How-To IT Career Guide: 7 Critical Strategies, From Getting Started To Semiretiring

Driven by our salary survey data, a look at make-or-break moments in a career.
Keep Your Rising Stars From Leaving
The 'lucky to have a job' feeling is fading.

Consider yourself lucky to have a job! It was an all-too-common management technique of the dot-com bust era, as shortsighted employers controlled their people through fear and implicit threats. But times are changing.

Our survey suggests that managers better pay more attention to nurturing their talented people, or they risk losing them.

What is your company doing to retain IT employees?
Expanding opportunities for career development
Increasing pay
Paying bonuses
Providing mentoring to groom junior staff
Planning for succession
Data: InformationWeek Research National IT Salary Survey of 7,281 IT professionals, spring 2007

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What IT Pros Earn:
Charts From Our Salary Survey

Asked to check what matters most to them about their jobs, 34% of IT staffers cite "the ability to work on creating new innovative IT." That compares with only 9% last year. More than double the percentage of respondents--28% vs. 12% last year--say the "ability to work with leading-edge technology" matters to them.

That puts the pressure on IT managers to know who's worth spending valuable time on, helping them develop their talents and providing them with new opportunities. A self-motivated individual will volunteer for projects and jobs and ask a lot of questions. That requires some patience by managers. "You don't want to kill motivation," says Paul Poteete, chief information security officer at a financial services company. "People don't quit jobs; they quit managers."

The hard lesson is to spend more time with the high performers, as opposed to those struggling, says David Cutter, director of application delivery at Acuity Brands Lighting. At one point in his career, Cutter spent 80% of his time on stragglers, "when I should've been spending more time with those who were true diamonds in the rough," he says. "Those people I can help develop."

The leadership task is more about encouraging people who are self-motivated and eager to learn than providing that motivation, says Chris Bobbit, CIO at training company Health Communications. "I provide some of the motivation, but not a lot of hand-holding," Bobbit says.

For Ravi Chitturi, an IT operations manager at Wolseley, a supplier of heating and plumbing products, it's all about results. "We're not in the faith-based business," he says. "A person's past history is a good indicator if that person will be able to apply new skills in the future."

The IT job market has strengthened some--unemployment was 2.3% in the first quarter, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the lowest first quarter since 2001, and less than half of what it was in 2004 and 2003. Meanwhile, the IT workforce is largely stagnant, having grown less than 2% from the low points of 2004 and 2003. So the pressure to get and keep good people is growing, and people with particular skills and experience, from architecture and integration to security and data mining, can command decent bucks.

Money is among the most important considerations for IT staffers, so let your stars know what financial rewards they're working toward. Increasingly important to them is the work they're doing. Says Cutter: "The best and the brightest will probably leave and go somewhere else if you don't let them try new things."

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
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Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing