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How-To IT Career Guide: 7 Critical Strategies, From Getting Started To Semiretiring

Driven by our salary survey data, a look at make-or-break moments in a career.

Moving To A Higher-Paying Specialty
There's a huge gap between high-paying specialties and the lower-paying ranks. Here are tips for crossing over.

There's a nice payday for people getting into the higher-end IT job categories such as ERP specialist, IT architect, and various management roles. Those categories often clear more than $100,000, according to InformationWeek's National IT Salary Survey, compared with categories such as help desk and general IT, where median salaries are below $70,000.

How does one move onto that higher-paying track? The "formula" includes a mix of formal education; constant, hands-on, real-world learning; and a relentless drive to do progressively more challenging work.

Do certifications matter? Over the last 12 months, only 6% of staff and 4% of managers received a bonus that was tied to a certification or training, our survey finds. Just 3% of staffers and managers received a "hot skill" premium. Yet certification and education are part of moving into higher-salary jobs.

"I'm big on certifications, but you have to dig" when evaluating what a certification really means, says Paul Poteete, the chief information security officer of a financial services firm. Is it paper only--a class taken to beef up a resumé? Or does it impart knowledge and skills needed on the job? "Even if they have a certification, you look for motivation and a desire to do the job," says Poteete, who as a security chief sits in one of those well-paid, highly skilled job categories.

31%
say their companies have outsourced work offshore
35%
have gotten expanded or new responsibilities because of outsourcing
17%
lost a job or took a pay cut due to outsourcing


Image Gallery:
What IT Pros Earn:
Charts From Our Salary Survey
Same goes with MBAs. Someone who works in business technology roles for years, rotating responsibilities and duties--managing people, projects, and budgets--could gain the equivalent of an MBA through experience. That's been the case for Ravi Chitturi, an IT operations manager at Wolseley, a global supplier of heating and plumbing products. Chitturi, a 16-year IT veteran with seven years at his current employer, oversees a group that includes technology and business analysts. "My aim is clear: I want to be a CIO," he says, hopefully within five years. Even though Chitturi's experience has prepared him for that role, and he has an engineering degree and has had leadership training, he believes he needs an MBA, perhaps through an executive program, to put him squarely on the CIO track.

Management jobs have been the fastest-growing tech category since 2001, but business technology pros don't have to get on the management track to make good money. Staff specialists in data mining, infrastructure, and integration can outearn managers working in lower-paying disciplines.

John Willard, a senior IT architect, helped create his own career track at the Virginia Department of Transportation. Willard made the case to his superiors that, as tech environments move to service-oriented architectures, "you need someone to be able to see where and how everything fits together," he says. So they created an IT architect position--which, at a median pay of $108,000, is the highest-paying IT staff category in our survey.

Now Willard's managers are discussing creating a formal architecture team and set of processes. Architects have to "see the big picture," to look beyond the pieces of software and hardware they manage and consider the broad IT structure a company needs to run its business.

It's a description of what architects do--and a good road map for people trying to chart their careers to higher-paying areas. If you're in a position to bring business needs and IT capabilities together, you're on the right track.

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