Reeling in a bigger salary

The results from the first official survey of storage jobs are out, and you'll want to check them before either your staff's or your own performance review.

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This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Storage magazine: Storage salary survey: Are you being paid enough?:

Are you earning enough? Are you paying your staff too much or too little?

How we gathered our data
The Storage salary survey was conducted in October 2003. Storage offered thousands of subscribers a confidential questionnaire and received 230 responses. In addition, Storage interviewed people who work in storage, as well as hiring managers and recruiters, to check that the statistical data from the survey reflected the real-world experience of storage professionals.

For storage professionals, answers to these questions have remained buried, lost among more general data about IT salaries. Now, with Storage's first storage salary survey, storage professionals can stop reading between the lines. (See "How we gathered our data".)

The survey reveals that in recent years storage salaries have experienced modest growth. And our survey respondents expect salaries to continue to increase in 2004.

Recruiters and hiring managers, in interviews conducted after the survey, echoed the optimism for increased salaries and increased hiring. The so-called jobless recovery may finally be delivering some jobs.

Still, some things may surprise you: Managing large amounts of storage doesn't always bring you the highest salary. Those who manage 100TB to 500TB earn an average of $94,461 annually--$5,000 more than those managing more than 500TB. (See Figure 2)

Similarly, working for a large company doesn't ensure you are the highest paid. According to our survey, in 2003, people working at companies with 101 to 250 employees pulled the highest salaries, averaging $86,200 annually. That's $5,000 more than those working at companies with greater than 10,000 employees and about $6,000 more than those working at companies with 1,000 to 10,000 employees. (See Figure 3)

But here's the most interesting finding: If you work in a dedicated storage group rather than as part of a systems, network or operations group, you likely will be paid, on average, more--close to $10,000 more. That average reflects the fact that dedicated storage groups, which tend to exist in financial services firms and large companies, have a somewhat elite status (See "Storage groups: the elite"). But storage pays in another way as well. Your salary is likely to increase in direct proportion to the length of your experience managing storage, even more so than it does in relation to your general IT experience.

Both points suggest that storage is, at long last, past Rodney Dangerfield territory and beginning to get some respect.

High-paid storage guy
Salary: $130-150K
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Industry: Financial services
Company size: 5,000-15,000 employees
IT experience: 20 years
Direct storage experience: 10 years
Manages: approximately 250TB
Manages: approximately 50 people

A bump in the numbers
Enough generalities. How much should you be making?

The average annual salary in 2003 was $77,554, which represented a modest gain over the 2002 average of $74,106 (See Figure 6). This increase is encouraging in light of the difficult economic environment that exists in IT, according to both storage professionals and recruiters. The gains, however, are not felt everywhere.

"Salaries have been frozen here for three years," reports Keith Leahy, manager of storage architecture for a large financial services firm in Florida. In addition, the firm has experienced staffing cutbacks during the same period. An improvement in the company's 2003 third-quarter earnings, however, is raising the hopes of the storage team. "Maybe we'll see a little bump in 2004," he adds.

NY-based IT recruiter Roy Lewis finds himself in a similar situation. "My first and second quarters were lousy this year," he says. None of his clients were hiring storage professionals or any IT professionals. However, "the third quarter picked up, and the fourth quarter is looking better, too," he adds. "People are starting to hire again." Overall, the survey responses reflected improved expectations.

The anticipated salary for 2004, on average, is $81,161, yet job security is still a concern. One storage professional confirmed that he would receive a 3% raise in 2004--the standard amount in his large company--but he noted that layoffs are likely, because of increased storage management automation.

To some extent, companies are augmenting salaries through bonuses and stock options. Respondents reported bonuses averaging $4,167 (5% of total salary) in 2003. That represents a slight increase over 2002, and respondents expect slightly larger bonuses in 2004--the average expected bonus is $4,549 (See Figure 4). However, almost half of the respondents (46%) received no bonus at all in 2003. Nor did most get stock options--80% report that they received no stock options as part of their compensation.

Recruiters aren't surprised by the lack of bonuses and stock options that are being paid to storage professionals. Those kinds of goodies "are tied to corporate objectives. Unless you are in a revenue-producing role, a bonus would be unusual," says Evan Scott, president of Evan Scott Group International, an executive search firm in Philadelphia.

With storage playing a behind-the-scenes infrastructure role, storage professionals will find it difficult to argue that their work directly affects revenue generation. The bonuses and stock options they receive are offered for other reasons, but with a slow economy and a buyer's job market, even those reasons may seem less compelling.

Low-paid storage guy
Salary: $40-55K
Region: Mountain
Industry: Education
Company size: 1-100 employees
IT experience: 1-5 years
Direct storage experience: 0-2 years
Manages: less than 1TB
Manages: 1-5 people

How salaries vary
Salaries, of course, are far from uniform. The survey identified significant differences in compensation by region, industry, company size and experience level.

The geographic region where you work--not surprisingly--also affects how much you will get paid. The Mid-Atlantic region (New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania) ranks first, with an average salary of $87,908 in 2003, followed by New England at $80,620 and the Pacific at $78,665. Looking ahead toward 2004, the Mid-Atlantic region is expected to top the list again at $91,583, but it's followed by the Pacific at $89,000 and New England at $84,189. In 2003, the lowest-paying regions are the Southeast, averaging $73,621 and the Mountain states at $65,181. (See Figure 5)

Of course, regional salary differences often reflect the differences in the cost of living and other quality-of-life issues. Housing is notoriously high in parts of the Mid-Atlantic region, New England and the Pacific.

One technology manager overseeing multiple terabytes of storage, as well as servers, networks and mainframes for a large state agency in South Carolina, is a former IBM manager who left the lucrative world of Big Blue for a state government job in the Southeast. "I live here in Columbia, and my compensation is less because of it, but I don't want to move," he says. Given his geographic preferences, he is satisfied with his salary, which he doesn't expect to increase next year, either. "We aren't increasing salaries, but we haven't laid off people," he adds.

The top-paying industries for storage professionals, as determined by Storage (after factoring for data anomalies due to small samples in some industries), should come as no surprise: financial services and IT, followed by manufacturing. In 2003, the financial services industry is paying, on average, $84,940 annually. IT services is paying an average of $80,216 and manufacturing is at $77,961. (The salary for the transportation industry was $83,714, but a low respondent rate of 3.4% should be factored into this high number.) The utilities industry is close behind at $77,181. At the low end sits the government/nonprofit sector at $71,028 and education at $67,654. (See Figure 7)

IT services has been one of the bright spots for storage professionals in the past few years. "We doubled our size in 2003 through an acquisition, and we continue to recruit," says Tesha Kaatz, corporate recruiting manager for CNT Corp., in Minneapolis. As for 2004, CNT is picking up indications that "companies that have held back on their [IT] budgets for the last two years will need to open up their budgets again," she says. For storage professionals, that will mean increased demand and more opportunities, particularly for those with storage area networking (SAN) skills, she adds. Years of experience translate into higher salaries, but it's storage experience that counts the most.

According to our survey, people with more IT experience earned more on average. In 2003, those with more than 20 years of experience averaged $83,079 annually--$6,000 more than those with 11 to 20 years of experience.

Still, storage is a relatively young discipline. Until the advent of networked storage a few years ago, storage was closely aligned with servers and the mainframe. Few people could claim dedicated storage experience, which may account for why most IT salary surveys fail to separate storage functions from systems, network and data center operations.

This survey, however, looked at dedicated storage experience. A little more than one quarter of respondents reported six or more years of dedicated storage experience, and their responses suggest that that experience pays off in terms of salary. In 2003, those with six to 10 years of dedicated storage experience averaged $85,892 annually, even edging out those with more than 20 years of overall IT experience. Better still, those with more than 10 years of dedicated storage experience averaged $87,073 annually, beating those with 11 to 15 years of overall IT experience by nearly $10,000.

Specialized training in storage and storage industry certifications, on the other hand, don't get you much in terms of a hiring advantage or increased salary, respondents report.

Walter Cisowski, a senior systems specialist for a Canadian transportation company, for instance, focuses only on storage. He handles capacity planning, forecasting, architecture and day-to-day supervision of both mainframe and distributed storage. Although he has an Information Technology Infrastructure Library certification, it didn't play a role in landing his job.

However, "I think the industry is getting to the point where it will be good to have storage vendor certifications," he says. "I don't have a vendor certification, but I do have 15 years of experience."

CNT's Kaatz adds: "Certifications have value if you are in an implementation role."

Storage architecture manager Leahy fell into storage from project management. "I was brought in to manage a SAN project when we migrated optical storage to magnetic disk. I knew operating systems, but I had no direct storage experience," he recalls. To get up to speed on storage, he plowed through available literature and pumped the support people at vendors such as EMC Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. He also took a three-day training course.

Ready to grow
With 73% of respondents reporting they have five or fewer years of storage experience, storage is just starting to develop a distinct career path of its own. It certainly doesn't promise a fast route to a CIO position; 34% of the respondents reported they manage no storage budget, and another 18% manage storage budgets of $500,000 or less. This may change, however, as enterprise storage grows in importance. "The data center is the lifeblood of many organizations, and storage reports to the CIO," says Scott, of Evan Scott Group International. Whether that translates into higher visibility or a better career path for storage professionals remains to be seen.

Overall, the message about storage careers that emerges from these results is fairly upbeat. During a tough economic period, storage professionals continued to see salaries increase. Sure, the increases weren't as big as during the boom years, but there were increases nevertheless. Experience is rewarded; dedicated storage experience and work in dedicated storage groups are rewarded even more. For those who want to focus on storage as a career, that should be encouraging.

Associate Editor Shane O'Neill also contributed to this article.

This was first published in December 2003

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