Show me (where) the money (is)

If you're looking for the best salaries in IT the message is simple — after you've got every qualification imaginable, skill up on enterprise applications, then get a management job in a large legal or finance company.
Written by Phil Dobbie, Contributor

If you're looking for the best salaries in IT the message is simple — after you've got every qualification imaginable, skill up on enterprise applications, then get a management job in a large legal or finance company.

Education, company size and sector definitely have a bearing on your take-home pay according to a salary report from ActiveTechPros.com. Slightly more than 2000 Aussie IT professionals were quizzed, across a variety of roles and industries, the vast majority of which worked full time for a company — only 10 per cent were contractors.

One and a half times better than average

IT is still the place to be. Admittedly, you'll probably make more in brain surgery, rocket science and, sadly, real estate, but the average salary of all IT professionals surveyed was $90K, well above the Australian full-time salary of $68K (ABS figure for August 2010).

Only those in IT support roles dipped below the $68K average. IT management roles averaged $115K.

Sadly, the extra effort of furthering your education doesn't seem to add a lot to your take-home pay. Forty-four per cent of respondents had a bachelor's degree. With an average salary of $91K they were doing a little better than those with a diploma ($86K) or a vocational/tech school qualification ($84K), but those who went on to a master's degree didn't improve their lot in life, and even those who went on to an MBA saw little return for their efforts. Compare, for example, a bachelor's degree-qualified IT manager, averaging $118K a year, with an MBA-qualified IT manager averaging $121K a year. Not worth the effort and the course fees is it? It's more meaningful for those in systems development, where the salary leaps from $80K to $109K.

In reality, it's your skill-set that counts more than the size of your certificate. Those skilled in enterprise applications averaged $97K per year, against $84K for those with skills in desktops. Being expert at infrastructure management ($96K) and application development ($95K) appear to be nice little earners. IT managers with application development skills in the survey topped $120K per year. Those in project management roles did best with experience in enterprise applications ($101K per year).

Experience counts in large amounts

The clue to earning more in IT seems simple — hang around. There is a strong correlation between the length of your work experience and earning potential. For example, respondents in support roles with 10 years experience were doing better than IT managers with less than five years experience. Perhaps they should swap jobs — that could be a better outcome for everyone concerned.

Overall, those with more than 10 years experience will earn 80 per cent more than those with less than five years behind them, but those in administration and support see much slower growth (around 50 per cent). As you'd expect, if you want to fast-track your salary growth, learn the fancy lingo and go for a job in management.

Choose your company carefully

Generally, the legal and finance sector is the standout for IT staff looking for money. The average respondent in that sector earned $98K, but there's a huge variation. Out of all surveyed, this sector paid the highest for an IT manager ($128K) but the lowest of any sector for those in support roles ($57K). If you want the best support role go to media, marketing or sales companies ($66K).

It's not just the company sector that counts, of course. Size, no matter what anyone tells you, is important too. Bigger companies pay more in every job role. Generally, a firm with 1000 or more staff paid 25 per cent more than a company with less than 100, but in this survey the difference was as great as 41 per cent for those in communications roles. Those in project management can be less concerned about company size — there's only 13 per cent difference in salaries.

As you'd expect, skills in enterprise applications and infrastructure management will land you the highest-paid gigs in the biggest companies (more than $110K salary). Interestingly, they are also the two highest paid-for skills in smaller companies (up to 99 staff), but paying $13K a year less, while application development is the highest paid-for skill ($98K) in mid-sized companies (100 to 999 staff).

So what does that all tell us? Well, remembering the cautionary note that this is based on 2000 respondents, and the samples are small in some segments, it does seem to show that skill-sets and experience win every time. It stands to reason that, if you really want to maximise your salary, you should look and see what the business world is demanding, then get very experienced at it. IT is an industry that seems to treasure work history over youthful histrionics. Thank whichever god you believe in (Christ, Allah, Steve Jobs, etc) for that.

ActiveTechPros.com is operated by CBS Interactive, parent company of ZDNet Australia.

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