Salaries among tech workers remain surprisingly strong. A survey of 19,000 tech workers conducted by Dice, a career site for technology and engineering professionals, showed a spike in salaries late last year with the recession in full throttle: a 4.6 percent increase in average pay from the previous year to $78,035. (However, a recent survey of 22,550 IT professionals by Foote Partners found IT skills pay slipped for the first time since 2004.)
The salary news is good for college grads, too. The National Association of Colleges and Employers found that the average salary offer made to computer and information sciences graduates was up from $51,992 for the class of 2007 to $58,677 for the class of 2008, a 12.9 percent increase. The average salary for computer engineering graduates increased 7.8 percent to $60,280.
Nevertheless, young people remain skeptical of pursuing a tech career when they hear about slashed IT budgets and layoffs. Will money really be available with shrinking IT budgets? The reality is that IT resources aren't going away. Gartner surveyed more than 1,500 CIOs through December 2008 to find out how they're rising to the financial challenges of 2009. The key finding is that IT budgets largely will remain flat, although resources may be shifted around.
An IT career is better than most, but still has risks
Talk of job stability and decent salary does little to comfort the laid-off tech worker. And there are many of them out there. No doubt they're telling young people to stay away from miserable tech careers -- unfortunately, there's some truth to their words.
Layoffs are common even in the tech sector. Earlier this month, Microsoft said it will slash up to 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months. Intel said it will cut up to 6,000 manufacturing jobs. Wall Street tech workers were laid off during the financial crisis. Such public harbingers rightfully add to young peoples' fears.
Many tech workers continue to be laid off when big projects they're working on get cut. The Gartner survey showed that when long-term projects are on the chopping block, their resources reallocated to short-term projects. While the Gartner survey didn't ask about staff reductions, IT staff represents about a third of the budget -- "and, in some regards, it's the easiest part to change," says analyst Mark McDonald.
Even though the tech job market is better than most, competition for jobs today is also heating up. "Up until the second half of last year, our business did pretty well," says Dave Willmer, executive director at staffing firm Robert Half Technology. Although he remains bullish on the tech career, especially given a looming talent shortage, Willmer admits, "we've got more people applying for fewer jobs today."
For people in those jobs already, many speak of desperation. One tech consultant in finance said top-tier tech workers on Wall Street were forced to take lesser jobs elsewhere, which amounted to a 40 percent pay cut. Grumblings among the tech ranks is getting louder. They complain about ignorant manager wielding the threat of layoffs like a whip, and veteran peers being forced out and replaced by less-capable and cheaper foreign workers.