Dice salary study shows improvements in IT in 2003

A new employment study of 21,000 IT workers in the US concludes that after several years in the doldrums, high-tech salaries went up by 2 percent in 2003 and that things may be finally improving in the tech job marketplace.

The Dice 2003 Annual Salary Survey, which was conducted throughout 2003 by Dice Inc., a New York-based online job site and recruitment service, offers some of the first positive news in the IT sector since 2000, said Scot Melland, president and CEO of Dice.

"Two percent is not anything to write home about, but ... it's a signal there's a turnaround going on out there," Melland said. In the heyday of the tech boom in the late 1990s, 5 percent to 10 percent annual salary increases were the norm. "The big news here is that the salaries are rebounding" after several lean years following the dot-com bust and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The study uses self-reporting from contributors who provide their titles, job skills, educational backgrounds, salary details and other information through an online survey at Dice's Web site. The study, which has been conducted annually since 2000, includes input from IT workers whose jobs range from the help desk all the way to management.

Overall, tech salaries recovered last year to the highest levels since 2000, according to the Dice survey, with the average salary increasing 2 percent, from US$67,900 in 2002 to $69,400 in 2003. For the second year in a row, government and defense salaries showed the largest gains, increasing $2,600, or 4 percent, to $64,600. Salaries in the computer hardware industry, one of the hardest-hit industries in the recent downturn, also increased 4 percent, to $57,900.

Also notable in the study was that IT pay for women increased more than for men in 2003, narrowing the "gender gap" to 11 percent, the first drop since the Dice study began.

According to the data, women IT workers' salaries increased 5 percent, to $62,800, while men's salaries increased by just 2 percent. And women who reported that they work more than 55 hours a week earned only 7.5 percent less than men, according to the study. Women over 50 years of age had the largest gap, earning 13.5 percent less than their male counterparts. Programmer/analyst, application developer and project manager were the three most common titles for women, according to the study.

The largest pay increases overall in 2003 were for network and MIS manager positions, which gained 7 percent and 5 percent, respectively. The highest-paying IT job classification, for the second year in a row, was IT manager, at $104,000, with project manager following at $88,300. Systems developer, at $83,200, and software engineer, at $81,400, were the top-paying nonmanagement titles.

Another indicator that the tech economy may now be rebounding, Melland said, is that "for the first time in a long time, there was a significant increase in starting positions" in high-tech companies. "That's an indicator that companies are starting to feel comfortable hiring entry-level people again."

Over the past two years, most of the hiring being done was for workers with experience, he said. "It shows how the employment market's getting better."

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