Pittsburgh tech pay rose fastest in 2012, but still lags nation

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Pittsburgh led the charge nationally last year to meet the ever-increasing demands for better pay from tech professionals, offering an 18 percent increase in average salaries, according to the 2012-13 Dice Salary Survey. That boosted average wages here from $62,490 in 2011 to $76,207.

But the hike still isn't enough to put the city on par with national averages.

On average, tech salaries across the nation rose 5 percent last year, from $81,327 in 2011 to $85,619.

Dice.com, a technology and engineering career site run by New York-based professional website company Dice Holdings Inc., conducted its online survey between Sept. 24 and Nov. 16 with 15,049 tech professionals across the nation.

A large part of the disparity in the percentage increases is coming from Pittsburgh companies "adjusting up" to fit the expectations of a high-demand field, said Scot Melland, president and CEO of Dice Holdings.

PG graphic: Tech salaries
(Click image for larger version)

Similar adjustments have come across the country in cities such as Cleveland and St. Louis, which lifted salaries to $75,773 and $81,245 respectively in order to earn a second glance from professionals eyeing six-figure Silicon Valley jobs.

On a percentage basis, San Diego and St. Louis followed Pittsburgh with 13 percent increases, followed by a 12 percent increase in Phoenix, an 11 percent jump in Cleveland and 10 percent increases in Orlando and Milwaukee.

"There is very little tech talent sitting on the sidelines and, if a company has a tech position open, it's difficult to fill that opening," said Mr. Melland.

According to the survey, most workers said the pay hikes came in the forms of merit bonuses, company-wide raises or internal promotions. However, at least 19 percent said their padded paychecks came from higher pay at a new company.

Considering the sector's low unemployment rate of 3.8 percent, compared with 7.9 percent overall unemployment, it's no surprise that companies are beginning to dig deep into their budgets to find employees. And not just by paying big bonuses.

"In the early stages of the recovery, companies were staying flexible by using performance pay to reward their top performers. Now, companies are writing the checks that will stick," Mr. Melland said. "With a 3.8 percent tech unemployment rate, no one wants to lose that talent."

Although salaries in the sector went up across the board, much of the hike could be attributed to filling positions such as mobile app development, cloud computing, network security and big data analysis.

The Robert Half Technology 2013 salary guide anticipates mobile app developers will see the biggest hike in the industry, with average national salary ranges jumping to between $92,750 and $133,500.

Those figures line up with what was found last year at Penn Hills-based staffing firm E-Staff Consulting, said principal owner Suzie Dietrich.

Ms. Dietrich said the company didn't see any raise in salaries for tech placements in general, but when accounting for only high-skilled jobs, there was a 7 percent increase. She said the company finds work for more than 1,000 tech workers in an average year.

John Poling, division director of Robert Half Technology in Pittsburgh, said in addition to high-skilled positions, there is an increasing need here for tech experts versed in education, health care and telecommunications.

He said the salary hikes have forced many of the companies that the firm serves to do an even better job of selling their companies and reaching out to potential hires before graduation.

"One of the great things about Pittsburgh is that, for such a small community, there's such a dynamic educational base with the great universities and technical schools. It gives local companies a chance to get ahead of the curve by going right to those organizations to start to recruit early and in person," he said.

But no matter how effectively one sells costs of living or work environment, Mr. Poling said it's good that companies are being forced to recognize not much can outsell cold, hard cash.

"Some of those organizations out there who would really like to attract top talent have to realize at the end of the day they may have to reach down into their pockets a little bit more," he said.

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Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652.


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