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What are you worth? IT salary surveys shed some light

Results from two recent Windows IT salary surveys show a need for professionals to broaden their perspectives as they climb higher on technical or management ladders.

When IT professionals talk IT salaries, they are always interested in which job titles are netting the big bucks.

Numerous factors come into play when specific salaries are aggregated to create averages, which often are used to identify hot jobs, good opportunities and so forth. Those factors include ones that relate to the individual who earns a salary, such as years of experience, educational background, certifications held and eligibility for (and attainment of) incentive pay. Other factors relate to gross economics such as where jobs are located, the cost of living, demand versus supply for qualified professionals and so forth. Simply put, the same $100,000 salary for two individuals with superficially similar backgrounds means two different things in New York City and in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Professional salary survey results
Bearing all these caveats and qualifiers in mind, we took a long, hard look at two recent salary surveys. One was conducted at Certification Magazine, as part of an annual feature on IT salaries; the other is the most recent entry in a long-standing series of quarterly reports on Windows-specific jobs published by Foote Partners, an IT compensation and workforce research firm that tracks compensation, related skills, job titles and other important indicators to help identify key jobs, skill sets, IT certifications, emerging pay trends and more.

What comes from these studies is a sizable number of positions with strong potential for people who hold those positions to pull in six-figure incomes. Certainly, it's no surprise that individuals who work at medium-sized companies or larger and who hold director-level titles or higher (director, vice president, senior VP, executive VP, CIO and so forth) are likely to top the six-figure barrier.

The most recent Foote "IT Insider Professional Salary Survey" and "Hot Technical Skills and Certifications Pay Index" (4Q2005 editions) specifically identify numerous Windows-related management titles and salaries (all numbers listed below describe compensation, expressed in rounded thousands as $77K for $77,000.)

Note: The Foote numbers below denote averages taken from 63 different major U.S. metro areas. They describe half of the IT population that earns a median salary plus-or-minus 25%; thus, a range of $25K to $50K means that half of all professionals in that job or specialty earn salaries in that range. The numbers define base pay only, so when you add in other pay components, the numbers increase. (Certification Magazine numbers report total annual pay.)

  • VP/Director, NT Systems Engineering ($130K to $158K)
  • Manager, NT Systems Engineering ($99K to $118K)
  • Director, Information Security ($109K to $140K)
  • Manager, Information Security ($88K to $117K)
  • VP/Director, Enterprise Infrastructure ($117K to $157K)
  • VP/Director, e-Commerce ($120K to $167K)
  • Director, Web Systems ($107K to $146K)
  • Manager, Web Systems ($89K to $120K)

In the realm of the technical, a number of specialization titles rise to the top of the salary charts and again are likely to confer six-figure yearly earnings on those who practice them. In the list below, the numbers from the Foote report are marked f, those from Certification Magazine are marked c:

  • Senior Information Security analyst (f, $73K to $100K), especially for holders of information security-related certs such as CISSP (c, $105K to $115K, with add-ons such as ISSAP or ISSMP) and CISM (c, $106K)
  • Senior Storage/SAN Administrator (f, $84K to $108K), especially for those who hold Brocade (c, $89K to $108K, depending on credential held) or SNIA certs (c, $66K to $99K, depending on credential held). Though hard evidence isn't available for all storage-related certs, anecdotal evidence suggests strongly that competency in Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dell Inc., McData Corp., EMC Corp. and other storage systems pay in the same general range. (This applies to the next item as well.)
  • Storage/SAN Administrator (f, $64K to $94K)
  • Senior Infrastructure Engineer (f, $76K to $95K) especially the CCIE (c, $104K) which continues to hold exceptional value and name recognition
  • e-Commerce Project Manager (f, $84K to $107K)

What the numbers mean
Interestingly, both studies show strong correlations between well-developed project management skills and pay. The Certification Magazine study shows fairly high average annual pay of $96K for those with the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. That indicates a maturing IT marketplace and that those who possess both hard technical skills and soft skills are in growing demand, with pay to match.

What these numbers don't say is what skills and titles are on their way up and what's going down. Foote's statistical analyses show that demand for information-security related skills is flattening out and even slowing, now that most companies have met Sarbanes-Oxley compliance goals and information security hiring and implementation goals have settled down. Interestingly, both studies indicate a recent resurgence in Web and e-commerce developer jobs, which may mean that the last vestiges of the Internet boom and bust at the turn of the century are over. Foote's trends analysis shows strong interest in database positions and in .NET-related developer jobs, as more companies ramp up Windows-based development efforts in the wake of last November's release of the .NET Framework 2.0, Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005.

Another phenomenon lurks amid these salaries and hiring trends -- namely, a need for professionals to broaden their perspectives as they climb higher on technical or management ladders. Though an exclusive focus on Windows may work well for IT professionals in entry- to mid-level career positions, increasing one's knowledge and understanding of the Linux/Unix and mainframe worlds becomes more important the higher up the food chain one goes. Foote analysts opine that basic administrators and developers can prosper modestly in the Windows world, but moving into senior-level and management positions inevitably brings a need to master other platforms, technologies and whatever development environments apply.

Ed Tittel is a freelance writer who specializes in information security , IT certification, and markup lanaguages. He created the Exam Cram series, has contributed to over 130 computer books, and writes regularly for numerous TechTarget Web sites. E-mail Ed at

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