Want to land a high-paying information technology job? Take one of two paths: Shift into a field where IT professionals are in demand or acquire the analytic skills that will keep you marketable no matter what technology developments occur in the future.
In the current market, demand for IT professionals exists in some federal stimulus-boosted industries as well as in sectors that are spending on IT despite the recession. Bring your analytic skills to those sectors to find the fattest paychecks.
Federal stimulus money is moving the healthcare industry toward electronic medical records. The best-paid positions in this niche are found at large institutions getting platforms ready for conversion and installing systems to share electronic medical records with other healthcare providers, says Dave Willmer, executive director of IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology (RHT).
That's not a new trend, however, so location matters. "If the hospital in your town just did the conversion, the jobs might not be available in your city," he says.
Among the best-paying positions in this area: software engineers ($89,000 annually), systems managers ($108,000) and systems analysts ($73,000), says Laurence Shatkin, author of Great Jobs in the President's Stimulus Plan.
Another area targeted by stimulus spending -- extending broadband Internet access to rural areas -- will also generate jobs for network systems and data communication analysts (both earning $68,000) as well as information security specialists ($71,000), Shatkin says.
Safe and Efficient
Other areas where IT staff is in demand revolve around security and efficiency, such as network security, virtualization and data-center efficiency jobs, Willmer says.
In a 2009 RHT survey, the top area where CIOs expected to invest was information security. To earn top dollar as a network security specialist ($80,000 to $110,000), have a platform-related, network certification from Microsoft (MCSE), Cisco (CCNP) or Novell (NCA), along with audit or enterprise security experience, Willmer says.
IT experts focusing on efficiency are also doing well. Network administrators with VMware certification, Citrix or Microsoft experience who have enterprise experience (100-plus servers) can earn $70,000 to $95,000, he adds.
Web enhancements are a final area where corporate America continues to make IT investments. Developers and optimization professionals are earning in the $60,000 to $100,000 range, with the highest salaries going to those at large firms, while mid-career, senior Web developers are making $80,000 to $112,000, Willmer says.
Some industries continue to grow despite the economy. Demand for IT professionals with industry experience is high in biotechnology, life sciences and pharmacy, says Terry Gallagher, president of recruiting firm Battalia Winston in Edison, New Jersey. "Tech is making a comeback, too, with hardware and software technology spending starting to increase," he adds. "Digital media and our entertainment practices are pretty healthy."
Another way to boost your pay is to gain experience that's in demand no matter where technology goes, says Matthew Moran, author of The IT Career Builder's Toolkit.
"If you want to move across disciplines, move as technology changes and have a robust career, you want the company to know that regardless of the technology, you're going to automate a process to streamline how a business operates or analyze information and provide value to the organization you're serving," Moran says.
Industries where data analysis provides a competitive business advantage (think airline reservation systems that use data models to price seats) pay well because the company sees value in IT, Gallagher says.
Supplement your IT skills with a graduate education in quantitative analysis or financial engineering to make yourself worth even more to employers who use data to improve sales and profitability.
Reach the Top
Of course, the best-paid positions in IT are typically found at the top of the career ladder at multibillion-dollar firms. The ability to take technology and wrap it into the product and service delivery system will propel you toward a chief technology officer (CTO) position that could pay $350,000 to $450,000 at a large, global firm. CTOs who work with research and development staff to create the next generation of products and services are in especially high demand, Gallagher says.
If you aspire to those top positions, develop strategic vision, leadership and communication skills, and learn as much as you can about the business. When you're a CTO or CIO, you'll use those skills to develop IT systems that bolster business goals, add to the bottom line and justify your big payday.