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Solid Money, Worried Minds

Raises are back, and the average IT manager's salary approaches six figures. So why are they so grim about their careers?
Unemployed IT professionals aren't sitting idle. Seven in 10 are looking for part-time jobs. One-third consult, and three in 10 freelance or are self-employed. Only 14% work part time outside of IT. The biggest challenge unemployed IT workers face is low wages for new jobs. Two in five IT professionals say they need to learn new skills or take a junior position to get a job.

FBL Financial Group's Horton began as a programmer but needed to change skills to keep up with technology. Today, he helps map out systems used by FBL Financial. "The days of being a lifetime programmer went away quite awhile ago," Horton says.

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Ken Brucker has been out of work for two years, a victim of the dot-com bust, and wouldn't mind taking a job at less than the $60,000 a year he earned in his last post as a software-quality-assurance engineer. "I was just one of the people that rode the edge of the IT bubble when the market washed out," he says. Living in a back room of his mother's San Diego home, Brucker, 39, believes the longer he goes without finding a full-time job, the less attractive he'll be to prospective employers, despite a resumé that includes a number of software-assurance jobs dating back to 1994.

For the unemployed--and the employed, as well--additional training could prove beneficial. However, from a compensation perspective, getting certified in a specific technology doesn't always pay off. While 40% of staff respondents say they hold Microsoft Certified Professional certificates, only 3% of those surveyed say they received a bonus for being certified in a specific technology or product. That, of course, doesn't account for the base pay many IT pros receive because they hold certifications. "Rightly or wrongly, companies place a value on certification, and it will up your salary within a five-year period by as much as 50%," Meta Group's Schafer says.

Chasing a graduate degree might help land a better job or get a higher salary than pursuing a certification. "There's a glut of certifications, so I decided to go to graduate school and be different," says Capital One's Valdez, who's working on a master's degree specializing in information security at Capella University.


THE UPSHOT

Despite the improving economy, many business-technology professionals worry about layoffs, offshore outsourcing, and obsolescence.



IT workers are flush. Median base salaries this past year rose 7.9% for staffers, to $68,000, and 7.1% for managers, to $90,000; median total compensation was $71,000 for staff and $97,000 for managers.



Still, the IT profession has lost some of its luster; many wouldn't recommend it as a career.



Despite the fact that the business-technology profession has lost some of its luster and the general population is less likely to see it as a lucrative career move, technology will continue to present plenty of opportunities for motivated individuals. General Motors Corp. CIO Ralph Szygenda thinks technology professionals, unused to anything but growth in their industry and employment market, are making a mistake by seeing their prospects as diminished. He predicts that in the next few years, there probably won't be enough business-technology pros in the United States to fill demand. "It's like we're going to look at the past 30 years, take the lowest point for the auto industry, and project that's what the industry will look like," he says. "That's probably foolhardy, but truthfully, that's what people are doing in the IT industry."

Maybe the biggest challenge of all is seeing things in the right perspective.

-- with Chris Murphy

Illustration by Gordon Studer