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Can you afford to take a pay cut to get into IT?

Can you afford to take a pay cut to get into IT? This tip examines the issue.

Can you afford to take a pay cut to get into IT?

I just received the latest edition of PhillyTech, a monthly magazine devoted to IT professionals in the Philadelphia area. Its cover story, "Shortage doesn't equal jobs", is at first glance a somewhat depressing look at the up-hill battle to find entry-level positions facing graduates of Computer Tech schools. The article examined the success, and sometimes lack of success, of several recent graduates.

I must say that I wasn't surprised to see the results detailed in the article. You can view it online at The schools mentioned in the article are all fine schools, and for the most part, make their money by training students with little experience for entry-level positions. The graduates mentioned in the article were disappointed in their potential starting salaries.

I guess it's a matter of whether the glass is half-filled, or half- empty. Graduates of these programs need to be realistic. Getting a promising job with a good company should be their primary goal. The high salaries that they see in IT salary surveys are for workers with several years of experience. When you graduate from one of these programs you need to have one goal in mind -- getting your foot in the door.

One of the graduates mentioned in the article indicated that, upon graduation, he was offered an entry-level position in IT for $22,000. He was currently making about $44,000 in his job at an incinerator and he was unwilling to take a pay cut. He decided to stay with his current job. Needless to say, he was pretty disappointed.

I wish I could have counseled him before he began the training program. I would have told him that most likely he would need to take an initial pay cut to begin his IT career. (Finding an entry level position paying $44,000 isn't very realistic -- unless you happen to be a graduate of a 4 year Computer Science program from a prestigious school or university.) I also would have told him that I've seen people who have doubled their salary in two or three years after the initial sacrifice. Unfortunately, taking a pay cut is something that "goes with the territory" of a career change.

By the way, this kind of sacrifice isn't limited to IT. Any time you make a career change this can happen. I remember some years ago a friend of mine working in IT decided to attend Law School at night. Her first job out of law school paid half of what she was making in IT, but it was a sacrifice she knew she would have to make, and she's very happy she did. Over the years, she's more than made up for the initial pay cut.

The bottom line is that you need to be realistic when making a career change. Be aware that you may need to take a pay cut to get your foot in the door. But once you're in -- you may be on your way to a rewarding, well paying career.

Written by John Smiley, MCP, MCSD and MCT, author, and adjunct professor of Computer Science at Penn State University in Abington, Philadelphia University, and Holy Family College. John has been teaching computer programming for nearly 20 years.

John Smiley is president of Smiley and Associates, a computer consulting firm located in New Jersey.

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