Your rising pay

Your check stub should give you reason to smile. Despite an economy that is only now crawling out of its years-long doldrums, network professionals’ pay has continued to grow far faster than the rate of inflation. Top this off with a broadening set of long-term career options (with more C-level IT positions created every year), and you can count on networking as a good living for years to come.

Network executives, those with senior-level titles (senior vice-president/vice-president of MIS/IT/IS/DP), fared particularly well when it came to pay raises, finds the 2004 Network World (U.S.) Salary Survey of 3,575 respondents, conducted by researchers King, Brown & Partners Inc. Network executives reported an average base pay of US$111,020 — a 5.6 per cent increase over 2003 and well above the 2003 inflation rate of 2.3 per cent that reported. Bonuses, too, look good, with network executives indicating they anticipate a 1.6 per cent increase this year. While that might not sound like much, as senior managers, network executives already are at the top of the IT bonus scale. They estimate their average 2004 bonus will be a hefty US$19,460.

Total compensation (which includes bonuses, stock options and other income) for network executives rose to US$136,380, only 3.7 per cent. The “other income” category is to blame for the meager increase. Respondents expect other income to dip 42 per cent compared to what it yielded in 2003. Other income includes items such as car allowances, pay premiums (for overseas work, for example), and income earned outside their corporate jobs, such as consulting fees.

For middle IT management — those with network manager or director titles — base pay rose 4.3 per cent to US$74,890, and total compensation gained 4.6 per cent, to US$79,840. Within that group, e-commerce managers did particularly well in total compensation increases, seeing 5.3 per cent raises to US$88,250. However, they received a comparatively anemic 3.9 per cent base-pay raise, to US$79,820.

Among staff-level positions, network operations workers snagged a notable 4.7 per cent increase in total compensation, to US$58,160, and a competitive 4.3 per cent base-pay raise to US$55,500. The average total compensation for all staff-level personnel grew 4.2 per cent to US$67,640, with base pay rising four per cent to US$64,200. Perhaps that doesn’t make entry-level network professionals Jaguar material, but it certainly lets them afford a starter-home mortgage in most areas.

The only sore spot was bonuses for some staff-level job titles, with help desk/trainer staff and Web programmers taking considerable hits. Consolation might be found in knowing that those with general corporate management titles (C-level, non-IT positions), also took a hit on bonuses. So if your staff is feeling the pain, know that your boss is feeling it, too.

Composite of the well-paid net exec

If you were to sketch a composite of a network executive who exceeds the 2004 national averages for compensation, you would find a man 45 years of age (or older), with at least 10 years tenure at a global corporation, responsible for two-dozen-plus direct reports and thousands of servers. He would have some graduate-level studies under his belt and be regularly working some 55-plus hours a week.

The sketch could be of Tony Iannotti, the 44-year-old director of network operations for global financial services firm CheckFree Corp., in Norcross, Ga., where he has 10 years tenure.

Want his success? Concentrate on school. “Education is really important — being able to extend your knowledge and skills,” says Iannotti, who works at the firm’s Newark, N.J., facilities. Availing himself of CheckFree’s training ethic, Iannotti has earned a handful of certificates, mostly in security. “All up and down, account managers, IT folks, everyone gets training. We view it as an investment in the company,” he says, noting that the more trained the workers, the better they perform. He stands in contrast to peers — 69 per cent of the highest-paid respondents reported having no certificates, with only 14 per cent having more than two. But Iannotti is so dedicated to education that he plans to earn a graduate degree in cryptography — for “fun,” he says, not because the job demands it.

Or, your sketch could resemble Brian Hobbs, director of MIS services and support for window-covering giant Hunter Douglas Inc. in Denver. A little younger than the composite at 39, Hobbs has more than made up for his youth with accomplishments. He’s earned an MBA, been in the industry 15 years — four years at his current job — and manages 21 direct reports.

He, too, credits education, not just for his success but as a criteria in job candidates. Sure, he wants employees who can do the technical work, but they also should understand the business implications of their jobs. “Education is good, and certificates are important things. Also project management skills have to be in the job candidate’s background. I certainly expect my mangers to have business understanding, but staff has to have a basic understanding, too,” he says.

New jobs, here and abroad

Economic signs point to a rebound in the number of job opportunities for network professionals. Net execs are hiring again, for the right skill set, they say.

“I didn’t hire anyone at all last year. Now I have one opening for an operating system security specialist. There are a lot of candidates out there looking for work, but I’m not finding the mix I need,” Iannotti says.

IT director Lauren Anders agrees. Anders, 27, with eight years tenure, two computer-related bachelor’s degrees and work toward her master’s, is the top IT executive for 6,000-employee Sunwest PEO of Florida Inc., a fast-growing human resources outsourcing firm in Tampa. “I’ve had difficulty finding qualified candidates. We’re currently looking for an entry-level network/workstation end-user support person. Out of 6,000 resumes . . . a good percentage are just paper-experienced. They don’t have enough real-world knowledge. Five years ago, I’d have said, ‘Fine, you can learn on the job.’ But now I need a self-starter,” she says.

Hobbs adds that regional economics also are at issue: “It’s not hard to get resumes; it’s hard to find qualified people. The Denver area is still kind of soft, as evidenced by some of the layoffs that are occurring.The people I’m seeing tend to have administrative skills, but not senior-level skills. They can troubleshoot (but I need) project management skills.”

Despite the help-wanted signs, network professionals remain fearful of job security. In a list of the 26 most critical items for job satisfaction, respondents named job security as No. 1 this year, like last.

The fear-causing culprit this year doesn’t seem to be layoffs because of the economy, but job loss from offshore outsourcing. How justifiable that fear is remains debatable, say network executives who have used offshore IT services.

“Offshore outsourcing — we do some here. We haven’t replaced headcount with offshore, but it does make it harder to bring people in. If candidates hear that you are outsourcing, they’re fearful. The fear is blown out of proportion — but they read all the bad about it and get worried,” Hobbs says.

Iannotti agrees, saying that CheckFree has engaged in offshore outsourcing only for projects where the local or in-house talent didn’t have the skills and couldn’t acquire them in time. The skill needed in one case was Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition, which the majority of programmers at CheckFree didn’t have at the time, he says. “But they are now all going to classes for it,” he explains.

Perhaps the fear of outsourcing is counterbalanced by the rising variety of chief-titled IT jobs. Today, companies are splitting IS operations from IT planning and inviting both roles to the executive suite. CTO is becoming an additional role, not a CIO-alternative title. Companies also are creating chief security officers, chief compliance officers, and the future might bring still other jobs.

It all adds up to bright prospects for those in network executive spots today. “I would agree that there’s more long-term career opportunity,” Anders says. Her bright career outlook stems from the variety of technical exposure she gets as the top IT dog, mastering not just networking, but databases, operating systems and all sorts of new technologies. “Others might only have worked as a network administrator for their 10 years of experience. I have a broad background.”

She says intertwining IT with the business creates her job security. “In this type of position, you deal with the lifeline and essence of the company. The company needs to understand that — and not feel like that’s an easy position to be in and that they can easily bring in someone else to do that,” she says.

Judging by growing salaries network professionals command year in and out — companies are understanding what a hard, important job their network executives hold.

Influences on your pay

The overall elements that determine great pay remain consistent from year to year, as this year’s survey again proves. As your responsibility, hours worked, tenure, age and the size of company increase, so does pay. Likewise, the more formal education a person has, the higher the pay, with certificates not carrying much impact on the bottom line.

Yet, all of those factors are interrelated. For instance, as job title increases, so does pay — yet so does the number of hours worked per week. Those with higher incomes tend to be responsible for more network servers, more clients tied to the servers, and have more people reporting to them. Income typically rises with tenure, but those with the most tenure also work the longest hours, have more people report to them, are in management, have higher levels of education (yet fewer certifications), are older and work at larger companies. People at larger companies often make more money, but the highest paid large-company workers also tend to be older and have more tenure at their current company. Income tends to rise with age, yet older respondents also are more likely to have higher levels of education, be in senior management, have more people report to them, more tenure and work at larger companies.

The survey also shows that men average higher salaries than women, though whether this is a straight matter of unequal pay for equal work is a matter of debate. Ten times more men participated in the survey than women, a fair reflection of how men still far outnumber women in the field. (Of the 3,552 respondents who answered the gender question, 3,202 were men.) With more men working in the field, more of them work at larger companies, are responsible for more servers and hold the highest job titles. For instance, 2.6 per cent of male respondents held CIO/CTO positions, compared with one per cent of female respondents.

These factors explain the gender salary gap. As women enter the field in greater numbers, they will be better represented among the top jobs and their salary averages will rise. This, of course, depends on corporate cultures in which women have equal opportunity to be hired for those top positions.

Show me the benefits package

Workers are commanding benefits, bonuses and other paycheque-boosting goodies again.

Benefits packages and overall compensation have become the No. 1 and 2 considerations for respondents of the Network World (U.S.) Salary Survey when rating job satisfaction factors “critical” and “very important”. For the first time in two years, this means “challenge of work” has not taken the top spot. Clearly, insurance, bonuses, stock options and other types of compensation are becoming highly important again. If pay raises must limp along at less than six per cent on average, then workers are looking for help with their cost-of-living expenses (such as medical). They’re also eyeing that 8.2 per cent average bonus increase to keep them happy.

When it comes to bonuses some titles were less rewarded, as were workers in some regions. Help desk trainers’ bonuses fell 20.5 per cent, bringing the total they expect in 2004 to a mere US$620. Software and Web programmers expect to see their bonuses decrease 5.3 per cent to US$2,330. Regionally, companies in the Southwest remained stingiest with bonuses, rolling them back 9.2 per cent to US$2,650.

But areas of the country that are rebounding economically — New England, the West, the Mid-Atlantic — are planning to dish out decent bonus increases overall. The largest companies will grant the biggest bonuses, and, not surprisingly, employees who work the most hours expect to reap the best bonuses, too.

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