The majority of IT workers earned more in 2023 than in 2022. Indeed, average annual salaries increased in 2023 by nearly $20,000. This is according to Skillsoft’s IT Skills and Salary report. As most may have guessed, cloud skills are particularly lucrative, with IT professionals in the United States commanding approximately $168,000 annually.
I keep tabs on the job market for a few reasons. First, my clients need to hire cloud skills, and I need to advise them about the going rate. Often, they don’t budget enough and either don’t find the expertise they need or hire lower-skilled talent and then suffer from the mistakes these less-skilled employees make. This is truly one of those areas where you get what you pay for.
Architecture is a white-hot skill
The trend driving this rise in salaries is the increased premium placed on IT architecture or on those who not only know how to configure a cloud solution but most of what IT is responsible for. Architecture needs to span all systems, and those who are knowledgeable only about cloud systems, sometimes just a single brand, provide a diminished benefit.
So, when I’m talking “cloud architect,” it’s implied that a cloud architect also understands legacy systems, service-oriented architecture, transaction processing, enterprise security, and enterprise governance, just to name a few. The idea is to find architects with a holistic array of skills and those who never draw a responsibility line between patterns of technology. You want people who can have a conversation about serverless technology in the morning and Cobol/DB2 in the afternoon, understanding how it all is supposed to work together to return the most value possible to the business.
Demand exceeds supply
But Dave, didn’t we lay off a bunch of people recently? Surely, they will normalize demand and salaries a bit. Nope. And don’t call me Shirley.
In many off-record conversations with reporters during that time I pointed out that the unemployment rate for IT talent, all IT talent, is less than 2%. The survey showed that in November, the rate fell to 1.7%, its lowest level since January 2023. This is according to a CompTIA review of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Those who understand more about the labor market than me know that this is lower than natural unemployment. Those who were laid off were absorbed quickly back into the workforce. The rate of unemployment fell after most of the layoffs occurred.
In the current landscape, demand exceeds supply. This has led to scarce skilled tech talent and historically low IT unemployment rates. Cloud architects are the hardest to find, considering that those with the most value have a great deal of knowledge, which usually comes from years of experience in IT.
The good and the bad
Full disclosure: I’m a CS adjunct at a university teaching architecture courses, and I have several architecture courses available online. Also, I’m an architect by trade. Thus, I have a dog in this hunt.
The good news is that if you’re a solid cloud architect, a generalist IT architect, an architect focusing on a single public cloud brand, or even an application architect, you’ll “make bank” for the next few years. Moreover, the push toward generative AI will further increase the demand for good cloud architects, especially ones who understand the unique requirements for building and operating a generative AI system. The most likely scenario is that demand (and architects’ salaries) will increase.
However, I’m also a leader who has to hire in the current market, and I see a few troubling things (the bad news). First, in many cases, the ongoing digital transformation occurring within many enterprises will be halted or slowed for the single reason that they can’t secure the talent they need. I’ve already seen this many times in the past few years.
Second, and most scary, is that enterprises are hiring second-tier talent who can talk their way into an architecture role but don’t bring the right skills. They are given the power to make decisions that are often incorrect, leading the business to a wholly underoptimized system that ends up eating cash and business value. They are usually not found until vast amounts of damage have occurred.
I’ve spent a good part of my career fixing their mistakes. I suspect the mad dash to generative AI systems will spawn more mistaken hiring decisions from panic that the AI world is leaving them behind. More mistakes will need to be fixed, and I suspect that these mistakes could kill the business. There is a lot at stake.
What does this mean to the business?
I’ve talked about how to hire creatively and focus on developing the supply chain of talent rather than waiting for the market to fix itself. However, the stakes are higher in 2024 because technology and associated intellectual property are becoming what defines businesses now. Enterprises will be thinking more about survival than just optimization when considering the bigger picture.
The businesses that do the planning needed to get the IT talent to build and fix these core business systems will have a massive advantage over competitors that may take a more passive approach to all this.
Again, the post-mortem for many failed businesses in 2027 may not reveal that demand shrunk or other market excuses you hear during quarterly calls to investors. It will be that the talent could not be found in time to adapt to technology, mostly cloud technology. Thus, the business exists no longer, due to this one thing that many businesses take for granted now. Which side of history do you want to be on?
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