IT managers, system architects, cloud engineers and cybersecurity engineers took home the biggest salaries last year, according to the latest Tech Salary Report from jobs website Dice, with Texas and other emerging hubs taking big leaps forward.
Overall, the salaries of US tech professionals grew 3.6% between 2019 and 2020, reaching an average of $97,859. This was despite many businesses tightening budgets in response to the financial pressures caused by the pandemic.
The biggest salary increases between 2019 and 2020 were experienced by occupations that helped organisations process and interpret data, digitise their products and services, and generally keep businesses running safely and efficiently throughout COVID-19.
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This included professionals with skills in specialised technologies like cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML).
IT managers, including CEOs, CIOs and CTOs, took home the biggest pay packets, earning an average of $143,416 last year. This was followed by systems architects ($140,658), cloud engineers ($136,479), cyber security engineers ($134,340) and data architects ($133,064).
Rounding out the top 10 highest-earning occupations were program manager ($122,818), management consultant ($121,619), product manager ($120,584), data scientist ($119,898) and management information systems managers ($119,877).
The sudden and widespread adoption of remote working last year meant an increased demand for certain roles. Cybersecurity professionals, for example, were suddenly called upon to help businesses secure their networks from the vulnerabilities introduced by widespread working from home.
As a result, Dice found that cybersecurity analysts saw the fastest increase in salary between 2019 and 2020, growing by 16.3% from an average of $88,663 in 2019 to $103,106 last year. Data scientists, DevOps engineers and technical support engineers also saw their salaries grow quickly, increasing by 12.8%, 12.2% and 8.2% respectively. The average salary of a data scientist in 2020 was $119,898, while DevOps engineers took home $115,125 and technical support professionals made $68,651.
The 10 fastest-growing salaries by occupation also included:
"When it comes to the highest-paying skills, the trends of the past few years continued to dominate in 2020. Businesses across the country continue to realize the importance of collecting, storing, cleaning, and analyzing enormous amounts of data, as the insights gleaned from that analysis can help executives generate effective long-term strategies," Dice said in its report.
"In 2020, the need for fast, accurate data analysis only became more important, and those technologists well-versed in all things related to Big Data found their skills earning a premium salary."
Dice's 2021 Tech Salary Report also shed light on technology hotspots in the US and how salaries compared.
Silicon Valley retained its title as the country's top tech hub, where professionals took home an average salary of $126,801 in 2020, an increase of 2.4% compared to 2019. This was followed by New York City, where the average salary was $114,274 (up 11.6%) and Boston, MA, where technologists took home an average of $111,069 in 2020 (up 2.4%).
Yet it was the emerging tech hub of Charlotte, NC, where salaries grew the fastest, increasing 13.8% in 2020 to $99,691. Similar growth was recorded in Orlando, Florida, where average tech salaries increased 13.4% to $88,598.
These cities, along with Detroit and Orlando, have drawn startups fuelled by venture capital funding and local officials' determined attempts to foster a local tech scene, the report said.
Texas also continues to make gains on California and New York as one of America's most promising tech hubs. "Between the well-established tech scene in Austin and the emerging hubs in Houston and Dallas, Texas continues to jockey to become a premier tech state on the scale of California. The Texas government's aggressive pro-business stance, combined with the lack of a state income tax, explain why California-based tech companies are giving the Lone Star State a very serious look," said Dice's report.
"Oracle, for example, recently announced that it would shift its headquarters from its longtime Silicon Valley home to Austin; and if a tech giant like that is willing to make a move, others may follow."
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An unexpected finding in Dice's report is that, among the 9,000 or so tech professionals surveyed, only 45% held formal technical certifications. Given how many employers request that job candidates possess highly specialised certifications -- combined with the fact that the industry is currently facing a shortage of talent -- Dice noted that the findings were surprising.
"Of those who do not have technical certifications, some 51% said certifications weren't needed in their role, for example, while 16% said that their employer wasn't willing to pay for the requisite training and testing, and 14% said they didn't have the time to earn one," the report said.
In 2020, 56% of technologists said they were satisfied with their current salaries, a marked increase from the 49% who reported salary satisfaction in 2019.
Even so, nearly half (46%) of those surveyed felt they were they are underpaid relative to others who shared their occupation and skill level. "It's certainly possible that, given the economic uncertainty stemming from the pandemic, large numbers of technologists lowered their expectations when it came to salary, leading to higher levels of satisfaction even if they felt they were underpaid," said Dice.
"If that's the case, those same technologists may become less satisfied with their compensation once they feel the broader economy has stabilized -- which may, in turn, leave them hungrier for larger salaries, raises, and bonuses in 2021 and beyond."