large wave of layoffs early last year, Chicago's IT community isn't suffering any ill effects, Len Tenner says. "There's not too much of a downturn. Anyone let go is being picked up by other businesses," says Tenner, CIO at Sageo LLC, an online health care and welfare benefits provider.

In fact, Chicago is the third-largest employment market for IT labor, Tenner says. Currently, Windy City employers have large "help wanted" signs out for Java programmers, Unix technicians, networking professionals and people with Oracles. So-called soft skills in demand include project leadership and the ability to communicate, according to Tenner.

Boston

The increase in demand for management professionals who have technical as well as leadership skills is leading some companies in Boston to get creative with their compensation. Publisher Houghton Mifflin Co., for example, has used things like game rooms and American Express Co. bonus checks to woo management personnel, says Mark Mooney, senior vice president and CIO at Houghton Mifflin. "There's no telling what other companies may be doing," he says.

Boston, known for some time as a top high-tech center, is becoming quite a draw for the younger crowd, says Mooney. The internationally known colleges and universities in the area make for a lot of young, energized blood, he says.

Mooney says companies like Oracle Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and San Jose-based Cisco Systems Inc. are building regional centers in the area.

IT professionals are needed in almost every industry, and positions in networking, databases and applications such as Oracle Suites and PeopleSoft are in particularly high demand right now. People who have skills in infrastructure and routing and data communications are also highly sought after, Mooney says.

Salary ranges for jobs in high demand in the Boston area include $120,000 to $140,000 for project managers, $80,000 to $120,000 for network managers, $70,000 to $95,000 for senior systems programmers and $45,000 to $70,000 for programmer/analysts.

New York

Call it culture shock. "New York City's lifestyle is one of great cultural advantages and a relatively high cost of living," says Robert Hedlund, director of technology services at Consolidated Edison Company of New York. "For the most part, we hire people living in the New York area. For people outside New York, the biggest cultural change is moving to this area and everything that entails."

For those who can get over the shock, IT positions are abundant, especially in the financial services industry, Hedlund says. "We're finding that the skills most in demand include network specialists, Unix experts, experienced Web developers and Internet hardware specialists," Hedlund says. Top-notch business analysts continue to remain in short supply, he adds.

In addition to the technical skills a candidate needs for an IT position, Hedlund says companies in New York are increasingly looking for well-rounded individuals who understand business as well as technology.

Atlanta

Jim Lynn, vice president of MIS at Cotton States Mutual Insurance Co., says IT managers who have technical know-how in combination with the ability to compel IT professionals to get behind a project and see it through are in demand in Atlanta. Lynn says a high premium is paid for people with such leadership skills.

Even before the Olympic Games were held there in 1996, Atlanta had a robust economy, and there's no sign of it slowing down, he says.

"The hottest industries for IT folks continue to be software and insurance, with positions in distributed applications and databases being most in demand," Lynn says. "Atlanta has a growing need for people skilled in Java and HTML." But employers also need IT professionals who have soft skills like leadership and management.

Philadelphia

An employee recently apologetically explained to Charles Brennan that he was leaving his $35,000-per-year geographic information system (GIS) position at the Philadelphia Police Department for a $60,000-per-year GIS job in the private sector. "I told him, 'Don't apologize,' " says Brennan, deputy commissioner for science and technology at the police department. The abundance of IT jobs in the area makes Brennan's situation all too common.

The City of Brotherly Love has certainly embraced IT. Locals say the IT job market is tight, with the strong economy affording numerous opportunities for IT professionals - good for employees, but bad for employers.

"I thought it might ease up a bit because of a lot of the dot-coms going under, but it hasn't," says Brennan.

Most in demand in the area are Web and LAN skills, Brennan says. He adds that many companies are finding, too, that it is necessary to keep up the old skills like Cobol as well as to develop new skills.

Washington

Don Rudy, manager of services and operations at Washington-based Potomac Electric Power Co., says most successful IT professionals in Washington need continuing education to maintain and grow their skills.

"Personally, I teach IT at the college level on a part-time basis," Rudy says. "This forces me to continually maintain high IT skills."

With a new presidential administration comes a changed job market in Washington, Rudy says. "Even the stodgy electric utility industry, which is undergoing deregulation, has become a believer in the competitive edge brought about through technology," he says. "I believe this will grow at a more rapid pace with the incoming Republican administration."

Washington has a strong demand for people in networking, databases and systems programming, as well as applications programming with C++ and Java.

"Also, I cannot understate the need for good management over these technical people," Rudy says. Traits needed include a logical mind, creativity and the ability to work under pressure independently, he says.

When considering an offer in Washington, there are a few things to keep in mind, Rudy says. "For D.C., commuting is a mess and the cost of living is high. IT personnel should request flextime and telecommuting perks where feasible," he says.

Raleigh/Durham, N.C.

If you enjoy the high-tech life but want to scale back from the hustle and bustle of big-city life, then perhaps the Raleigh/Durham area is more your style.

Though Research Triangle Park is certainly known for high tech, many people don't know of the friendly atmosphere that's conducive to family life that this high-tech haven boasts.

Anything having to do with Web development, from data center management through coding, is definitely hot right now in Raleigh, says Kelly Wolfe, manager of computer operations at GE Mortgage Insurance Co. in Durham.

"All Web development is extremely hot. There are not enough qualified personnel that understand the infrastructure also," Wolfe says. "Old Cobol programmers are finally finding the market not too good - [it's] time to retool."

Raleigh companies are also looking for IT professionals with Java scripting, Microsoft Transaction Server development and infrastructure management skills, he says.

Silicon Valley

Even after the failure of multitudes of dot-coms, people still flock to this technology mecca, says Marilyn Stiborek, a recruiting manager at Commtouch Inc., an integrated-messaging services company in Mountain View, Calif. "It should be no surprise - cutting-edge technology companies are always a hiring draw," says Stiborek. "People want to go where the action is." And the Valley is still it.

Currently, Silicon Valley has a need for network and security managers and application-specific integrated circuit designers, Stiborek says, as well as people skilled in any networking protocols and Exchange 2000 migration and development. Stiborek says the hottest industries for IT professionals are wireless, networking, e-mail and messaging products.

Potential relocators should be warned that although the jobs are attractive in Silicon Valley, the housing situation isn't.

"It's very expensive to live in the [San Francisco] Bay area," Stiborek says.

Salary ranges for high-demand jobs include $80,000 to $100,000 for project managers, $100,000 to $130,000 for network managers, $75,000 to $100,000 for network administrators and $100,000 to $115,000 for security specialists.

San Francisco

"While San Francisco is an expensive area to live in, it isn't about the big house; it's about the things to see and do, all within an hour or two of the city - the beach, the mountains, wine country. There's no place else like it," says Greg Alexander, senior vice president of MIS at Sharper Image Corp.

The City by the Bay is loosening up a bit from the tight IT job market of a few years ago, locals say, but there is still plenty of demand for people with certain skills.

"We see the market softening a little because of the dot-com failures in the area, but there is still plenty of opportunity all over the San Francisco Bay area for IT professionals," says Alexander.

The unemployment rate in the area is still around 2.3%, Alexander says. Positions most in demand in the area include Java programmers, database administrators and technical project managers, Alexander says, while C programming and the traditional high-level languages that temporarily regained notoriety for Y2k projects are losing ground.

Sacramento

In California's state capital, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District tries to provide at least two weeks of training for each IT professional each year, says Hank Dale, manager of the district's information and technology department. "Continuously working to stay current is important," according to Dale.

In addition to emphasizing ongoing training, Sacramento boasts all of the amenities of many other areas of the state, such as moderate temperatures, cultural diversity and easy access to saltwater and freshwater activities. But Sacramento is more easy on the pocketbook, says Dale.

"The cost of living is very reasonable when compared to other California metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco, though it probably won't look too reasonable to someone from a small town in the Midwest," says Dale.

Sacramento currently has needs for Oracle database administrators, SAP professionals, Unix and Windows NT administrators and Web developers. Also, "just about everything" related to enterprise resource planning or customer relationship management systems is in demand, Dale says. Junior-level salaries start at approximately $48,000 for programmers and reach about $82,000 for systems analysts.

Linkins is a freelance writer in Austin, Texas.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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