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Server management pros show mixed emotions in IT salary survey

In TechTarget's 2014 Annual Salary Survey, server management pros seem generally satisfied with the dough, but are restless to move up or move on.

With a healthy number of server management professionals receiving raises and bonuses this year, one could assume a certain level of contentment, especially in these endlessly tough economic times. But living alongside that contentment is a restlessness driven by the desire for more challenging work and better potential for job growth, an IT salary survey reveals.

The cliché, 'I like my job, but it's the work I hate,' seems to apply.

In TechTarget's 2014 Annual Salary and Careers Survey, 49% of the 163 respondents that focus primarily on server management said that they received raises averaging 4.4% of their base salary, with 30% receiving bonuses that averaged $9,938. Some 57% of respondents expect raises in 2015, but the raises will dip to an average 3.7%. Only 10% of respondents, however, expect to receive bonuses next year, down from 30%.

"The people in my company are happier than they were last year with the compensation they got this year, which was fairly decent," said Harvey Hecht, an IT manager with The Service Employees International Union 1021 in San Francisco. "And if we get raises next year, they will probably be better than last year, but it will depend on how well the economy is doing."

According to the IT salary survey, paychecks weren't the only things that got fatter in 2014. Some 32% of respondents reported that their IT budgets increased in 2014, with another 36% saying this year's budget was the same as last year's. The average IT budget grew 16.4% in 2014 over the previous year.

About 28% of server management pros said the headcount in their IT departments grew this year compared to last, averaging 84 new personnel for the year. Another 53% said the head count remained the same as 2013. This was perceived as good news by some respondents, who noted the prospect of taking on more projects with fewer people was less likely this year -- for a change.

"I have to say management has opened up the purse strings a bit more this year and I've been able to throw more bodies at [projects] that spring up unexpectedly," said one solutions architect with a Houston-based service provider. "That hasn't been the case since 2008 or so."

But when these IT salary survey participants were asked to pick a statement that best reflects where their career now stands and future progress, a different sentiment surfaces.

Some 48% of the server managers said they are quite open to new job opportunities, although they are not actively seeking them, with another 14% preparing for their next move. Another 14% are actively seeking new positions, with only 20% indicating they were satisfied in the jobs they held.

Underlining this sentiment that respondents are not particularly inspired by the work they are doing, 43% described the overall mood of their IT departments as neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Only 30% said the mood was positive this year, with 33% believing the mood would stay optimistic in 2015.

One explanation as to why so many have an unenthusiastic attitude towards their IT departments is that upper management often doesn't show enough appreciation for their contributions to make the company successful.

"When an organization makes you feel like you should be happy just to have a job, that just pisses me off," said a New Jersey-based IT manager in charge of change management and service desk with an educational publisher. "When we aren't meeting our financial goals, we are seen as an expense and asked to go into cost-reduction mode. And when people leave or there are layoffs, the work doesn't go away. It is picked up by those left behind, and that's frustrating."

The average median base salary among all respondents, which included a wide range of IT titles from system administrators to senior executives, was $80,125, with a median total compensation of $82,000.

Among those who were feeling pessimistic about the state of their IT departments, 55% said it was because of limited career advancement opportunities, 42% said it was because management is ineffective and 27% said it was because of limited training.

Conversely, those respondents who were feeling more optimistic that the mood would improve in their IT departments said they felt so because business was picking up (53%), they had a strong management team in place (36%), innovation was being encouraged (33%) and IT budgets were increasing (28%).

Many survey respondents are buying and integrating newer technologies over the past year, mostly related to virtualization and cloud. But whether respondents have an expanded IT budget or not, a common complaint was that upper management is hesitant to approve funds for training IT personnel to implement and support these newer technologies. This has bogged down delivery of new projects based on these technologies.

"Training is never properly funded, which always amazes me," said Brad Paulus, an IT manager with MjC International Group Inc. "I have to be pretty much self-taught. It has put us way behind on some things."

As the economy slowly trends up, Paulus said his company is spending more, but everyone remains very cautious about some expenditures.

The lack of a training budget not only slows the delivery of IT projects. It also takes away a tool that helps build morale among his employees.

"I can't reward employees by sending them out for training on the new technologies," said the IT manager with the New Jersey-based educational publisher. "It was one of the mechanisms I used to manage during the good times, but the money is just not there. To keep them sane they need to feel appreciated," he said.

He added that his company has a major initiative underway to integrate customer-facing technologies with internal operations by mainly leveraging the cloud and using colocation-hosting facilities around the country. As a way to better utilize the IT budget for this year and next, his firm wants to unload technical support and divert those monies toward implementing new technologies.

"We are getting out of the technical support business and moving more toward creating products that can give us a competitive advantage," he said.

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Which is more important to you: Appropriate compensation for hard work, or an environment that fosters expertise and innovation?
Can't it be both? I think the word "appropriate" is key here - while it's generally a bad idea to make a choice solely based on money, you do want to feel valued for the work that you're doing and compensation that's in line with the market is an important indicator of that. But no matter how much you're being paid, if the environment is not conducive to doing good work, then you're not going to be happy.  
That is a false dilemma: modern job performance and satisfaction is not defined by this false money/advancement dichotomy. The depth and breadth of skills required to create, grow, or pivot a company requires a broad spectrum of personalities and capabilities. People themselves go through fundamental changes in their needs and capability as well throughout their career. IMHO, what sets good environments/employees apart from the not so good environments/employees is opportunity/capability to adapt and learn and to be (@Ben) 'appropriately' compensated. This is a dynamic problem and posing the false dilemma does not help the discussion.
Where is a link to the actual survey?
You can find the full report on the survey here:
Here's a link to the main survey results: You can get in touch with Christina Torode with questions on the survey details.