If you work in IT, chances are pretty good that you are perfectly happy with your current job. But that doesn't mean you should put your career on autopilot.
In the 2018 Interop and InformationWeek IT Salary Survey, two-thirds of respondents said they were satisfied (45%) or very satisfied (24%) with their current jobs. Only 4% said they were very dissatisfied. The numbers were even higher among IT managers and other executives: 49% were satisfied, 22% satisfied, and only 2% very dissatisfied.
Not surprisingly, very few of those surveyed were looking to switch employers. In fact, only 11% said they were actively looking.
That's bad news for potential new employers. Many of them are looking to recruit new employees — particularly those with in-demand skills in areas like cybersecurity, DevOps, artificial intelligence (AI), big data, cloud computing, and blockchain. Some say they can't find enough qualified applicants, even though they are offering salaries much higher than in years past.
For employees and job candidates, on the other hand, the outlook is great. Positions are plentiful, and pay is high and rising.
However, experts caution that IT professionals shouldn't ignore their careers just because the job market seems great right now. Technology is constantly changing, and those who don't keep their skills up-to-date could soon find job hunting more difficult, even in the current market. And if the economic situation changes, those who have planned ahead will find it easiest to maintain employment — and possibly advance their careers — when jobs become more scarce.
With that in mind, here are 10 career moves you should consider making in 2019, whether you plan to pursue a new position now or if you simply want to have relevant skills to offer current and future employers.
1. Update Your Profile
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current national unemployment rate is 3.7%, and for IT workers and other people in computer and mathematical occupations, unemployment is even lower — just 2.4%. With so few job seekers on the market, employers are turning their attention to recruiting passive job candidates, that is, the people who aren't actively looking for a job but might be tempted if the right opportunity came along.
To find those passive job candidates, HR professionals are turning to social media and online job boards. A survey conducted by Jobvite found that 77% of recruiters use LinkedIn to find candidates, 64% rely on Facebook, and 25% turn to Instagram.
If you are one of those passive job seekers who might be interested in a new job, the beginning of a new year is a great time to revisit your social media accounts or any resumes you have posted with online job boards. You'll want to make sure your employment information is up-to-date, of course, and also make sure you've mentioned your involvement with professional organizations and open source projects. You should also make sure your social media posts don't reference drinking or drugs (even if you live in a state where marijuana is legal). Some people even suggest you delete any political rants and fix your spelling and grammar errors, because more than 40% of recruiters say either of those things can turn them off candidates.
2. Ask for More Money
If you're happy at your current place of employment, don't be afraid to ask for a raise or a bonus. According to the Interop report, median total compensation for IT workers rose $5,000 last year, and 71% of those surveyed received a raise in the past year, including 11% who received a raise that increased their compensation by more than 10%. Employers know that the number one reason why IT professionals decide to look for a new job is because they want higher compensation. Many will be willing to increase your pay or offer a higher bonus to keep their current workers happy.
And if you have a job offer for a new employer, you should also consider negotiating a higher salary than the initial offer. The Robert Half 2019 Technology Salary Guide found that "43% of technology leaders are willing to increase the salary or compensation package when they hire for certain positions."
Remember, if you don't ask, the answer is always no.
3. Take a Class on IT Security
When the Interop survey asked IT professionals about the skills they were currently learning or planning to learn, the number one response, selected by 47% of people, was IT security. In addition, respondents also selected IT security as the skill most likely to benefit their individual advancement and/or salary. Interestingly, IT managers were slightly more likely to be learning about cybersecurity than staffers.
Certainly, the increase in high-profile cyberattacks has prompted some of the interest in cybersecurity. However, it's also true that IT pros with security skills tend to make more than their counterparts who don't have the same skillset. According to the Foote Partners Tech Skills Demand and Pay Trends Report for the fourth quarter of 2018, some of the certifications that showed some of the highest growth in pay were for penetration testers and ethical hackers. And some of the fastest-growing non-certified tech skills that earn high pay premiums included cryptography and penetration testing.
4. Work on Your Non-Tech Skills
For many years, career advisers have encouraged IT professionals to work on their soft skills, as well as their technical skills, and 2019 is no exception. The Robert Half report noted, "Companies want professionals who can assume blended roles — positions that sit between IT and another department, such as marketing or operations. This calls for not only specialized technical expertise but also a solid array of soft skills."
That same report added, "Business expectations for 24/7 connectivity and IT service reliability require technology teams to be responsive and empathetic. Critical thinking and analytical skills are valued as well."
When the Interop survey asked about the skills most likely to lead to individual advancement and salary increases, leadership skills ranked as the second most popular answer, project management was tied for third, and business skills was fifth.
5. Dive into DevOps
DevOps continues to gain traction in enterprise IT departments, and as a result, demand for workers with DevOps skills is increasing.
In the Interop and InformationWeek 2018 State of DevOps report, only 9% of respondents said that their firms had no plans to adopt DevOps approaches.
The RobertHalf report listed DevOps engineers as one of the hardest-to-fill positions for 2019 and said that median pay for the position is $110,500, with those in the 95th percentile earning $178,250.
Foote Partners also noted the DevOps trend, putting DevOps on its list of highest-paying non-certified tech skills. And the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer cert was on the list of certified skills showing the highest pay growth.
6. Consider Consulting Work
If you are blessed to possess some of the most in-demand tech skills, your best career opportunity might be to go to work for yourself or a consulting firm. According to Robert Half, "One way IT departments are gaining immediate access to the expertise they need is by engaging project-based consultants and other interim professionals."
The advantage for employers is that hiring short-term consultants gives them some flexibility and can fill the gaps while they are looking for long-term employees. And the consultants often enjoy the challenge of a short-term assignment, as well as higher pay. Staff consultants at the upper end of the pay scale can earn $129,250, while senior consultants might make $163,500.
7. Learn More About Blockchain
Blockchain hasn't yet become a mainstream part of enterprise IT, but plenty of IT leaders are considering how they might be able to benefit from the technology. Foote Partners put blockchain, Ethereum, and smart contracts on its list of fastest-growing non-certified tech skills that already pay high premiums. In fact, it said that Ethereum was the number-one fastest-growing non-certified tech skill, offering a premium equivalent to 17% of base salary. And smart contracts command a 15% pay premium.
The report added, "Ethereum is arguably the most popular open source, public blockchain-based distributed computing platform and OS for smart contract functionality. If you want to become a blockchain expert, learning how to build apps on Ethereum is a great place to start."
8. Get Involved in a Big Data or AI Project
Blockchain might not yet be mainstream in the enterprise, but big data and artificial intelligence most certainly are. According to data from NewVantage Partners, only 2.8% of enterprises are not investing in big data and AI.
The Robert Half report found that artificial intelligence was among the most in-demand skills for 2019, and big data engineers enjoy median pay of $155,500, while data scientists have median salaries of $121,500.
Similarly, Foote Partners listed several skills related to big data and AI among the fastest-growing non-certified skills that pay well. Those skills included metadata design/development, data science and quantitative analysis, Apache Spark, Apache Impala, Splunk, and artificial intelligence.
9. Check Out the Free Training from Cloud Computing Vendors
Cloud computing is also now firmly entrenched in the enterprise, and IT professionals without cloud expertise would do well to remedy that in 2019. In the Interop salary survey, respondents chose cloud integration/management as the third most beneficial skill for advancement, and 35% said they were either already involved in cloud-related training or planned to take part in the coming year.
Fortunately, free cloud training is very easy to find online. Vendors like AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and IBM Cloud offer online courses. While the certifications generally require a fee, many of the courses are available free of charge.
10. Ask Your Company to Pay for Training
Many IT professionals find that they don't need to limit themselves to free or low-cost training, because quite a few employers will foot the bill for relevant educational opportunities. In fact, the Interop survey found that a majority of those surveyed (52%) had attended company-paid training in the past 12 months.
As the labor market continues to tighten, organizations are recognizing that training their current workforce is a far more viable option that hiring external candidates who already have highly desirable skills like cybersecurity, DevOps, AI, blockchain, and cloud management.
Because demand for job skills is so much higher than supply, IT professionals have a very powerful negotiating position, whether they are asking for more pay or company-paid training. Smart IT pros will use this reality to their advantage so that they are better prepared for a future when the job market becomes more competitive.
For More on the State of IT Careers and Skills
Check out these recent articles: