Average networking salary below rest of IT, but few look for new gigs

Jessica Scarpati

Despite their below-average salaries and ample career opportunities, few networking professionals are eager to leave their current jobs, according to a TechTarget survey.

Of the 197 North American IT professionals who identified networking as one of their top three job responsibilities in TechTarget's 2013 IT Salary Survey, only 17% said they were actively looking for a new job. But it's unlikely that the average networking salary is what's keeping most people at their current desks.

What we have around most of IT -- but especially in networking -- is more work than people. There's a shortage [of candidates].

Devon Zopfi, Vaco Los Angeles

Networking professionals surveyed reported an average base salary of $85,300 (USD) in 2013, with bonuses bumping up the average total compensation package to $90,800, according to the TechTarget survey. That's sharply below the average salary and total compensation -- $105,000 and $116,800 respectively -- that IT professionals overall earned, according to the survey. But networking pros are staying put, says one industry recruiter.

"What we have around most of IT -- but especially in networking -- is more work than people. There's a shortage [of candidates]," said Devon Zopfi, a partner at Vaco LLC Los Angeles, a recruiting agency that specializes in technology and finance staffing in Southern California. "People aren't sitting around waiting for the phone to ring."

This imbalance between supply of and demand for networking jobs is partly borne out of the ever-multiplying number of career paths in IT as a whole, splintering the candidate pool as recent grads gravitate more toward the "hot" developer jobs hyped up in the news, Zopfi said.

"Also, I haven't seen many instances of someone working their way into a networking department and then deciding to change directions and go into something else IT-related," he added. "This means they stay in networking as a career and not as a stepping stone to something else."

Ron Calliou, a network administrator at Viceroy Homes Ltd., a Port Hope, Ontario-based manufacturing company that designs and builds custom homes, earns $72,600 CAD (approx. $68,500 USD) and hasn't received a raise in 10 years. He's been with the same company for 16 years -- barring a brief stint when he left Viceroy to work for an IT service provider only to quit after three months when it didn't prove challenging enough. And yet, he has no immediate plans to look elsewhere.

"This company has always been innovative and allowed the IT department to be innovative, so if we can come up with an idea that uses a new technology that could be beneficial to our corporation, they're willing to invest in us," Calliou said. "They know who the IT team is, recognize the team is important to production and realize we don't just watch YouTube or play video games."

That level of trust enabled Calliou to get Viceroy to become early adopters of MPLS and 802.11n long before becoming the mainstay networking technologies they are today. Meanwhile, being the company's only IT presence for its three West Coast offices provided Calliou with the opportunity to grow professionally and expand his skill set.

"In my job, I perform many roles. I handle all communications, all of the proper backups and all of the IT infrastructure here in [Vancouver], in Washington [state] and in Calgary," he said. "The CEO has described me as a true 'blue collar IT person.' I'm not afraid to run up a ladder or roof to run a cord … or go on the manufacturing floor and crawl through sawdust to troubleshoot stuff, so I'm not afraid to get dirty."

And while he wouldn't mind earning more, Calliou said there are many other aspects of his job that, in the long run, are more important and satisfying than money.

"The company has always treated me fairly through the good times and the bad," he said. "The core people I work with have been here for at least a decade, so there's this family-type relationship."

Networking jobs aplenty, but highest demand for top level

Although job prospects look good for all networking jobs, the biggest area of demand is for high-level networking professionals, said Vaco's Zopfi.

"When our clients are coming to us, they're not asking for a junior networking person. They're looking for a senior [candidate] that really is a subject-matter expert," he said. "They don't have time to bring in someone [entry-level or midlevel] and train them up."

About 70% of networking jobs being offered are full-time positions, with only 30% of employers looking to hire consultants, Zopfi said. In addition to basic routing and switching skills, employers are looking for networking pros who have experience with VoIP and unified communications, he added. Many are actively seeking candidates who have experience with specific Cisco Systems products and certifications, particularly CCIEs.

"It's a very hot skill set to have. The certifications are key within [this field], as companies gain a lot of respect for someone who's gone through the Cisco certification process," Zopfi said. "It's not easy and not cheap [to attain them], but if you have the intellect and experience to get through [the exam], it automatically garners you a level of respect with your skill set as they review your resume."

Networking salary below average in IT

Networking professionals earn less than some of their peers in IT -- with the average data center manager earning a base salary of $110,300 while security managers netted $118,200 -- according to the survey. However, more than half of networking pros reported getting a raise this year, whereas only 44% of data center managers and 42% of security managers reported the same.

Of those networking pros who received a raise in 2013, the average enjoyed a 4% salary bump. Half of the networking professionals surveyed expect to receive a raise next year as well, with the average respondent expecting another 4% increase. One in four also got a bonus this year, with the average taking home another $8,500.

Networking pros said ensuring reliability of IT services, completing projects on time and meeting productivity goals were their three most important measures of job success -- a not entirely surprising ranking for a group whose professional lives revolve around network uptime, capacity planning and performance.

Meanwhile, 32% of networking professionals surveyed described the mood in their IT departments as optimistic, 25% found it pessimistic and 43% said neither mood dominated. Poor management made a bigger impression than positive leadership, with pessimistic individuals ranking ineffective management as their second-biggest concern, whereas strong management was the third-largest cause for optimism. Limited opportunities for career advancement was the top reason contributing to pessimism among networking pros, while having an environment where innovation is encouraged was the biggest buoy for optimistic individuals.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Jessica Scarpati, features writer, and follow @jscarpati on Twitter.

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