IT Salary Survey

IT Salary Survey: The forecast for tech hiring is bright

Based on key findings from IDG’s recent survey of IT professionals, 2020 should be a comparatively solid year for IT hiring — with a few possible exceptions

Insider Pro IT Salary Survey 2020
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How strong will IT hiring be in 2020? Which regions are most likely to have the largest headcount increases? Which skills are managers considering a top priority? And which IT skills are no longer considered critical?  

The 2020 IDG Insider Pro/Computerworld IT Salary Survey provides insightful answers to these and other questions. The online survey of 2,269 (1,889 who are employed full- or part-time) IT professionals was conducted from Sept. 24 through Dec. 2, 2019.

A total of 48 percent of the survey respondents were in either senior or mid-level management roles. This article focuses on their responses to gauge what IT managers are planning for 2020. A separate article on tech job satisfaction,” shares responses to questions about salary increases, total compensation, highest-paying IT jobs, and more from management and non-management survey respondents.   

(Editor’s note: In this article we draw some comparisons to the March 2017 IT Salary Survey conducted by Insider Pro’s sister publication Computerworld. The two surveys vary in the questions asked, so direct comparisons aren’t always available.”)

A good, but perhaps not stellar, year in IT hiring

Overall, the U.S. economy in 2020 is looking good, with continued (if slower) job growth and fears of recession abating (at least for now), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kiplinger and other economic soothsayers.

The pace of overall IT hiring may be slightly slower in 2020, according to some reports. For example, Forrester Research predicts a 4.0 percent rise in total CIO staff spending in 2020 compared to 4.4 percent in 2019 and 5.4 percent in 2018.

And based on the results from IDG’s 2020 IT Salary Survey, tech jobs should be reasonably plentiful this year. Of the survey respondents in management roles, nearly half, 47 percent, said they plan to increase their organization’s IT staff headcount in the next 12 months. That’s up slightly from 43 percent of respondents who said they would add to their IT staffs in 2017 — which could represent a slight uptick or simply be a standard margin of error.

Another 45 percent of manager respondents to the 2020 survey expected IT headcount to remain the same in 2020, with 6 percent predicting a decrease and 2 percent saying they don’t know. By comparison, 49 percent of respondents in 2017 anticipated headcount to remain the same; 7 percent said they expected a decrease; and 2 percent said they didn’t know. So, not much has changed between the two surveys in this regard.

IDG Insider Pro  >  Salary Survey 2020  >  [Chart#03] Hiring Trends: Staffing Plans IDG

Digital transformation will drive hiring of skilled specialists

The longer-term picture looks bright as more companies prepare for and/or execute digital transformation, which involves a deeper move into the cloud and greater adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), among other things. Research firm IDC predicts that by 2023, more than50 percent of all Information and Communications Technology spending will be directly related to digital transformation and innovation, up from 27 percent in 2018.

Highly skilled specialist positions, a broad description that includes cloud computing experts, AI software engineers, and others who may be needed for digital transformations, will be top of mind when hiring in 2020, accounting for 50 percent of the jobs that the 2020 IDG survey’s management respondents said they expect to fill. That’s followed by staff and entry-level technical positions (23 percent) and management roles (2 percent).

When asked what the majority of open IT positions at their organizations will be in 2020, respondents with management titles were given four possible answers: management positions; highly skilled specialist positions; staff/entry-level technical positions; and “we are not hiring in IT.”

Where the additional IT headcount will be in 2020

If you’re looking for an IT job in 2020, your odds might be better in the South Central, South Atlantic, and Pacific regions, with somewhat mixed chances in the North Central, Northeast, and Mountain regions of the U.S.

According to the 2020 survey, the largest percentage — 56 percent — of managers who said they expect to increase IT hiring are in the South Central region, which includes Texas. Correspondingly, South Central also had the lowest percentage of manager respondents, 3 percent, who expect to reduce headcount.

Managers in the South Atlantic, including major hubs like Atlanta, are the second most likely to increase IT hiring, at 51 percent, with only 4 percent of managers there planning to cut IT staffing in 2020.  

IT managers on the West Coast, which includes Silicon Valley, are the third most likely to increase headcount in the next 12 months, at 47 percent, with just over 3 percent expecting to shrink their staffs.

Elsewhere, the picture is good but not quite as robust. Managers in the North Central region (including Chicago) ranked fourth in IT hiring intentions, at 43 percent. But managers in the region are also the second-most likely, at 7 percent, to cut IT staffing.

The Northeast, which includes New York and Boston, ranks fifth, at 41 percent, in terms of managers planning to increase jobs. But it also ranks first, at 10 percent, among respondents who expect to cut IT staffing.

The Mountain region, encompassing cities such as Denver, came in last for headcount increases, with 38 percent of managers who said they will add IT team members. A total of 5 percent of managers in the region plan to cut IT staffing.

Overall, however, there’s plenty of good news here. Consider that except for the Northeast, the percentages of managers who plan to decrease IT jobs are in single-digits and the percentages of those expecting to increase hiring range from 38 percent (Mountain) to 56 percent (South Central), which are all healthy numbers.

The IT skills managers consider a top priority in 2020

The survey asked, “What are the top IT skills you expect your organization will hire for in the next 12 months?” 

As with the current survey, application development ranked first in IDG’s 2017 salary survey in terms of hiring priorities, at 37 percent. Even some organizations not planning to add IT headcount are placing greater emphasis on app development.

The Illinois CPA Society in Chicago, for example, has no plans to increase IT headcount in 2020. “We’re focusing on using our internal IT resources for application development only and moving to a managed services context for other areas,” says Rebecca Headrick, chief technology officer at the organization.

Cloud computing, security and AI top skills

Cloud computing jumped from the seventh top IT priority to hire for in 2017 to third position in the current survey — which is in line with predicted market growth overall. IDC estimates that global spending on public cloud services and infrastructures will more than double during the 2019 to 2023 period.  

Security advanced from the third-most desired IT skill to hire for in 2017 to second place in 2020.

Aside from the scary headlines about ransomware, customer data leaks and other cyberattacks, or perhaps because of all the worrisome news, the field of security has widened to include more disciplines than ever before, says IDC’s Anderson.

“Companies need to know how secure their network, applications, and data are, as well as make sure they have adequate physical security,” he explains. “Leaders are grappling with their organization’s potential vulnerability to social engineering and how resilient the company is. So, security has become a catchall term that covers many different things today, which partially accounts for its increased priority.”   

AI and machine learning due to level of interest weren’t measured in 2017. This year, the combined disciplines ranked ninth among the top skills IT managers are looking to add to their team. That’s not too surprising, given the digital transformation shift going on. The global AI market, in fact, is expected to more than double from $14.7 billion in 2019 to $34.9 billion in 2021, according to market research firm Tractica.

Is it time for a career change, mobile app developers?

In our 2017 survey, mobile app development was the 15th most important skill managers wanted to hire for. But in 2020, it slipped to 23rd place.

“The mobile app development space is overrun with small shops producing boiler-plate apps,” says Dave Ferreira, Chief Technology Officer for BroadPoint Group, which provides clients with custom app development, managed services and other offerings. As a consequence, Ferreira says there’s not much need at a company like his to add staff with mobile app development skills.

Perhaps not surprisingly, mobile specialists/technologists received an average pay cut of 5 percent, according to the 2020 survey results, at a time when almost every IT job received a pay increase.  

IDG Insider Pro  >  Salary Survey 2020  >  [Chart#02] Skill Sets: What's Hot, What's Not IDG

We asked hiring managers, “What are the top IT skills you expect your organization will hire for in the next 12 months?” On the flip side, the survey asked which IT skills managers are no longer prioritizing in their hiring plans. 

The IT skills no longer considered a top priority

There are some differences between the 2017 and 2020 surveys worth considering: 

In 2017, marketing technology was the second most-often cited skill no longer considered a priority. But it ranked seventh in the current survey, suggesting at least some increased interest in hiring for martech skills — or at least, less disinterest.

Mobile application development was the 10th top IT skill no longer considered a priority in 2017; in 2020, it dropped to No. 17. Even so, the percentages of managers who cited mobile app development hardly varied between the surveys: 11 percent in 2017 vs. 10 percent in 2020. Along with mobile app development’s fall from the 15th to the 23rd most important skill to hire for, respondents may feel they already have the in-house skills needed. Or they’re simply outsourcing development to small shops instead of hiring for it, as Ferreira suggests.

Social networking was the fourth skill no longer a top priority in 2017 and third in 2020, indicating that hiring for this skill is of decreasing importance to IT managers.

“For a few years, practically every company thought it needed people with social networking skills,” says Anderson. Today, many are realizing social networking has some good use cases but that there are other IT areas to prioritize, such as security, he notes.  

How many blockchain experts do you really need?

Interestingly, blockchain ranked second in the current survey of skills no longer considered a top IT priority.

The blockchain market, despite the wild ups and downs of public ledgers such as bitcoin, is poised to grow substantially, from 3.9 billion in 2020 to 7 billion in 2021, according to Statista data. So why is blockchain no longer considered a top skill to hire for?

“It’s not a matter of importance but of volume,” says Anderson. “Blockchain matters, but a lot of managers are thinking it won’t solve their most important problems. And how many blockchain experts does one organization really need? Not many, especially compared to a skill like application development. Nearly every company today needs application developers.”

AI and machine learning are a priority — except when they’re not

Curiously, AI and machine learning -- ranked eleventh among skills that are no longer a major priority to hire for in 2020 — while also ranking ninth among skills that are a top priority.

The incongruent rankings suggest a split mindset among IT managers, Anderson says. On the one hand, AI and ML will be increasingly important to organizations in multiple areas, he notes. But it’s highly unlikely most companies have hired all the AI and ML expertise they need, he adds, due to the hotly competitive market for people with those skills.

Also, given that supply-and-demand imbalance, it can be expensive to hire AI and machine learning skills in-house. According to Indeed, for instance, machine learning engineers earn the highest average salaries in Silicon Valley (nearly $173,000 annually).

Meanwhile, “every reputable software vendor is adding AI to its products,” notes Andrew H. Bartels, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “In many cases, software vendors know the right places to add AI functions to make their clients’ processes work better,” he explains. “A vendor’s data sets can be drawn from multiple clients, rather than just one company, which makes the vendor’s data sets so much smarter. And because of their scale, software vendors can deliver AI functions at a lower cost than one of its clients can.”

As a result, many companies are likely looking to software vendors or managed service providers for AI and machine learning expertise, which could explain why hiring for those skills is not currently a top priority for some IT managers.

Training existing staff vs. hiring additional headcount

While nearly half of IT managers in the survey say they plan to add IT headcount in 2020, others may be planning to add necessary skill sets by training the IT staff they already have in place.

“It’s extremely difficult and expensive to get the talent you need from outside the company,” says Ryan Sutton, district president of Robert Half Technology’s Technology Services. “We recommend that managers find a balance between investing in the talent they have with training and retraining while also looking for new skills outside the organization.”

IT professionals should develop soft skills, too

While management and non-management IT professionals sharpen their tech skills for the era of AI and digital transformation, it’s important to also focus on developing emotional intelligence and communications proficiency — so-called “soft skills.”

“Whether it’s because of digital transformation or something else, the lines between business and technology have become blurred,” says Sutton. “You have people from sales, marketing, IT and other areas all working together. That means the IT people must be able to clearly explain technology to non-tech people, and to take the feedback from business professionals and translate it into tech mandates.”

As a result, “soft skills, like strong communication skills, can really differentiate you as a job candidate,” Sutton adds.