December Drill Down: I've Been Working in the Warehouse.

Let’s face it. Most of us get up every morning and go to work for the same reason; we need the money. Sure it’s nice if our jobs are interesting and we can flatter ourselves into thinking that we are contributing to a larger good. But "interesting" doesn’t pay the rent.

As people make career choices and move from project to project, salaries play a big role. Not only do people want to make more money, they want to be sure that their salaries compare nicely with their colleagues at other companies. Personally, someday I would like to have a position like Michael Ovitz’ the former president of The Walt Disney Company, who a received a $100 million severance package after only a year on the job. Heck, I think I could do a bad job at Disney for only $50 million, but if the going rate is $100 million, I wouldn’t settle for less.

The desire of employees to receive competitive compensation packages and the need for companies to benchmark salaries to know what it will take to attract high quality personnel is one reason that third-party salary surveys are so interesting. But the 1998 salary survey published by The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) this summer reveals more than just how much money people are making. The survey provides a snapshot of the development of data warehousing as a professional, specialized activity.

First, as they say on the National Public Radio show MarketPlace, let’s do the numbers. The survey consisted of 22 questions mailed to all the members of TDWI. Surveys were also distributed at two TDWI events. In total 312 people responded.

The good news is this. The average annual salary for data warehousing professionals is a robust $74,371. Seventy percent of the respondents receive annual bonuses as well, averaging around 11 percent of their annual salaries or nearly $12,500.

While $74,371 is a substantial base salary, the salary range for data warehousing professional is dramatic. At the high end, people with the title of vice president of data warehousing earn $110,000, while application programmers earn about $45,000 on average. Also, there are marked differences among industry groups. Data warehousing professionals in the pharmaceutical sector, for example, earn $88,000, while those in education (almost always a low-paying area) receive only $42,000 a year. Ironically, company size does not seem to make much difference in the compensation data warehousing specialists receive. The average salary for folks working at firms with over $10 billion in sales was $77,000, the same level as for those working at enterprises with under $10 million in sales. The lowest paid group were those working at places with $50 million to $99 million in annual sales with the typical pay level there at only $61,000.

In addition to roughly benchmarking salaries, the TDWI salary survey also offers insight into the development of data warehousing as a professional specialization. For example, the survey reported on more that 20 different job titles. Some were typical IT positions like systems administrator, systems analyst and database administrator. But some of the titles were more closely linked to function of data warehousing itself. Those titles included vice president of data warehousing, director of business intelligence, director of data warehousing and data warehouse architect. For what it is worth, the two most common titles were "project manager" and "other."

The experience level of respondents was also notable. Around 42 percent of the respondents had one year of experience or less. Fully, 75 percent had less than three years experience. Moreover, people with eight to 10 years of experience earned on average $30,000 more a year than those with 10 to 20 years of experience.

At first glance, the range of titles and lack of experience would seem to indicate that data warehousing is in its infancy as a professional specialization. But, cautioned Wayne Eckerson, Vice President of Technology Services at TDWI, that is not entirely accurate. "The industry isn’t new," he said. The fundamental concepts and processes were developed in the late 1980s, and people have been working on building data warehouses since the early 1990s.

But over the past several years, there has been a shift in the architecture and approach to data warehousing. Data warehousing is no longer seen as a typical IT project designed to save costs or accelerate processes. Instead data warehousing efforts are now seen as strategic initiatives aimed at advancing the corporate mission, however that may be defined. "It could be to get closer to the customer or to respond more rapidly to the customer," Eckerson said.

The shift, he added, has meant "technology folks have had to work in cahoots with the business folks." And the business folks have had to convince the financial brass to make the investment into the projects. Consequently, data warehousing projects require input from people with very different skill sets.

The new scope and direction for data warehousing projects is underscored by two additional elements from the TDWI salary survey. Although historically the retail sector, telecommunications, financial services, pharmaceuticals and utilities were the first industry groups to activity invest in data warehousing projects, more than 18 industry groups were represented in the survey. No single group accounted for more than seven percent of the total.

Finally, while 51 percent of the respondents worked at companies with annual sales of $1 billion or more, data warehousing is not longer just a big-company phenomenon. "For the first time we are seeing a lot of Fortune 2000 companies involved," said Eckerson.

And now the question for which we have all been waiting. Are data warehousing professionals happy with their professional situations? Thirty seven percent said salary was the most important factor they consider when evaluating job opportunities and 64 percent said they are being fairly compensated.


Dr. Elliot King is an Assistant Professor of Communications and Director of the New Media Center at Loyola College in Maryland. His research interests are in distributed information systems, new communications technology and the diffusion of innovation. He has written five books and hundreds of magazine and journal articles about the use of new information technology. He can be reached at (410) 356-3943, by fax at (410) 356-5217, or by e-mail at