Does the best IT job exist?

Singapore-based recruitment experts tell ZDNet Asia that IT professionals are in demand and can enjoy attractive pay and perks, but can be subject to poor working hours.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

Even though being a systems engineer nets you what has been deemed the best job in the United States, recruitment experts in Singapore point to the ups and downs of being an IT professional.

Earlier this month, a study conducted by Focus.com ranked being a systems engineer as the best job in the U.S., ahead of other professions including physician assistant, college professor and nurse practitioner.

While local experts ZDNet Asia contacted were unable to pin down a specific IT role that should be the most sought after in Asia, they did offer some thoughts as to the pull and push of various industry positions, based on indicators such as remuneration, work hours and job security.

Demand for role and job security

The good: Tay Kok Choon, head of strategic sales development at JobStreet.com Singapore, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that the general demand for IT skills remains "very high". This, he explained, is because aside from traditional application development, many industries such as healthcare depend on IT professionals to improve their customer care and services.

Brian Richards, who heads Kelly Services' IT resources business unit, also noted that those in "hard-core" technical roles or who have specialized skills tend to be recession-proof. "For example, deploying top talent [to develop] efficient applications and provide effective support for systems would be even more important during a downturn when dollars and cents and productivity are closely scrutinized," he said in an e-mail.

The ugly: The more "generic" skills, such as project management, tend to be vulnerable during an economic downturn, added Richards.

Pay, perks and progression

The good: According to Richards, IT jobs within the financial services and IT consulting sectors tend to accord higher salaries, even though bonuses in these verticals saw a "noticeable dip" in 2009 due to the economic slowdown.

Perks and incentives, he said, tend to be higher in specialist areas such as information security, as skill sets are not readily available but nonetheless critical. Another group that receives better perks is senior project or program managers whose roles have a direct impact on business operations.

IT candidates, Richards added, can "pursue careers purely along the technical path, eventually moving into middle- to higher-level positions such as IT director, CIO and CTO, regardless of whether they come from support, infrastructure or application development backgrounds". They may also broaden their experience by taking on "hybrid" roles that require technical skills as well as functional, domain or business experience. Such expertise could eventually lead them to assume senior positions such as COO.

According to Robert Walters' Global Salary Survey 2010 released in February, there will be upward salary adjustments for several IT positions in Singapore this year. The designations include IT risk and compliance director whose salary range is expected to be from S$160,000 (US$113,840) to S$280,000 (US$199,220), up from S$150,000 (US$106,725) to S$250,000 (US$177,875) in 2009. Service delivery managers can also look forward to remuneration of S$130,000 (US$92,495) to S$160,000 (US$113,840) in 2010, an improvement over S$120,000 (US$85,380) to S$140,000 (US$99,610) last year.

When it comes to contract positions, Axer Goh, Robert Walters' manager for IT contract division, said IT specialist roles are the most highly paid in Asia. Those in these roles also have the luxury of selecting projects and working in a new environment with every assignment.

JobStreet.com's Tay noted that many IT roles have a regional responsibility which allow employees to develop softer skills, such as managing cultural and solutions diversity.

The ugly: Robert Walters' Global Salary Survey 2010 stated that roles including director for service delivery, EAI (enterprise application integration) middleware specialist and software engineer can expect to see their maximum salary dip by about S$10,000 to S$20,000. No reasons were given for this forecast decline.

Working hours

The good: Kelly Services' Richards said non-IT support roles tend to operate within office hours, even though the average number of hours worked a day is around 10 to 12.

The ugly: "Occupational hazards" of IT professionals, he noted, revolve around work hours. Firstly, tight timelines and thin budgets typically call for IT professionals to clock longer hours and face tighter timelines than their counterparts in business roles. Major IT systems implementations also typically happen during non-working hours over weekdays, weekends and public holidays so as to minimize business downtime.

IT support jobs also tend to incorporate shifts due to the "follow the sun" nature of system support roles in global organizations, added Richards.

JobStreet.com's Tay pointed out that IT professionals need to be not only fast, but also thorough in their work. "The QA (qualitative analysis) process that was deemed applicable traditionally may no longer be sufficient in today's context. An IT professional needs to stay alert [and] be passionate about his role to reduce incidents of mishap," he said.

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