By John Hales, Global Knowledge VMware, SDN and SoftLayer instructor, A+, Network+, CTT+, MCSE, MCDBA, MOUS, VCP, VCAP, VCI, EMCSA
In reviewing the list of best paying jobs in IT, you’ll see some areas you might expect like cloud computing and other areas you probably didn’t, like business technology or enterprise infrastructure management.
The top 10 functional areas are based on the 2016 IT Skills and Salary Survey conducted by Global Knowledge in October 2015. Note that all references to “average” represent the mean, not the median or other statistical measures.
1. Cloud Computing - $115,826
At the top of the list of best paying certifications, which probably comes as no surprise, is cloud computing. Cloud computing job roles can be focused on creating off-site backup systems or disaster recovery plans to rebuilding applications to function optimally in the cloud and everything in between.
Many, many companies want to get into the cloud but really don’t understand what it is, how it works, and how it will help them. At the same time, many in IT fear that the cloud will lead to job losses and are pushing back, trying to slow or stop cloud adoption.
With revolutionary technology, keep in mind that as supply and demand come into balance, salaries tend to fall into the more normal range for IT jobs. The early leaders, on the other hand, have become bigger experts and can thus still command higher wages or they move on to the next emerging trend and make money there. The nice thing about this field is that you can get started now and it doesn’t take years or decades to become an expert and make a very good salary.
2. IT Architecture - $113,499
The next area is IT architecture. You may be thinking, how is this the second on the list with the cloud changes just discussed? This is for two reasons.
First, there are still many, many companies with on-site IT infrastructure that needs to be maintained and updated to prepare for the future. Most people in this role have worked their way up from the help desk, to administrator to architect. They command a higher salary because they have been around longer.
The second reason is the move to the cloud. There is a huge demand for those that can design IT architectures in the cloud as well as those that can span both on-site and cloud based deployments and have them work together seamlessly. This area is much newer and thus supply is much lower than demand, thus driving salaries up.
In terms of interest from businesses, it is the third largest area, behind cloud computing at 35 percent, according to Global Knowledge’s survey. While not specifically listed in the survey, probably a large driver in this area is the integration with and/or migration to the cloud.
What does this mean to you? Now is a good time to look to add to your skills for greater job security and even greater wealth. Also, understanding how things work in the cloud and how you can leverage cloud strengths to meet business goals is a great place to find lots of work at high salaries. It would be good to understand scripting languages like Python and PowerShell, automation techniques like Chef, Puppet or Ansible, and/or networking tools such as load balancers, routers, and firewalls.
3. IT Security - $104,949
With all of the news articles on data breaches, theft of social security numbers, credit cards and phishing attacks, this is probably the biggest area of concern for all businesses, large and small, on premises, in the cloud, or a hybrid of both. In fact, for businesses, this area tops the list of interested topics at 43 percent, according to the survey.
With all the demand for security, why isn’t this the first item in the list from a salary perspective? Demand still outstrips supply, but not as much as with cloud computing. For you, this means that cybersecurity is a great field to be in and will continue to be so far into the future.
Jobs are available with private businesses of all sizes, government agencies, and the military. In fact, several countries including the U.S. have created divisions in the military specifically designed around cyber warfare, offensively and/or defensively. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it often takes years of experience to get a job in this field, especially if you are looking to be certified and/or work at a higher level in roles such as chief security officer or chief information officer. That shouldn’t deter you from starting, however, if this is interesting to you, especially if you are young and want to get experience in the military.
4. Business Technology - $101,663
Business technology is fourth on the list. This area encompasses a bunch of tools and applications that a business can use to make better decisions, plan for the future, etc. Among the application categories that fall into this list are enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), predictive analysis, and enterprise feedback management.
These are the technologies that are customer focused to make their interactions with the business better and to make the business more agile. Even with a six-figure salary for all those employed in this field, the money spent is returned many times over. As far as business interest goes, it is 16th on the list, reported by 15 percent of companies.
How can you use this information? You can learn one or more of the applications listed here (or other similar ones in use in your organization or that have a large market share) and combine that with some business knowledge and some IT knowledge for a rewarding career. This may work out very well for those who already have business and/or IT knowledge and want to branch out to the intersection of those two fields.
5. Enterprise Infrastructure Management - $101,390
Enterprise infrastructure management finds itself midway down the list of best paying jobs in IT. Typically, this is thought of in terms of on premises monitoring. But as companies move to the cloud, they also need to be monitoring within the cloud, ideally having a single management tool that can monitor both or at least report on both.
This is not a very exciting field to work in (until something breaks – then it can be very exciting!), but is critical for the operation of IT resources, and thus for the business. It is thus not a huge area for business, but an important one nonetheless.
If you are already in this space, you might want to study how enterprise infrastructure management is done in the cloud and broaden your skill set in preparation for the future. If you are looking to move from a help desk or administrator role, you might consider studying the implementation of monitoring in the cloud and/or with hybrid cloud to maximize your employability and salary as quickly as possible.
6. Java Developers - $99,763
Java is a very popular programming language – one of the most popular in the world. It is cross platform and runs on everything from mobile phones, and car and airplane entertainment systems to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets to PCs and Macs. It is used in writing the many applications we often use, on websites and is the widely used in cloud computing. It has been around since 1995. There are 1 billion downloads of the platform every year and over 3 billion mobile phones alone run Java.
As far as business interest goes, it is 25th on the list at 7 percent. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a need for developers (the salary alone bears this out), but rather many companies may already have a Java developers group with existing projects that need to be maintained and upgraded making this area still important but not the high growth area it once was. For you this means that Java still pays very well and its widespread use makes it a great language to be able to program in if programming is your interest.
7. Project / Program Management - $98,607
While project management is not necessarily related to IT projects, it can be. A specialized sub area called ITIL® is often closely related in the IT arena. ITIL covers general project management, but also IT management specifically and thus has broad appeal.
Current estimates project over 1 million project management jobs in the U.S. alone will need to be filled annually and that this area tends to grow even as other areas in a company are being reduced. The 2016 salary survey showed, as past years have as well, that project and program managers are paid well. It is the one field that isn’t necessarily technical like the other areas in the survey that made the top 10 list.
If you are looking for a field that outlasts the latest IT fad, this may be for you. You typically start your career in junior positions assisting others with more senior roles and/or working a subset of a project and can grow to encompass very complex, multinational projects. Typically, those in this area have years of experience, so don’t be discouraged if it takes several years to move up in this area.
How can you progress in this field? First, consider what kind of projects you would like to manage and work on gaining at least a high level understanding of the terms and concepts used in that field. Second, and maybe even more importantly, you should also work on your people skills to better work with a broad array of people that need to be managed and reported to.
The most common areas listed in the survey that non-IT people indicated that they planned on studying include communications (48 percent), interpersonal skills (42 percent), leadership (42 percent), risk management (41 percent), and presentation skills (percent).
8. Data Warehousing / Business Intelligence (BI) - $93,522
Data Warehousing (DW) is storing the vast quantities of data that a business generates, while business intelligence (BI) analyzes that data for information that may be useful for the business. Big data is a related field that involves the gathering and analysis of vast quantities of information, is a huge growth area.
Big data’s challenges include not only how to collect and store so much information, but how to analyze, visualize and search it. Sample use cases of big data producers and the associated needs to use it are for live traffic information, science projects and search engine use. It is a huge growth area – it is estimated that the worldwide demand is around 4.5 million jobs, but only about a third of them are actually filled due to the lack of people with the necessary skills and qualifications.
There is demand for people with these skills, especially for those looking to gather and store data in the cloud and/or to migrate an existing data warehouse to a cloud provider. You might consider getting certified as a data analyst or in big data to further your career prospects. Some of these are industry certifications while others are college degrees at the bachelor or master level. Most often are Ph.D. data scientists. Earning your Ph.D. is a great way to differentiate yourself from everyone else, but takes years of effort and a lot of money to obtain.
9. Business Application Development - $92,037
Business application development is basically a term for developers (programmers) who create applications for the business. They may create applications for internal use or they could create them for customer use. They use many different languages, including Java, .NET, C/C+, or HTML5 depending on the needs of the business. This is the job role for programmers instead of the IT people described in most of the other roles in this document.
If you are a programmer or want to be one, this is your field. Decide on what kinds of applications you want to specialize in such as web-based, OS (PC, Mac, or Linux) or mobile (iOS or Android) and optionally an area that fits your background and interests for more specialization, which often increases pay.
10. Voice Engineering - $91,489
One of the popular changes today in business is using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). The idea is to use Internet bandwidth for phone calls instead of paying the traditional telephone companies for phone calls. This technology can dramatically reduce the price of phone calls, which is why businesses love it.
To make it work well, however, requires some effort by those tasked with implementing it. The tasks include determining how much bandwidth will be needed for these calls (and possibly their close relative video phone calls) and then working with the network engineering team to make sure this bandwidth is guaranteed to the phone system so that calls sound just as good as traditional land lines offered by the phone companies. They are also interested in call security and so may work on the company’s Internet security team as well. They usually have expertise with IP phones and the back-end systems required to implement, maintain and troubleshoot voice calls.
Many companies are looking to change from traditional phone systems and many others want to upgrade old IP-based ones to newer models. They also want specialists to monitor and maintain them so that they have great call quality, just at a lower cost to the company.
If you are interested in phone systems and this subspecialty of networking, you can get certified on the various systems fairly quickly. Obviously, knowing more about security and general networking will also be helpful in securing the best jobs.
There are many fields of expertise that can provide a six-figure salary. Realize that not all these jobs start in the six figures, but that the salaries are the averages, with some people just starting out and others having decades of experience. In any case, the only way to get one of these jobs is by having the right experience and training, so get started!