IT Salaries: Are You Paid What You're Worth?

Thursday Mar 22nd 2007 by James Maguire

A Web site allows you to compare tech salaries for IT sectors across the country.

Are you paid as much as your colleagues in equivalent tech jobs? More importantly, are you paid what you’re worth?

The Payscale web site allows you to answer these questions in ways that early job data sources didn’t. In a new twist, the site’s information comes directly from workers, not from employers, headhunters or large job banks. Seattle-based Payscale has a hefty database of pay data from workers who have entered their salary level at the site.

However, some observers might look at Payscale’s data and ask: is it accurate? After all, online surveys filled out anonymously are notoriously unreliable.

But Payscale has an answer. Dr. Al Lee, Payscale’s director of quantitative analysis, points out that users come to the site to see how their salary compares with similar workers. So there’s no incentive for users to falsely inflate their income – the comparison data would be worthless. Additionally, the site uses filtering software to eliminate obviously wrong data.

Moreover, he says, since the site’s mountain of data from IT workers is enormous, it has a framework that enables it to edit out erroneous entries.

“The tech space is one of our best spaces in terms of the fraction of workers who come to our site,” he tells Datamation. He estimates that as much as 2-3% of all tech workers have entered salary data in Payscale. While that percentage sounds high, it’s true that Payscale’s figures fall roughly in line with other IT salary data that Datamation has gathered, for example these figures and these figures.

Median IT Salaries

Here are some national median salaries listed by Payscale:

(All figures represent base salary plus annual bonus, without equity or stocks.)

Software Developers:

• Senior Software Developer = $85,256

• Software Architect = $121,686

• Senior Quality Assurance (QA) Engineer (Computer Software) = $74,636

Database Administrators:

• Database Administrator (DBA) =$79,821

• Data Warehouse Manager = $82,082

IT Managers:

• Information Technology Manager = $102,059

• Software Development Manager = $123,880

• Information Technology Director = $127,444

Platform Architects:

• Information Technology Architect = $114,639

• Systems Engineer (Computer Networking / IT) = $82,632

Next page: Boosting Your Tech Pay

Boosting Your Tech Pay

Payscale’s Lee, after digesting reams of tech salary data, has come to a number of conclusions about IT pay levels:

Be “Revenue” if You Can
Software developers who work for companies whose main business is software development are paid far better than developers who work for companies whose product isn’t software. “I worked for a number of years for Microsoft,” he says. “Even in Microsoft, there were developers who were paid more or less based on whether they were in the product group, producing software for sale, versus HR or payroll.”

“So the general rule is, you want to be revenue if you can.”

Navigate Around Pay Ceilings
Every IT job, of course, has its own pay ceiling. “For example, if you’re a software developer, you can have a very high pay, like at Microsoft, but other than that there’s an upper boundary,” he says. “And if you want to break that $100,000 mark and go up, at most places you’ll want to move up to become a manager.” The point: boosting your paycheck may require a lateral or upward move that means leaving what you originally trained for.

IT is Still A High Paying Area
“We have done studies of high paying jobs by metro area. What’s fascinating is that if you look at the 20 largest metro areas, IT jobs always come out as well-paying jobs.”

In fact, Lee goes so far to put IT workers in a group with lawyers and doctors. “There are doctors, lawyers, IT professionals. Those are all jobs that, with enough experience, it’s possible to pull in $100,000 or more, pretty much in any major city, which is not true for other jobs.”

Information technology is one of the rare sectors that, with merely a Bachelor’s degree, typically allows highly experienced workers to rise to the top of the pay scale.

Researching Tech Pay Levels

The Payscale site has a research page for staffers who want to learn the pay of workers in related fields, or more advanced workers in their own field. “You can go there and type in ‘Linux’ and see what shows up,” Lee says.

Additionally, once a user registers, there’s a “what if” section, he says. “You can run [salary numbers] for any job, it doesn’t have to be your job.” A worker can find out, for example, “what will my [pay] be like ten years from now, or what if I move to New York City? Or what if I decided to become a manager rather than a developer?”

Having current knowledge of pay levels may help you negotiate your salary. "A friend of mine was working as a project manager in IT," Lee says. "He had been at the company for five or six years, and he thought ‘Gee, it seems like I’m underpaid, but I don’t really know.' He was being paid 70-ish, with about ten years of experience and fairly complicated projects. He went and looked, and found out that if he went to a company where IT is important, 90-95k is what he would be paid.”

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