Info Tech Salaries Drop, Our Survey Finds. What's Holding U.S. Pay Down?

The dip in U.S. median pay is the first since the tech bubble popped. The culprits include the economy, outsourcing, and possibly even increased hiring.
Our data shows fewer IT pros are happy with their paychecks this year. Fifty-six percent of staff and 63% of managers are satisfied or very satisfied with their compensation; that's well off last year's 63% for staff and 71% for managers. In overall job satisfaction, 59% of staffers and 67% of managers are satisfied or very satisfied, off a few points from last year but comparable to 2006.

More people are putting a premium on job security: 37% cite it as a factor that's most important to their jobs, up from 29% last year. But IT people's sense of their job security is unchanged, with nine out of 10 IT pros feeling strongly or somewhat secure.

It's looking farther down the road that many U.S. IT pros worry about the career. Only 39% of staff and 51% of managers say the career path looks as promising as it did five years ago, almost identical to last year's view.

With a lot of help desk jobs moved offshore or automated, it's harder for younger people to enter the tech field for their first jobs, says Bill O'Reilly, who has worked for six years as the IT manager at Seattle Prostate Institute, a provider of health care for prostate cancer patients. "When I started out, you could dabble for a few years and learn a lot of different things," he says. "Now you need to specialize, be the person for virtualization or be the person for security."

Highest Paid
Management Functions ...
Total annual cash compensation
(in $ thousands)
$130 Data mining/data warehouse
$121 Web infrastructure
$121 Wireless infrastructure
... And The Lowest Paid
$79 Training
$75 Web content development
$72 Help desk/IT support

Note: Figure is the median for each function.
Data: InformationWeek Research U.S. IT Salary Survey of 9,653 IT professionals, spring 2008; 4,573 IT managers
John Pouliot, network administrator for a large Boston law firm, shares the concern that entry-level jobs are tougher to get but still recommends IT as a "successful and rewarding" career for young people to consider. Pouliot, who expects a pay increase of 3% to 5% this year, warns young people that they shouldn't bank on employers to help them stay up to date on the latest technology. It's true: Only about 30% of IT pros get tuition reimbursement, and about 20% get certification classes paid for. A quarter say their companies offer mentoring to groom younger staff. "You need to spend time on your own keeping up with technological trends" to stay relevant, he says. "This is not a 9-to-5 career."

Erik Kjellquist managed to get his salary increased by about a third as IT manager for Audio Sears, a 100-employee manufacturing company, where he's the one-man IT shop. He was getting ready to leave for another job and helping look for his replacement, but managers opted to give Kjellquist a raise when they couldn't find the right fit.

As one who's been in the job market, Kjellquist is frustrated by what he sees. Half of IT staffers say "aligning business and technology goals" is a critical skill, and 80% of managers cite it in our survey. But ads on Monster, HotJobs, and the like don't call for well-rounded, business-oriented IT experience; they pinpoint very specific skills, such as Flash programming, calling for certifications on a list of products, and demanding specific experience, like years working on a certain server platform. "I hear a lot of the buzz that companies are aligning their IT with business goals, but I don't see a lot of jobs out there that address that," he says.

The IT job market's always been tough to pin down, given how fast technologies and business needs change. This year's salary crunch only adds to the uncertainty.

Photo illustration by Viktor Koen