IT Pros Get Meager Raises As Median Pay Hits $80,000, Our Survey Finds

Our annual salary survey finds big differences based on regions, industries, and skills. Median manager pay reaches $105,000.
Geographic Differences
Looking at major U.S. cities, IT pay trends track what's happening in the leading industries in those regional economies. And it appears that IT staff are hit somewhat harder than managers.

In the New York, New Jersey, and Long Island area, center of the U.S. investment industry plus retail banking giants, median base pay increases were 1.7% for managers and nonexistent (0%) for staff. Detroit and Los Angeles show no raises for the typical manager or staffer. Two years ago, IT managers in those cities enjoyed median base pay raises of about 4% and 5%, respectively.

The D.C. and Baltimore area continues to be a bastion of strong IT pay--in good times and, now, bad. Its median 3% base pay increase for managers and staffers tops all regions. Two years ago, the nation's capital had the highest median staff raise and the third largest for managers. One of the biggest drop-offs is in the Seattle area, where the median pay hike for managers fell from 5% in last year's survey to 1.7% this year. That could reflect layoffs at Microsoft and other local tech companies.

In terms of base pay, the San Francisco area remains tops, with a median salary of $129,000 for managers and $95,000 for staff. Detroit was the lowest for staff, at $74,000, and Minneapolis for managers, at $97,000. That gives Minneapolis the distinction of being the only metro area where the median manager base is less than six figures.

For IT execs like Barbara Burkey, that's not cause to move away. Burkey is the former IT director and CIO of a small American Express division. In December, the company folded the division and let many of its IT directors go, Burkey among them. American Express made a similar move to downsize in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, but most IT directors were rehired within two years. Burkey's not so sure the jobs will be brought back this time.

Burkey plans to stay in Minnesota, as she's helping care for elderly parents. In the interim, she's trying to land senior-level consulting projects, while looking for another IT leadership position.

Career Jitters Return

chart: Management Base Pay Increases
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The recession hasn't dramatically damaged how IT pros view their career prospects or changed what they're looking for in their jobs. But it has caused some to doubt, once again, whether they'd recommend IT as a career choice to others.

Staff and managers cite "job stability" slightly more often than last year as being among the factors that matter most in their jobs, but it's still less than half who cite it as a key factor. Likewise, financial stability of employers rose in importance this year, but less than a fourth cite it. Challenge and responsibility remain important for staff and managers, cited by about half of survey respondents. Working on innovative IT has risen in importance since the last recession, and it held steady this year, at 37% for managers and 31% for staff.

Bryce Morrow, CTO at the Beck Group, an architecture and construction firm, says his 12-member IT team isn't doing cutting-edge new projects, but they're just as busy as during better economic times on projects such as converting legacy system applications to Web apps and giving workers better project management capabilities at job sites.

Pay raises are on hold at the Beck Group for the second year now, and bonuses will depend on company performance. Such profit-sharing bonuses are in place at just over 40% of companies, while around two-thirds of IT pros get bonuses based on personal performance. Even with salaries frozen, Morrow thinks morale is holding up. "Everyone feels blessed to have a good job and come into the office today," he says. The numbers back up that sentiment--there isn't much simmering dissatisfaction over paychecks or other aspects of the IT job. About two-thirds of IT pros are satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs, including the pay, while just 11% are dissatisfied.

Yet there is a disconnect. A majority of IT people feel fairly secure in their jobs and satisfied with their pay and responsibility. Yet, only 33% think it's as promising a career as it was five years ago--10 percentage points lower than in 2008.

IT's no picnic, in that tech pros need to manage their careers closely to make sure their expertise and, increasingly, their industry knowledge remain relevant. Yet John Challenger, CEO at outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, & Christmas, says that, even as companies delay purchases of new software and hardware, they're trying to hold on to their people. "The IT profession is a lot less vulnerable that it was even a decade ago," he says. "It has become much more of a core and less discretionary part of business."

chart: Course Correction: Median total cash compensation (in $ thousands)
(click image for larger view)