''Salaries are up 2 percent, which is nothing to write home about,'' says Scot Melland president and CEO of New York-based Dice, Inc., an online recruiting service for IT professionals. ''But the fact that it's up shows that the market is changing for the better for tech professionals who have seen their salary decline for the past 18 months or so.''
The Dice Salary Survey Report, which culled information from 21,000 high-tech professionals, shows that the average IT salary increased 2 percent, going from $67,900 in 2002 to $69,400 in 2003. For the second year in a row, government and defense salaries showed the largest come back, increasing $2,600, or 4 percent, to $64,600. Salaries in the computer hardware industry, one of the hardest hit industries in the downturn, also increased 4 percent to $57,900.
''We try to look at this in combination with other indicators, like the number of jobs posted on our site, which has increased 40 percent over last year,'' adds Melland. ''Our customers tell us they intend to increase their hiring this year. At the end of the third quarter, we did a survey of 300 hiring companies and recruiters and 49 percent of them said they would be hiring more this year than last year. When we did the same survey the year before, 70 percent said they were hiring less.''
These signs of life in the tech industry come as a welcome relief to the IT workers who have been downsized, shuffled into other jobs, asked to take on extra work, underemployed or forced to leave the industry all together. It hasn't been a pretty picture or an easy row to hoe since the tech bubble burst several years ago and the country's economy went into a slump.
What was once the revenge of the nerds -- having high-paying jobs in ground-breaking companies while living in big houses and driving fast cars -- quickly turned into a story of repossessed possessions and stock options gone bust.
On top of the tech bust and the sagging economy, IT workers also had to deal with hundreds of thousands of jobs moving out of the country. Suddenly, jobs like application development and data mining were being done in China or India, leaving fewer jobs for the growing number of unemployed to vie for.
''Offshoring has definitely been affecting hiring,'' says David Foote, president and chief research officer of Foote Partners, LLC, an IT research firm based in New Canaan, Conn. ''And there's different estimates out there about how many hundreds of thousands or millions of positions are lost. The big question going forward is going to be if IT spending continues to grow, will outsourcing take up all of that growth?''
Foote, who recently released his own upbeat salary survey, points out that estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor show tech jobs growing faster than offshoring. That means there should be a renewed demand for IT workers and a renewed push in salaries.
''We're not back to where we were but the employment market is getting better,'' says Foote. ''The increase in job opportunities shows that, along with the bounce back in salaries.''
According to the Dice study, network and MIS manager positions had the largest salary increases over the past year, gaining 7 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Both positions have seen steady salary growth since 2001.
The highest paying titles remained identical to last year. IT management was at the top at $104,000, with project management following at $88,300. Systems developer, with an average salary of $83,200, and software engineer, at $81,400, were the top paying non-management titles.
Top paying skills include SAP and Peoplesoft. Full-time workers with these skills reported earning $81,200 and $78,600, respectively. Full-time tech workers with experience in Unix and C/C++, the two skills most requested by employers on the Dice site, reported earning $75,200 and $72,400, respectively.