Despite ominous predictions about how cloud computing will eviscerate IT departments, 2012 is shaping up to be a great year for IT careers. Cloud computing is in fact creating new roles for IT professionals, while the proliferation of smartphones and tablets has ignited demand for software developers. The IT job market, which experienced a strong rebound in 2011 after the recession, is expected to burn even brighter in 2012, despite global economic challenges, according to IT staffing industry executives.
"I expect it to be better and not just a little bit better," says Tammy Browning, senior vice president of Yoh staffing's western region. "I would say it will be 10 to 15 percent better than 2011 in terms of hiring."
Indeed, Jerry Irvine, CIO of Chicago-based IT outsourcer Prescient Solutions, says he has hired 30 people so far in 2011 and plans to add another 30 to 40 next year. Currently, he has 13 open positions for senior project managers, SharePoint programmers, infrastructure engineers, systems engineers and ITIL helpdesk technicians.
Aggressive hiring is good news for the many IT professionals seeking new jobs. According to the latest IT Employee Confidence Index from staffing firm Technisource, 32 percent of 257 employed IT professionals plan to look for a new job.
IT staffing experts also anticipate that IT salaries will finally spike after years of stagnation, as employers realize they need to pay premiums for certain IT skills in a competitive job market.
"Tech salaries have been flat for a number of years," says Alice Hill, managing director of IT job site Dice.com. Hiring managers have tried their best to poach good people from competitors, she says, but now they're going to have to increase pay to compete on the staffing front.
Shane Bernstein, managing director of Los Angeles-based IT staffing firm Q, concurs: "Salaries and [contract] rates will be higher [in 2012] because the economy seems to be getting better in the tech sector. More companies are hiring. The supply of talent is extremely low and the demand for talent is extremely high."
Want more good news? The job opportunities and earning potential aren't centered solely in Silicon Valley. Across the country, from New Hope, Penn. to Scottsdale, Ariz., companies are vying for IT talent, adds Hill.
Here are the six IT jobs that staffing experts say will be in greatest demand and will command the highest salaries in 2012. The best part: Many of these jobs are also serious fun.
1. Mobile Application Developers
IT professionals who can develop applications for mobile devices are hands down the hottest commodity in IT these days. IT staffing experts agree that this group will remain in this enviable position through 2012, as companies race to adapt their Websites and apps for smartphones and tablets.
Demand for mobile application developers is obvious on Dice.com, where job postings for Android and iPhone developers are up 129 and 190 percent, respectively, over last year, according to Hill.
The technology division of staffing firm Robert Half International projects starting salaries for mobile application developers to increase 9.1 percent in 2012, to a range of $85,000 to $122,500 per year.
Yoh's Browning says salaries for mobile game developers range from $110,000 to $140,000 per year, but she notes, they tend to prefer to work as free agents. "On average, an Android developer can demand $70 per hour to $100 per hour on a contract," she says.
Adds Hill, "It's never a bad time to be a software developer, especially right now, and if you're a mobile software developer, it's your year."
2. Software Developers
Programmers writing PC-based applications should not feel slighted by their mobile counterparts. Companies need their share of Java, .NET, C#, SharePoint, and Web application developers. Yoh's Browning says Java is hot because it's an open platform that speaks to any back-end system, so large organizations use it to transfer data from legacy systems. Consequently, the salary range for Java developers runs from $60,000 to $150,000 per year, depending on experience. The average contract rate for Java developers is $90 per hour. Base salaries for Web developers range from $61,250 to $99,250 per year, according to Robert Half.
3. User Experience Designers
Because so many of the apps companies are developing—whether for PCs or mobile devices—are customer facing, they need user interface or user experience designers to ensure the apps are fun and intuitive to use. Robert Half anticipates starting salaries for user experience designers to rise 6.7 percent, to between $71,750 and $104,000 per year.
4. IT Security Professionals
As security threats from Duqu to data breaches mount, organizations need IT professionals who can fend off malware makers and cyber thieves. Hill says job ads on Dice.com for various "cyber security" professionals increased a whopping 141 percent in 2011 over the prior year.
Organizations' shift to cloud computing is also spurring the need for infrastructure security professionals, says Prescient Solutions' Irvine. "By putting applications in the cloud, companies have more Internet paths," he says. "They have to have a more secure environment to control entrances and exits to and from their environment."
Irvine also anticipates application security specialists—people who run application scanners through individual Web pages in search of vulnerabilities—will have a good year for finding jobs in 2012.
Robert Half expects base salaries for data security analysts to rise six percent, to a range of $89,000 to $121,500 per year.
5. Data Warehouse Architects, Analysts and Developers
Companies' desire to extract insights from the petabytes of data streaming into their back office systems is driving demand for data warehouse architects, analysts and developers. Q's Bernstein says companies will be making a big push in 2012 to clean and organize their data so that they can better mine it.
Robert Half expects base salaries for data warehouse analysts to climb 6.7 percent, to a range of $88,000 to $119,000 per year in 2012. According to Q, data warehouse developers command average salaries in the range of $120,000 to $135,000 per year or contract rates ranging from $65 to $85 per hour. Data warehouse architects can earn $130,000 to $160,000 per year or $80 (or more, depending on experience) per hour on contract, also according to Q.
6. Infrastructure Professionals
Cloud computing has yet to eliminate IT infrastructure jobs. Now and through 2012, cloud computing—and Windows 7 migrations—are creating demand for network engineers and systems administrators.
Dice.com's Hill says companies are seeking IT professionals who can set up and manage virtual server and virtual storage environments, who can identify which applications are used the most, and who know how to reallocate hard drive storage among those various applications.
The move to Windows 7 is necessitating infrastructure upgrades for some companies, while others eye opportunities to consolidate their data centers and move applications to the cloud, says Sean Ebner, vice president of strategic accounts for Technisource. In the short term, IT departments need infrastructure professionals who can help them plan and execute upgrades and consolidation initiatives, he says.
Network engineers should see their salaries rise 5.8 percent due to increased demand in 2012, to a range of $75,000 to $107,750 per year, according to Robert Half.
"The demand for this talent is so high right now," says Yoh's Browning of these hot IT jobs. "Hiring managers need to move quickly and waste no time putting offers out. There are bidding wars right now for this talent."
Meridith Levinson covers Careers, Project Management and Outsourcing for CIO.com. Follow Meridith on Twitter @meridith. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Meridith at email@example.com.