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IT Salary Survey 2013: 11 Career Insights

IT salaries begin to thaw, with median pay for staffers at $90,000 and managers at $120,000.
>> Working for a big-name employer goes only so far.

This is probably the most unequivocal statement I can make from our Salary Survey: IT pros aren't impressed by your fancy company name. In our survey, prestige/reputation was rated dead last on the list of job qualities that matter, the third year in a row it came in last. Just 9% of managers and 6% of staffers put it among their top seven priorities.

This finding is important as companies chase the same scarce talent in fields such as analytics. Granted, competing on pay with a Goldman Sachs or Facebook isn't easy, so offering a competitive paycheck is step one. But employers that can bundle up competitive pay, challenging projects and recognition for work done well -- factors that rank at the top of our list -- can go toe to toe with flashier and more established companies.

>> IT career optimism is rising.

Forty-five percent of IT staffers and half of managers think IT is as promising a career as it was five years ago. Of course, when 44% of staffers and 42% of managers say it's not as promising (the rest are unsure), the overall outlook might still seem bleak. But consider that two years ago just 33% of staff and 40% of managers considered the career as promising as it was five years prior. And in 2004, just 15% of staffers and 21% of managers considered it as promising. That 2004 nadir came at the tail end of the tech recession, with offshore outsourcing wiping out jobs and the memory of dot-com bonuses still fresh enough to hurt.

Almost two-thirds of IT staffers and managers in our latest survey say they're satisfied with their jobs overall, including the pay. In 2004, less than half of staffers said they were satisfied, while 56% of managers did. About 90% IT pros say they're very secure or somewhat secure in their jobs; about 10% feel insecure.

>> Managers aren't that important in the quest to retain good people.

Conventional wisdom often holds that people leave or stay in jobs based on the quality of their direct managers. But when we asked in our survey about the top job factors that matter, only 14% of respondents said the effectiveness of an immediate supervisor is among the most important. That finding surprised us, so we went back 10 years: Our survey then found a single-digit-percentage response.

So are managers off the hook for people retention? Well, no. Managers who lose their best people for whatever reason won't succeed. Instead, the message for IT leaders is that they need to understand what matters to their staffers and pick the right fights to get their people what they need. Lobby for raises for top people, or for other one-off financial rewards if base pay is stalled. If company policies limit job flexibility, collaborate with HR to make changes. "Knowing my opinion is valued" is a top-five priority for staffers and managers, and that factor is firmly in a manager's control. "Challenge" is also highly rated -- No. 2 for managers. A talented IT pro might leave in search of more challenge and not blame it on an ineffective manager. But a great leader finds new challenges to keep that person excited and provides recognition when he or she succeeds.

>> Most managers aren't thinking strategically.

Twenty-nine percent of the IT managers in our survey cite "seeking new business opportunities" among the critical skills they need to develop. That puts it last on a list of 15 skills, and it's the same last-place ranking it has held for the past five years. No. 1 is aligning business and technology goals, at 84%, also the same perch it has held for five years. Fifty-two percent of managers cite preparing reports, which is only slightly less than the 58% given the more-strategic role of analyzing data.

Compare these findings with what we saw earlier about embedded IT -- where one-third of tech managers report to a manager outside of the IT organization at least half of the time, and half of IT managers have formal responsibility outside of IT. Don't those marketing, R&D and business development teams want their embedded IT people helping them think of new business opportunities, not just knocking out data reports they ask for? One positive finding here is that more than half of IT staffers and managers consider interacting with customers critical. For anyone looking for a spot as a highly valued, well-paid IT pro, combining a deep understanding of the customer with sharp technical skills is a strong place to start.