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The JDJ Salary Survey, by Bill Baloglu and Billy Palmieri

More than 1,150 readers worldwide responded to the recent Java Developer's Journal Salary Survey. The respondents covered a broad spectrum of IT titles and levels of expertise from entry-level to executive positions.

They shared information including city, state, country, title, current salary, previous salary, years of professional experience, years in current position, and years with current company.

As you may already know, the state of the employment market for Java developers is one of our favorite subjects, which is why we write a monthly column for JDJ.

From this wealth of raw survey data that filled a 34-page spreadsheet, we set out to draw some meaningful conclusions about who's making what and where. We focused our attention on the vast majority of responses - the 958 people who live and work in the United States.

That's not to say we're not interested in the many skilled IT professionals working in the international market. But figuring all the rates of exchange for a dozen different currencies would have been a bit much for the already daunting task that lay ahead of us.

Were we able to draw some significant conclusions about the salaries in the IT and developer industries in the United States? We think so. However, when considering the conclusions that we reached, keep in mind we're looking at a very broad range of respondents working in a wide range of companies.

For example, the salaries for respondents who have 1-5 years' experience working in the East Coast/New England region range from $32K to $350K a year. The average salary for 1-5 years' experience in that area is $78K (which does sound a little more normal). But the spread between the lows and the highs can be pretty wild.

Part of this is because respondents range from just-out-of-school Web developers to CTOs. We're also assuming, with just cause, that many of these people are working at high hourly contract rates while others are reporting full-time salaries at permanent positions.

Are we being forced to compare apples to oranges here? Well, yes and no. We're looking at highly paid hourly consultants next to salaried employees, but contract or full-time, the bottom line is: these are the dollars that companies are paying developers to do this kind of work in various parts of the United States.

The Big Picture
The average respondent has a total of eight years of professional experience, three years with their current company but only two in their current position. Assuming that respondents are working with Java in their current position, on a national average they haven't been using it for very long.

Eighty-four percent of the U.S. respondents have been using Java for two years or less, and 63% of them have been using it for one year or less. Only 16% of the respondents have been working with Java for more than two years.

Granted, Java has only been around for about six years, but the IT professionals who work with it have leapt to high-paying positions in an incredibly short period of time.

The old tradition of a young apprentice putting in years of training to learn a trade is now a relic of the distant past. The role of the seasoned veteran who trains that young apprentice has been transformed as well, but we'll get to that later.

If you have any doubt that this is an extremely fluid industry with an incredible amount of turnover, consider these statistics. Seventy-seven percent of IT professionals who responded to the survey have been with their current company for three years or less. Sixty-five percent of them have been with their current employer for two years or less, and nearly half of them (46%) have been with their current employer for one year or less.

Part of this could be due to the fact that many of the companies that employ these developers are only 1 or 2 years old. And we all know that turnover can be high even with established companies that are constantly restructuring and downsizing.

The results of this survey clearly support what we have casually observed over the past several years. Company loyalty in the IT industry is close to nonexistent. However, that lack of loyalty is clearly a two-way street.

IT professionals with Java skills hop from one job to the next (84% of them stay for less than two years) for a very good reason - they can. And they know they'll get more money at the next position.

The employing companies contribute to this job-hopping phenomenon by constantly upping the salary ante. Consider this: the average U.S. respondent has been with his or her current employer for three years and is at a current salary of $87K.

That average respondent was making $71K in his or her previous position. This means that across the United States, IT/Java professionals are making an average of 24% more in their current position than they did in their previous position three years ago.

Is job hopping here to stay in this industry? As long as companies continue to pay 24% salary increases to employees (88% of whom won't stay with the company for more than two years), who needs loyalty? In this environment companies are incentivizing IT professionals to keep moving on.

The Big Country
The U.S. respondents to this survey were fairly evenly spread across the major regions of the country. Twenty-three percent were from the East Coast/New England area, 21% from the Midwest, 25% from the South, 21% from the West Coast, and 10% from the Southwest.

For salary-survey purposes we divided the West Coast into three regions that are distinctly different markets: Southern California, Northern California/Silicon Valley, and the Northwest.

To get a sense of how IT salaries progress over time, we've categorized respondents by years of experience (1-5 years, 6-10, 11-15, and 16 or more years).

Across the board the vast majority of respondents were in the 1-5 years of experience category, with a huge range of salaries within that category.

This isn't too surprising if you keep in mind that Java hasn't been widely used for much more than five years, and the industry has seen a huge swell in numbers (and demand) within these past four to five years.

The Wild Wild West
In Northern California where this industry was born, the average salary is $85K for 1-5 years of experience, $103K for 6-10, and $126K for 11-15 years. While we expected salaries at this scene of the high-tech gold rush to be the highest in the country, these averages are only slightly higher than those in Southern California.

Southern California respondents earn an average of $84K for 1-5 years, $93K for 6-10, and a healthy $144K for 11-15 years of experience.

Northwest respondents earn a more conservative $80K for 1-5 years, $85K for 6-10, and $104K for 11-15. You might extrapolate that some of them learn the ropes from Mr. Gates, then head south for more sunshine and bigger bucks (but that's merely idle conjecture).

One interesting phenomenon is that in every region we examined (with the exception of the South and Southwest), salary averages took a dip after 15 years of experience. There are a variety of reasons why this might happen.

The industry's economy might be indicating here that after 15 years, IT salaries simply top off. Despite what dot-commers were telling us mere months ago, the sky is not, in fact, the limit.

Industry professionals who've been working in IT for more than 16 years have undoubtedly come up through many different types of technologies, many of which are no longer used. Yes, the mainframe and COBOL experts had a heyday during the Y2K era, but it's a Java, XML, and wireless world now.

It's highly likely that many of these senior engineers are voluntarily taking a decrease in pay as they come up to speed on more current technologies.

But while the young guns of IT rule the West (and most of the country), seniority is still respected in the South and Southwest, which comprise 35% of the survey respondents.

IT salaries follow a more traditional curve in the South, rising from $75K for 1-5 years to $85K for 6-10, $100K for 11-15, and $119K for 16 years or more. In the Southwest the curve grows from $70K for 1-5, $94K for 6-10, $95K for 11-15, and $110K for 16 or more years.

Regional differences may also be due to the different types of companies that employ IT professionals. While the bulk of West Coast companies are in the business of creating new technologies and fiercely competing for hot-shot talent, IT professionals in other regions are likely to be employed by traditional corporations with more conservative salary structures and ranges.

The Personal Picture
As an IT professional, what should I do with this information? If my salary is on the low end of the scale for my region and years of experience, should I storm into my manager's office with this article in hand and demand a raise?

We don't advise it. Again, this is a very broad picture we're looking at that takes only a few key facts about each respondent into account. We haven't looked at the résumés of all 958 respondents and, frankly, we'd rather not.

There are also tremendous variations between these markets and extreme differences in the cost of living in these regions. The IT professional making $75K in the South is most likely living in a much bigger house than his or her counterpart in Silicon Valley.

If you'd like a more detailed comparison of salary ranges for the same type of work in different parts of the country, there are many good resources available, including www.salary.com, which does in fact compare apples to apples.

If you know of other resources that help IT professionals get a good comparative picture of salary expectations nationwide, we'd like to hear about those as well.

We've provided a bird's-eye view of who's making what and where. Will these numbers change dramatically by next year's survey? We don't doubt it at all.

Author Bios
Bill Baloglu is a principal at Object Focus (www.ObjectFocus.com), a Java staffing firm in Silicon Valley. Prior to that he was a software engineer for 16 years. Bill has extensive OO experience ,and has held software development and senior technical management positions at several Silicon Valley firms. He can be reached at billb@objectfocus.com

Billy Palmieri is a seasoned staffing industry executive and a principal of ObjectFocus. Before that he was at Renaissance Worldwide, a multimillion-dollar global IT consulting firm where he held several senior management positions in the firm's Silicon Valley operations. He can reached at: billp@objectfocus.com

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