Ways to Jump an IT Pay Grade

By Deb Perelman  |  Posted 2008-05-22

Ways to Jump an IT Pay Grade

Everyone gets in career ruts from time to time, and it can happen for a range of reasons. Maybe you've been doing the same exact thing for too long. Maybe you've ended up at a company or in a role with little growth potential. Maybe the need for your skill isn't what it was when they hired you. However, regardless of what the underlying cause is, the result is that your paycheck may have stagnated as well.

Chuck Pappalardo, principal and managing director at Trilogy Search, an executive recruiting firm, notes that once an individual is established in their career, their salaries settle in as well, and barring any major promotions, jumping pay grades isn't very common.

"There's a time early in careers when young men and women might go from a small to much larger amount of money in a narrow span of time. As we get older, we're not likely to make leaps like that again, especially if we're already making the correct amount of money for where you are and what you're doing," said Pappalardo.

Yet this need not be the end of the story. In face, some IT recruiters and workplace experts pinpoint specific skills that a technology professional can pick up mid-career and reap the benefits on payday. Here are their top 10.

1. Gain Exposure to SAAS Products

Michael Kirven, principal and co-founder of Bluewolf, an IT staffing and on-demand consulting company, says that three years ago, SAAS (software as a service ) knowledge was listed as a requirement in 5 percent of their permanent placements; now it's 35 percent.

"In general, IT organizations don't necessarily know that much about SAAS but they're getting a lot of pressure from business to reduce costs. So, people with exposure to or a basic interest in these products can elevate their status quickly, whether they know Salesforce, Google Apps or WorkDay. Everyone needs to know how these products fit within the current IT architecture," said Kirven.

2. Get SAP Knowledge or Experience

Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing at Yoh Services, a provider of talent and outsourcing services based in Philadelphia, told eWEEK that he puts his money on SAP skills because there is a gap between 30,000 to 40,000 between the number of available SAP consultants and the amount that are needed.

"The supply is way short of the demand in SAP, and these people are not making minimum wage--this is a high-paying job. You get there by building your skill sets, working on different projects and making sure that you're out there expanding your skills," said Lanzalotto.

3. Get Vertical Expertise within One Segment

Kirven says that it's one thing to be a great Java person or a skilled .Net developer, but as systems get more complex, companies want someone who hasn't just learned these languages but has commitment to specific verticals such as financial, retail or media, and knows them well.

"A CIO of a large, growing company told me he needed not just IT architects but those who knew retail well. If you're building an e-commerce solution for a company, you need to understand the supply chain--how things start in China, where they get shipped, etc.--to be able to code effectively. We're seeing more and more demand like this," said Kirven.

Get Closer to the Money, Virtualize and Add Business Skills

4. Get a Virtualization Project Under Your Belt

The IT job board Dice told eWEEK that it has seen listings for jobs that required knowledge of virtualization technologies, specifically VMware, jump 40 percent in the last six months.

"Companies are realizing that there are significant cost-savings associated with virtualization as well as the ability to 'green' their data centers, as virtualized servers require less resources to run more quickly and cleanly," Tom Silver, senior vice president of marketing and customer support at Dice, told eWEEK. "A programmer who is interested in learning more skills and helping to improve efficiencies would be great for a job like this."

5. Buff Up Your Business Skills

Lanzalotto feels that business experience is central to improving the salary of an IT professional.

"Step out of the tech role and get to the business side of the company and get some practice with them. There's a wall between the groups and never between do they meet, but they need to. Remember that the best CIOs are not technology guys alone, but business guys [who] have worked on both sides of the fence," said Lanzalotto.

6. Get Open Source Product Development Experience

Kirven says because times have changed, CIOs are no longer risking their jobs by taking on MySQL and other open-source technologies. In fact, the business folks usually like it because of their potential to save the company money.

"There's a major shortage of talented open-source developers. We have as many as 40 companies across the U.S.--especially in New York, with its new media boom--that are trying to build community-based projects and incorporate social networking into their offerings. People who retool their careers from the older technologies to open source really open up opportunities for themselves," said Kirven.

7. Get Closer to that Which Make Your Company Richer

Professionals who work for large banking or financial institutions already know that the closer you are to the money, the more important your job is to the company. The same can go for IT professionals, and those that are involved in projects that make the company richer, or save it money, are rarely overlooked.

"Get more involved with the customers by getting involved in projects that generate revenues. Companies will pay a premium for people who have experience holding key operational roles on projects like this," said Lanzalotto.

PMP and Relocate

8. CIOs Need Architecture Skills

Kirven argues that IT architecture is an excellent career path not only because it is an advanced position, but because these roles are almost completely outsource-proof.

"There's now a fine line that has been drawn between what can be effectively outsourced overseas and what fails. What people have found is that the architecture piece--the actual designing of complex software pieces and solutions--needs to be done locally because a lot of communication with business and teams is required. Companies are saying that they need to ramp up on architects. And they're the top of the chain from a technical standpoint, which is great for their salaries," said Kirven.

9. People Pay for Project Management Certifications

Study after study has shown that while not all certifications are worth the paper they've been printed on, businesses continue to pay a premium for certain key letters after a name. Two of these, says Kirven, are the big project management certifications, the PMP and PMO.

"They're time consuming and fairly expensive certifications but it's almost like getting a master's degree in its value to the employee. You can increase your salary rate by as much as 20 percent on day one. Companies are always looking for PMP- and PMO-certificated IT professionals, especially because of stringent Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, not to mention all of the thousands of initiatives that go along with mergers and managing offshore teams," said Kirven.

10. Relocate

While it is understandably "crazy talk" to think that someone might pack up their lives and their families for a 20 percent raise, geography can and does matter when you're looking to go further in your area of expertise.

In new data released last week by Sapphire Technologies, an IT staffing firm, some significant patterns were found in the availability of technology jobs in different U.S. regions. For example, more than half (58.62 percent) of all available jobs in Austin, Texas, were in software development, something that raised eyebrows even among Sapphire's recruiters until they looked more closely at the demographics of the city.

"It's because there are a lot of startups in there, and these startups don't need as many higher-up people as they need employees who can help them develop software," Mike Giglio, a recruiting manager at Sapphire, told eWEEK.

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