IT Salary Survey

IT Salary Survey: Are tech pros satisfied or job hunting?

How content (or discontent) are IT professionals with their pay and responsibilities? What matters most to them in their current jobs? A new IDG salary survey offers answers.

Insider Pro IT Salary Survey 2020
IDG / Margarita Lyr / Getty Images

All told, it’s good to be an IT professional.

Generally speaking, salaries are highly competitive and pay increases are above-average for private-sector companies. And as digital transformation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning continue to spread across all industries, talented techies will likely enjoy career momentum for years to come.

No wonder, then, that the majority of IT professionals in a new Insider Psurvey say they’re satisfied with their total compensation package and aren’t looking for another job. Even so, an IT professional’s job is not without its challenges. Just keeping up with all the technology changes is enough to cause frequent nocturnal tossing-and-turning.  

What follows is a snapshot of job satisfaction in the IT profession, based on the results of the 2020 IDG Insider Pro and Computerworld IT Salary Survey and compared, when possible, to the results of a similar survey released in 2017. The 2020 online survey of 2,269 IT professionals, the majority of which (1,889) are full- or part-time employees, was conducted from Sept. 24 through Dec. 2, 2019.

For a look at the 2020 IT hiring trends highlighted by the survey, see “IDG’s 2020 IT Salary Survey: Will this be another strong year for tech hiring?”

Most IT professionals are satisfied with their compensation

Thanks to the continually competitive hiring market, “new IT talent is coming in at the top-tier of wages that companies have set,” says Ryan Sutton, district president of Technology Services at IT recruiting firm Robert Half Technology. “It’s extremely difficult and expensive to get the talent you need from outside your company.”  

Such a strong supply-and-demand imbalance is good news for IT professionals. When asked how satisfied they are today with their total compensation package (salary, bonuses, and benefits) in relation to their job responsibilities, the majority — 60 percent — of full- and part-time employees said they’re either very satisfied or satisfied. That’s up from 51 percent in the 2017 survey.

Most respondents, 62 percent, were just as satisfied today with their compensation package as they were 12 months ago; 26 percent were less satisfied and 12 percent were more satisfied. The percentages are roughly in line with the 2017 survey results.

IDG Insider Pro  >  Salary Survey 2020  > Satisfaction with Total Compensation IDG

You are mostly to be satsified with your compensation if you are a middle-aged woman in senior management. 

Younger workers in the 18-34 and 35-44 age groups were most likely to report that they were less satisfied with their compensation one year ago compared to today. This sentiment perhaps illustrates how younger workers are still moving up the ladder (and making less money) compared to their older, more-established colleagues. For instance, the largest percentage of IT professionals who reported feeling very satisfied with their compensation, 66 percent, were aged 55 or older.

Women (20 percent) were more likely to be very satisfied with their compensation than men (15 percent) today, even though they earned on average smaller bonuses than men ($9,577 for men vs. $6,783 for women) and lower total compensation packages ($112,686 for men compared to $104,334 for women).

But not everyone is satisfied

A total of 19 percent of respondents to the 2020 survey said they’re either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their total compensation package and job responsibilities, and 21 percent were lukewarm, neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

Consider Nathan Meador, a help desk technician in Florida who was earning $14 an hour at a previous job, which he says is “well below the average” of $19/hour or more for such positions. In lieu of pay raises, Meador says he was offered a commission whenever he helped the company land a new client.

“The help desk technicians were undervalued” by his former employer, Meador says. “Base pay should have been higher and there should have been annual raises as well. The commissions incentive is okay, but it doesn’t help improve the employees’ overall value to the company or their work ethic. It focuses employees more on ‘selling’ rather than on actually doing their jobs.” (Meador says he recently left that company for a better opportunity.)

According to the 2020 survey, technicians received the lowest average annual total compensation, $48,147, with help desk/technical support specialists not faring much better, earning an average annual compensation of $54,318.

Desire for more money motivates job searches

Despite the fact that most respondents said they’re satisfied with their total compensation packages, the desire for higher compensation is the top reason for launching a job search — with 59 percent citing it in the 2020 survey and 60 percent in 2017.

Seeking career advancement ranked second overall, at 45 percent, followed by the need for more interesting and challenging work (37 percent); a desire for more personal fulfillment (33 percent); and the need for a better benefits package (27 percent). The 2017 results were similar.

The majority of IT employees aren’t looking for a new job

In the 2020 survey, 12 percent of full- and part-time respondents said they’re actively looking for a new job at a different organization, a slight increase from 10 percent in 2017. A much bigger percentage — 35 percent in 2020 and 39 percent in 2017 — said they’re passively looking for a role at a different organization.

IDG Insider Pro  >  Salary Survey 2020  >  [Chart#11] Job Search Status IDG

However, the majority — 48 percent in 2020 and 45 percent in 2017 — aren’t looking for a new job either actively or passively, which implies that most are content with their current position. Or, at a minimum, they simply aren’t inclined to make a change now. Perhaps they’re holding out for a promotion or other reward if they stay in their current position.

How important is job stability?

Or could it be that many IT professionals simply value job stability?  

Interestingly, the desire for better job stability isn’t a big reason to search for another job, with only 14 percent citing it as a motivator in 2020 (vs. 16 percent in 2017). However, when asked what matters most to them about their current job, ‘job stability’ ranked highest among full- and part-time employees, at 38 percent.

Put another way: IT professionals appreciate stability in their current jobs, which could be another reason why many aren’t currently interested in looking for another position.

In terms of what matters most to IT professionals, job stability in 2020 was followed by base pay (37 percent), flexible work schedules and telecommuting (34 percent), benefits (34 percent), and having their opinion and knowledge valued by others (28 percent).

None of those percentages differ significantly from the 2017 survey. However, vacation and paid time off, which ranked fifth in 2017 at 34 percent, didn’t rank in the top five things of what matters most in 2020 (at 27 percent). The 7 percent decrease might suggest that as more companies offer unlimited paid time off to lure new talent, vacation time doesn’t matter as much to employees — even though research shows that the seemingly generous policy benefits employers more than employees

IDG Insider Pro  >  Salary Survey 2020  >  [Chart#09] Job Satisfaction: What Matters at Work IDG

In 2020, men (40 percent) were more likely than women (28 percent) to say job stability mattered most, similar to the 2017 survey results (40 percent men, 32 percent women). There were some notable variations by age as well. Of those in the 18-34 age group, for example, 33 percent cited skill development and training opportunities in 2020. But only 16 percent in the 45-54 range — who are typically more experienced and have had more training — cited skill development and training in their top five list of what matters most.

Workloads will likely get bigger

Full- and part-time employees were asked what change they expect to see in their IT workload and responsibilities over the next 12 months. The majority, 55 percent, said they anticipate an increased workload compared to 39 percent who expect it to remain the same and 6 percent who think their workload will diminish.

When asked how their line-of-business workload might change in the coming year, 54 percent anticipate an increase, 43 percent believe it will remain unchanged, and 3 percent expected a decrease. All the 2020 percentages were in line with the 2017 survey results.

IDG Insider Pro  >  Salary Survey 2020  >  [Chart#12] Workloads: No Rest for IT or Business IDG

The biggest challenges facing IT professionals

Increasing workloads aside, the survey also wanted to know which aspects of respondents’ jobs were the most challenging.

Among the respondents, the largest percentage, 54 percent, cited the need to keep up with technology advancements, which was also the top concern in the 2017 survey. It’s not too surprising, given technology’s rapid pace of change these days, thanks to AI, machine learning, edge computing,  and digital transformations.

“The biggest challenges in my job are staying abreast of all the shifts and changes in the IT landscape,” says Rebecca Headrick, chief technology officer at the Illinois CPA Society.

She also cites the need to align organizational strategic goals with an IT strategic plan, staying ahead of data governance and using analytics for planning purposes as top challenges.

According to the survey, the other top worries IT professionals cited were: alignment of IT with business, 38 percent in 2020 vs. 35 percent in 2017; undervaluing older workers, 37 percent vs. 39 percent; and the IT talent shortage, 37 percent today vs. 30 percent in 2017, which illustrates the growing struggle to hire all the needed team members in today’s tight job market.

In fifth place was the gap between the skills required and training available, cited by 45 percent in 2020 and 29 percent in 2017. The 16 percent difference could indicate a growing concern among employees that they’re not being offered the needed training to elevate their skill sets. This is particularly acute among workers aged 18-34, with 48 percent citing it as a challenge compared to 31 percent among those aged 45-54.

IDG Insider Pro  >  Salary Survey 2020  >  [Chart#13] Biggest IT Challenges IDG

From challenges to new opportunities

Headrick adds that tackling IT’s challenges could ultimately launch her into a C-level position beyond the traditional technology realm.  

“I’ve worn many hats over the years in my career as an IT professional,” she explains. Headrick started in Microsoft Office productivity training, then moved into business analysis, project management, and application development management. Currently, she oversees everything IT-related at her organization.

“I’ve moved from executing on strategy to being a part of the team that creates the strategy, and I’ve developed a passion for strategy that isn’t just specific to technology but also to marketing, organizational management, human resource management, and so on,” Headrick adds. Given her widening experience, she feels the next logical step in her career path isn’t in technology — it’s a position as chief operating officer.