The Big-Iron Payoff

Pondering the Salary Survey

Good news is hard to come by in many parts of the IT industry these days, but our first annual Enterprise Systems salary survey presents some interesting insights for readers.

There are plenty of IT salary surveys out there, of course—in a list accompanying the article on our Web site, we point you to another half dozen that you can compare our numbers to. But ES readers are unique because they're focused on managing large, heterogeneous enterprisewide systems, so we built our survey questions around that angle—and came up with some compelling results.

Our survey, which begins on page 38, measures responses from readers in almost 300 U.S. companies. Despite the economy, we found that IT managers with skills in large systems (mainframe and large Unix installations) earn on average as much as 20 percent more than someone without that experience. Working in financial services or b-to-b e-commerce, both big areas for our readers, also pays off—adding 15 to 20 percent to an IT professional's paycheck.

If you're a hiring manager looking for large-systems skills, particularly if you're seeking managers with those skills, the news isn't so good. But if you're also a reader who has a deep grounding in large systems from many years of working with a variety of mainframe and midrange platforms and operating systems, as many of you are, the numbers may well confirm what you already believe—that broad and deep data center experience should be worth a premium in the job market.

In many areas of IT, of course, salaries are barely holding their own or even dropping—the result of an increased labor pool because of layoffs and dotcom failures, and decreased demand because of industry hiring freezes or slowdowns. But for certain skill areas in IT, analysts and hiring managers continue to say that they're looking—and healthy salaries continue to reflect that. Enterprise-systems expertise appears to be one of those areas.

Of course, other factors besides large-systems skills alone may well play into the higher salaries. For example, we also found that bigger companies pay IT managers more, which makes sense in this context—larger companies are running larger systems, which often require more responsibility from those managing the back-end. We also know that those with large-systems expertise tend to be older than the average IT professional—reflecting the fact that mainframes have been around a lot longer than, say, the Wintel platform. Analyst firm META Group reports that 60 percent of mainframe data center staff are now over the age of 50. That can affect salary regardless of a particular skill set, because more years in the job market often—though not always—means more compensation.

As with any survey, our numbers are averages. Some of you are earning more (and paying more out to your workers); others are earning less. Our intent was to delve into the payoff of large-systems expertise. Do our numbers reflect your reality? Are there other factors we're not measuring that affect compensation? We'll repeat the survey yearly, so send us feedback on what we've missed and what you'd like to see measured. I'm at

About the Author

Linda Briggs is the founding editor of MCP Magazine and the former senior editorial director of 101communications. In between world travels, she's a freelance technology writer based in San Diego, Calif.