While the prospects of finding or switching jobs in this economy -- no less getting a raise -- may seem dismal, network operations professionals should have a glint of hope.
David Foote, president and chief research officer of Foote Partners, LLC, (www.footepartners.com) said that some industries are still hiring networking operations directors, and that compared with IT professionals as a whole, network operations professionals are still earning more than most.
Foote said that the top industries now seeking networking pros are banking and finance, health care and medical, insurance and software development.
Show me the money
For the first half of 2002, the base salaries for all IT professionals were down 5.5% compared with the same period in 2001; however, base salaries for network operations directors were up 2.1%, Foote said. Note, however, that total compensation for those directors was down 3.9%, because bonus premiums were down 37.5%.
Foote said that in the first quarter of 2001, network operations directors nationwide earned an average base salary of $101,167, plus about $21,751 in bonuses. That compares with a total compensation decline for the first quarter of this year to $103,282 average base salary, with only $11,361 in bonuses.
But Foote says take heart; preliminary research results for April through July of this year shows that annual base salaries appear to be approaching an average of about $111,000.
Dan Kusnetsky, vice president of system software at IDC, said his research firm's demand-side data shows that almost every industry uses networks for some portion of their work. He also echoed Foote's take on which businesses are now hiring.
While perhaps it's the more complex operations looking for networking IT folks, Kusnetsky added, "Networking touches on many other areas of IT, including things like operating environments, security systems, identity management software, application development and deployment tools, applications, etc. The broader an individual's knowledge is, the more valuable he/she can be to an organization."
Don't cause trouble, and do your homework
IDC's Kusnetsky also suggests that folks "consider how to present themselves as a solution, rather than another problem. Hiring managers are looking for someone to come and take problems on and solve them, not a person who's going to be another problem."
"The more research a candidate does on the company, its problems, its technology, what others in that company's community are doing, the more likely the candidate can sound well-rounded and knowledgeable and solve problems for the hiring manager," he said.
In the trenches
Veteran IT professional Chuck Yoke, who is a networking manager in the travel and hospitality industry, started in networking 18 years ago. He knows the ins and outs, what general training one needs and also some things to watch out for.
"At the time [I started my career] there was no formal training," he said. "It was more 'seat-of-the-pants' experience gained by reading manuals and then doing the work. At this point, if anyone wants to try to get into networking IT management, my advice is to first make sure this is something you want to do. With the recent market, competition is much tougher. Understand that a certification such as CCNA is only an entry-level certification, basically certifying that you have passed a test. This only verifies that you know the basics of IP networks and Cisco router configuration. To advance, you'll need to gain practical hands-on experience."
In the higher-education vertical market, Horace Greeley, network specialist at Stanford University, acknowledges that the rate of growth in opportunity and salary for network administrators and specialists is "growing."
"Slower, yes," he said, "but it?s definitely still alive."
At Stanford, Greeley manages everything from the local access point to the campus backbone. This includes the user's desktop as to NOS, switching, VPN, firewall, SQL DBA, some management-specific Web services and their associated hardware and software, local workstation OS configuration, and a small degree of end-user support.
Does his salary stack up versus commercial networking pros? "I am well paid by Stanford standards, but I would increase my salary by a factor of 1.5 to 2.5 times if I were to take the plunge into the locally-present maelstrom."
Michelle Graziose Webb (email@example.com) is an IT freelance writer based near Boulder, CO.
This was first published in August 2002