Tuesday, May 06, 2008

InformationWeek's IT Salary Survey

InformationWeek and ComputerWorld both run annual salary surveys for IT. InformationWeek's was just published in the 28-Apr-08 issue. I like to read these because they have some interesting things to say, but you have to be careful about treating them as the truth. There was a famous thread a year ago at the JoelOnSoftware.com forums titled "How much do you make?" and it ran for weeks and got cross-linked by lots of sites. It's interesting to see how different it was from the InformationWeek survey.

First, you have to be careful about the demographics of the survey. InformationWeek says there are 3.8 million IT workers, but less then 10,000 responded to the survey. Not exactly a confidence-inspiring sample size.

The gist of the InformationWeek survey was that salaries were down a bit, as were bonuses. There were some interesting trends noted, that hiring is actually up in the lower salary ranges for positions like help desk work.

The JoelOnSoftware.com thread was filled with people saying they were making a healthy six figures, but that forum is going to be skewed toward experienced developers rather than a mix of all IT professions from infrastructure roles to management. Interestingly, many of the more well-off programmers at the JoS forums hail from New York banking shops.

Unsettling but Perhaps not Surprising News
Hot on the heels of my training class, the thing I really didn't like to read in the InformationWeek survey was that training continues to be a second-class citizen in the realm of IT benefits. I've said it before, if you don't invest in your people it will come back to haunt you.

But then again, maybe that random sampling of 10 thousand people just had it bad. In ComputerWorld's annual rankings of the top 100 companies to work for, education is still a serious benefit for those employers. Good luck getting into one of those companies if you're not already there though.

We don't have Time to do it Right the First Time and We have even less Time for Training
Why doesn't corporate America want to pay for training? One of my theories says it isn't about cheapness, though that is a factor. I still think it's impatience. It takes a long time to get a person trained and productive in a completely new technology stack. It's not impossible, but it certainly seems slower than signing a contractor on that already has the needed skills.

If what the InformationWeek survey says is a real trend though, then perhaps Nicholas Carr was only half right: it's not just that IT doesn't matter - people don't either. Companies can apply the software as a service model to people too. Just pick up some free agent off the waiver wire and dump him when you're done; no training or benefit expense headaches necessary.

But we have this already don't we, between onshore and offshore contracting? And people as a service doesn't work often. It never works as advertised. How many Oracle or SAP ERP implementations have incurred cost overruns? How many have left people happy? That generic out-of-the-box approach leaves a lot to be desired, doesn't it?

Your best bet is to get good people, train them in your business and also help upkeep their skills. It's like the difference between washing your car yourself versus paying someone else to do it. Will that contractor put as much time into detailing your vehicle as you would? Would he or she know the quirks about not using abrasive polishing agents on your custom chrome wheels? Maybe, but if you did it yourself, you'd go the extra mile and you'd also know what parts of the car to be careful around, like that loose handle or that spot that needs rust protection. There will always be differences between companies and how they operate. Who would understand your business better than people that have a stake in its survival and who support it every day?

Amid these salary survey discussions, something to remember is that paying for good people isn't just a cost; it's the cost of doing business.

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