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Sanity check: State of the IT profession 2009

In light of the release of our 2009 IT Skills and Salary Report, I have assembled a set of observations about the current state of the IT profession. Here are the areas of strength and the most significant challenges.

In light of the release of our 2009 IT Skills and Salary Report, I have assembled a set of observations about the current state of the IT profession. Here are the areas of strength and the most significant challenges.

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We the people of the IT profession, in order to form a more perfect union ... oh sorry, wrong speech. Actually this isn't a speech at all, but a written account. It might surprise you to hear that the U.S. State of the Union Address — the format that inspired today's column — was primarily a written account until 1913. And even since then there have been several presidents that chose to do the address as a written document rather than a speech, most recently Jimmy Carter in 1981.

So it's in that spirit that I've put together a series of observations on the "State of the IT profession" in 2009. This is based primarily on TechRepublic's newly released 2009 IT Skills and Salary Report, plus the Gartner 2009 CIO Survey and Veritude's 2009 IT Hiring Outlook. Of course, all of these observations are set against the backdrop of a deepening global recession.

Areas of strength

  • From our 2008 salary report to our 2009 report, the average base salary for IT pros increased 10% from $73,900 to $81,600 (see full comparison below). IT remains a very well-paid profession.
  • In our 2009 report, 78% of IT workers said they were Satisfied, Very Satisfied, or Extremely Satisfied with their jobs. IT remains a rewarding career path.
  • While the number of respondents reporting raises and bonuses dropped in this year's salary report, the amounts of those raises and bonuses increased in both cases. While this is partially due to a larger number of senior IT leaders in the survey, it also goes to show that many companies are likely providing additional compensation to their top performers in order to keep happy during these trying times that often mean long hours and fewer resources.
  • For the fifth straight year, "improving business processes" was the number one priority of respondents in the Gartner CIO survey. IT departments are still focused on driving efficiency and productivity gains.
  • In the Gartner survey, only 21% of CIOs reported a cut in 2009 IT budgets, while 46% reported a slight increase and 23% reported no change. Over two-thirds of IT departments have the same or slightly higher funding than last year.
  • Despite the fact that many organizations are laying off workers — and IT is not immune to those job cuts — there are still lucrative IT specialties that are in strong demand this year, according to Veritude. Their 2009 survey cited Business Intelligence, Enterprise Solutions (SAP, PeopleSoft), and C Programmers (C, C++, C#) as examples of three hot IT specialties.
  • As businesses tighten their belts, they are looking to IT to streamline, automate, and find new efficiencies. In some cases, this is saving jobs in IT by helping reduce the number of needed positions in other departments.

Challenges

  • In Veritude's survey, 38% of IT departments plan to decrease their staff in 2009, compared to only 4% in 2008 (see further details in the chart below).
  • In the TechRepublic salary survey, the number of respondents who reported receiving raises decreased from 80% in 2008 to 70% in 2009
  • Meanwhile, the number of respondents who reported receiving a bonus decreased from 49% in 2008 to 43% in 2009.
  • In an effort to conserve costs, many companies will delay upgrade cycles and hold on to older equipment for longer than usual. This results in greater strain on IT operations to keep the equipment running and it increases the risk of unplanned downtime due to equipment failure.
  • Nearly all expensive, long-term IT projects are being put on hold. In most organizations, the only IT projects that are getting approved are the ones that show clear and immediate ROI.

Bottom line

Despite the global economic convulsions, the state of the IT profession remains strong (come on, you knew I was going to say that). The current recession is giving IT an opportunity to shine by driving efficiency and automation. IT salaries and compensation are holding up and there are still several specialties in high demand, even though 38% of all IT departments are planning to reduce their staff in 2009.

We should expect about half of IT departments to shrink in 2009 and it will likely be a few years before they return to their original size. A lot of IT professionals will lose their jobs and many of them may need to re-train to update their skills. Web-based applications, virtualization, and utility computing, for example, will all offer significant opportunities for IT growth in the future.

About

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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