Special Report: IT Salary Survey 2017 Results

IT Salary Survey 2017: Highlights

Key findings from Computerworld's survey of nearly 2,800 IT professionals, including salary trends, hot skills, job satisfaction, career outlook, biggest concerns and more.

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Salaries are rising, but at a slower pace

Tech pros who responded to Computerworld's 31st annual IT Salary Survey showed an interesting mix of optimism and anxiety. We polled 2,782 IT professionals — 55% technical staffers and 45% IT managers — asking them about their compensation, workloads, long-term career prospects and much more.

Most reported steady pay gains in 2017, but many still don’t feel they’re being paid what they’re worth. The job market is strong, but some fear a slowdown in IT spending and hiring in the days ahead.

Click through this slideshow for key findings from the survey, including which skills IT managers expect to hire for this year, what tech pros consider the biggest challenges they face, and which workplace perks are most valued by IT employees.

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Salaries are rising, but at a slower pace

After years of anemic raises from 2009 through 2014, IT workers finally saw significant pay bumps in 2015 and 2016, with average increases of 3.6% and 3.9%, respectively. Salaries are still rising at a good clip in 2017 but lagging a bit behind the previous two years, with survey respondents reporting an average 3% increase in total compensation (base salary plus bonus).

And while 67% of respondents said they received a raise this year, that’s down from the 71% who said they got a bump in 2016.

These and other indicators have some tech pros and industry watchers worried about a possible spending slowdown to come, while others are predicting a surge in IT spending, hiring and compensation as a new business-friendly administration takes the helm in the White House. Adding to the confusion is uncertainty around what trade and tax policies will be enacted under the Trump administration, and whether it will be able to keep its promises to boost infrastructure spending and bring jobs back to the U.S. See “IT pay holds tight (for now)” for more.

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Forging ahead with hiring

The conflicting forecasts for how the IT sector will fare under the new administration haven’t slowed down some employers’ hiring plans. Of the 1,263 managers who responded to our survey, 43% said they expect their IT staffs to expand in 2017. Another 49% said they don’t anticipate any change in the size of their staffs, and just 7% said they expect their IT head count to decrease.

Among those who plan to expand their IT staffs this year, 66% said they’re mainly looking for highly skilled specialists, 30% said they have mostly entry-level technical positions open, and just 2% said a majority of their open positions are managerial.

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On shakier financial ground?

Although some workers are in high demand (with the salaries to prove it), most IT pros don’t feel that positive about their financial situation as a whole. Only 37% said they’ve gained ground financially over the past two years, 41% said they’ve stayed flat, and 22% said they’ve lost ground. Those figures paint a slightly darker picture than the 2016 results, when 41% said they’d gained ground, but they’re still more positive than the results from 2015 and earlier.

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Who makes the most?

Not surprisingly, some of the skills most sought after by hiring managers correlate to the IT disciplines that are seeing the highest pay. Factoring in responses from employees at all levels (technical staffers, midlevel managers and senior managers), those in application development make an average total compensation of around $114,000 per year, while security pros average $123,000 per year and business intelligence/analysis specialists average $112,000 — all above the $107,000 average for all survey respondents. At the very top is cloud computing; professionals who work in that nascent field average nearly $130,000 per year.

In addition to being lucrative, app dev, security, data and analysis, and cloud computing are among the hottest growth areas in IT. Fortunately, these four fields represent an enormous breadth of opportunities for IT professionals looking to advance their careers, including several emerging subspecialties and interesting crossover roles. See “4 high-growth tech fields with top pay” for details.

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Hot skills

For the ninth year in a row, application development has topped the list of skills that IT managers said they expect their company will hire for in 2017. Other perennial favorites are help desk/tech support, security, business analytics and business intelligence, and database analysis and development. Also making a strong showing in the 2017 survey results are general IT functions in multiple areas, cloud computing, network administration and networking.

Managers noted that they've been having a hard time filling open positions: 37% say it's taken 3 to 6 months to fill open positions in the past two years, while 15% say it's taken more than 6 months.

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Pay grade

Despite rising salaries, only about half of survey respondents reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their total compensation, while a quarter said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. When asked how they felt about their compensation 12 months ago, 14% said they were more satisfied back then, while 21% were less satisfied with their pay a year ago.

Only 21% of respondents feel that their salary is keeping pace with business growth and demands.

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Job satisfaction

A majority (62%) of respondents reported being satisfied or very satisfied with their current job; however, 20% said they were more satisfied 12 months ago than they are now.

When asked what matters most to them about their job, respondents cited tangible rewards such as base pay (selected by 43% of respondents), benefits (37%), and vacation time (34%). But many also named less tangible factors, including job stability (39%), flextime and telecommuting options (36%), being valued for their opinion and knowledge (28%), the office community (24%) and having challenging work (25%).

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Peace of mind

After inching up for several years as the economy improved, the percentage of respondents who reported feeling secure or very secure in their jobs has decreased very slightly, from 64% in 2016 to 63% this year. And 20% of this year’s respondents said they felt more secure a year ago.

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Tension at work

About 45% of survey respondents rated their job as stressful or very stressful, with 17% saying it was more stressful a year ago and 18% saying it was less stressful a year ago.

Tech pros cited a number of factors that significantly affected their working conditions in the past year, including increased IT workloads (cited by 46% of respondents); new, understaffed projects (32%); budget cuts (28%); unfilled open positions (22%) and hiring freezes (16%).

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Pressured to perform

As has been the case for several years, a majority of 2017 respondents (56%) said they expect their IT workload and responsibilities to rise, and nearly as many (53%) said they expect their line-of-business workload and responsibilities to rise.

What’s more, 82% of survey takers reported that they've felt pressure to increase productivity, take on new tasks, or both — and only 11% said their salary has been adjusted to compensate for the added workload.

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Burning the midnight oil

Long hours are the norm for IT pros, with an average 46-hour workweek among respondents. And 52% reported frequently or very frequently checking messages or communicating with their offices during non-scheduled work hours such as evenings, weekends, holidays or vacation days.

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Concerns and challenges

Relevancy is a top concern for tech pros today. When asked to name the single biggest challenge facing workers in the IT industry, nearly half survey respondents chose keeping up with technology advancements. Close behind that choice were the undervaluing of older workers, the alignment of IT with business goals, job losses due to outsourcing and, for managers, the IT talent shortage.

When it comes to their own careers, IT pros said they were most concerned about keeping their skills up to date and being valuable to their employers (selected by 22% of respondents), stagnant salaries (17%), finding appropriate positions for their skill sets (14%), the changing structure and role of the IT department (12%), and increased workloads (10%).

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Boosting skills

Tech pros know that adding to their skill set is a smart way to ensure their relevancy down the road. Some 58% of respondents have at least one IT certification, and 47% say they plan to pursue one in the next 2 years. The five topics at the top of cert-seekers' lists are security, networking, systems administration, project/process management and architecture.

When asked to choose what types of training have been most beneficial to their career advancement so far, 68% of respondents chose training in specific technologies, followed by IT certification training (49%), leadership training (34%) and project management training (29%).

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Staying put

For the most part, survey respondents aren’t actively looking for a new job. Some 45% said they aren’t looking at all, and another 39% say they’re just passively looking — which means they’re not scouring the job boards every day, but they might be tempted if they get the right call.

That scenario isn’t inconceivable: 59% of respondents said they’ve been approached by a headhunter in the past 12 months.

When we asked respondents who aren’t seeking a new job why they’re not looking, 60% said they’re satisfied with their current job responsibilities, 44% said they’re satisfied with their organization’s culture, 37% said they’re satisfied with their current compensation and 15% said the job market is poor or there are few job opportunities for them.

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Motivations for a move

We asked respondents (even those who are not looking for a job) what factors would most influence them to change their job. No surprise: Getting a raise topped the list at 73%. Other popular enticements included better work/life balance, job security, a large sign-on bonus, access to new technology projects and more vacation time.

Among those respondents who are searching for a new job, 60% said they’re looking for higher compensation, 43% are interested in career advancement, 33% are looking for more personal fulfillment, and the same percentage are seeking more interesting or challenging work.

When asked what the hardest part of their job search is, 22% of these respondents cited knowing what they want from a new position, and from 10% to 16% named using or building their personal network, knowing how much compensation to ask for, the length of time organizations take to make hires, meeting skills requirements, creating a compelling resume, and interviewing.

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Most valued rewards

One of IT managers’ top concerns is attracting, retaining and motivating skilled IT workers. We asked survey respondents which rewards and perks they valued the most. Topping the list of favorites were annual bonuses at 63% and flextime and telecommuting options, also at 63%. Respondents also appreciate it when their employers invest in their career development — for instance, paying for them to attend conferences; funding technical, business or leadership training; or offering mentorship programs. Other welcome perks included spot bonuses, sabbaticals, company-provided meals or snacks, and off-site group activities.

The good news is that this list of preferences tracks fairly closely to what employers are actually offering. Some 48% of managers who took the survey said their organizations offer company-paid attendance at industry events, 47% said they allow telecommuting or flextime, 47% said they offer training, and 44% pay annual bonuses.

For more ways IT organizations can attract and inspire top IT talent, see “How to motivate the modern tech worker.”

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A disconnect on bonuses?

When asked which types of cash bonuses they find useful for hiring, motivating and retaining workers, 53% of IT managers who responded to the survey named performance bonuses, followed by annual bonuses (48%), profit-sharing bonuses (25%) and certification or training completion bonuses (23%). What their companies pay out is a little different, though: 48% said their organization offers annual bonuses, followed by performance bonuses (33%), new employee referral bonuses (22%), and profit-sharing bonuses (18%).

And when we asked all survey respondents what types of bonuses they had received in the past year, just 35% said they had received an annual bonus, 23% reported getting a performance bonus and 14% a profit-sharing bonus. Forty percent said they had gotten no bonus at all.

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Full steam ahead

IT pros' career outlook is positive on the whole: When asked where they expect to be in their career five years from now, just about half of survey respondents predicted they'll be in higher-level positions, either with their current employers or at new organizations. Of the remainder, a third said they expect they'll remain in their current job or have a similar job at another company, 16% forecasted retirement or self-employment, and 3% said they'll have left the IT profession altogether.

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The right path

When all is said and done, survey respondents seem to be happy with their choice of careers. Some 58% said they believe an IT career path and the potential for salary advancement in IT are more promising than other professions, 32% believe it is as promising as other professions, and just 10% consider it less promising.

And when asked how satisfied they are with their career choice, a whopping 85% said they are satisfied or very satisfied that they decided to pursue a career in IT.

[ Read this next: IT Salary Survey 2017: Tech pay holds tight (for now) ]

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