Payday For The People Who Make The IBM i Go
February 29, 2016 Timothy Prickett Morgan
In our ongoing series on the people who run and program the IBM i platform and the industries where they work, we are now going to finally get to the meat of the issue: Payday for programming. Moola for managing. Greenbacks for greenscreens and for converting greenscreens to modern web and mobile interfaces. The reason why you get out of bed in the morning and go to your respective and respected work.
The data is pretty thin about salaries out there in IBM Midrange Land, but luckily for us Bob Langieri, president of Excel Technical Services and a long-time recruiter who hails back from the System/3 days when I was a toe-headed, sunburnt boy running around in the woods of Appalachia. The data that Langieri has generously shared with us is based on his southern California stomping grounds, but you can adjust it a bit for other areas and get a sense of what it costs for IBM i talent all around the country.
Generally speaking, it may cost a little bit more to hire a system admin, programmer/analyst, or MIS manager in New York City or San Francisco than in Los Angeles or San Diego, but you are talking about a few points more. It may be a little less in other hot spots, like Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago, or Boston, and it can be even lower in smaller cities and remote areas where the people and the jobs are scarcer. But the general trends hold, says Langieri.
Every now and then, Langieri puts together a cheat sheet of the prevailing salary ranges for various job titles in the IBM i data center, with the highs and lows he sees as he does job searches with various online agencies or is recruited by employers to fill job openings. He gave us a dozen reports that cover he past two decades, and I filled in the gaps by averaging the data between the points to give us a quick and dirty set of lines plotting out the salaries of MIS managers for mid-sized shops, senior programmer/analysts, regular programmer/analysts, and system administrators. (Langieri tracks many more positions than this, and with salary ranges, so if you need more detail than this, with the high and low pay brackets, contact him.) One thing to note. In the early 1990s, the level of experience required for programmers went up faster than the salaries did, which happened as the Y2K and ERP bubbles of the late 1990s cooled off and, frankly, as the job pool aged and did not expand. Companies could afford to be a lot more picky about experience than employees could about positions, it looks like.
So, without further ado, here is what the salary trends look like:
That doesn’t look so bad, does it? The lines are trending up and to the right, like all good lines do, right? Well, maybe so, and maybe not. “For programmers, seeing a $20,000 pay bump over 15 years is not a very big increase,” says Langieri. And it is hard to argue with him, particularly if you live near a big city where a company where an AS/400’s progeny is likely to be located.
To see how well or poorly my IBM i people are doing relative to the cost of living, I took the raw data and the model I had built from it and adjusted it for inflation using the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index, converting the old data into 2016 dollars. If you do that, you get this set of curves for the main job titles I culled from the data provided by Langieri:
The good news, if you don’t like the boss and you are a programmer or administrator in that your pay was rising, on average, from 1995 through 2005 as MIS managers saw their pay slide when adjusted for inflation. There was a bubble in the data in 2013 and 2014, but that seems to have deflated. (I have no idea why, and had not seen the data before I talked to Langieri.) The interesting bits for me are that an MIS manager gets almost twice as much salary as a programmer with four to seven years of experience, and that an administrator can do almost as well, again on average. Senior programmer analysts with eight or more years of experience can command a premium of between $20,000 and $50,000, depending on the geographical region and level of experience.
So measured against time and inflation, it is safe to say that programmers, admins, and managers are not gaining on the economy but are rather losing some ground. This is to be expected in a mature economy like we have here in the United States and on a legacy platform like the IBM i, no matter how much it has been modernized. (Spare me the lecture. I have fought for this platform to be modernized and leveraged as much as anyone else on earth. But despite all of that, those outside of the IBM i community, as is the case with System z mainframes, perceive it as legacy, as if that was a bad thing. They just don’t understand.)
The comparisons get worse, so hang on. Because Langieri needs to know how the IBM i talent stacks up against that of other platforms, he compared and contrasted his own data with more generic job titles from the recruiters at Robert Half International. You won’t be happy about this, and neither is Langieri. “People with less experience in Java programming are being paid more than RPG programmers with lots and lots of experience,” he says.
Take a look at his job title comparison table, which compares his own data from June 2015 with RHT’s from late last year:
As you can see, the gap is pretty wide for programmers and MIS directors; it is not so bad for admins. The job ranges are a lot tighter in the IBM i market than in the broader market, which might make sense because there is a larger pool of workers and jobs and things are a bit more fluid. I suspect that there is not a lot of job activity, comparatively speaking, in the IBM i market compared to Linux or Windows platforms.
If you really want to make a point, you could add another column to this chart, finding roughly equivalent jobs at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and other hyperscalers. First, many of these jobs simply do not exist because they use a different DevOps model that is more akin to the early days of the System/3X market where the programmer was the admin and the architect, and the machine was so automated and easy to program that a single person could create an MRP system. I knew people who did that. And the automated and orchestrated systems at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon, I can assure you, are more like an AS/400 than they are like a bare naked Linux cluster that needs to be fussed with.
What is old is new again, but the people that create and maintain those hyperscale systems are the ones creating the future of IT. But the goals they have are decades old, just reborn.
None of that tells us what is to become of the 400,000 or so admins and programmers I think might be out there working the IBM i field. If it is any consolation, journalism and publishing is not great or easy business, either. In fact, I don’t know any career that is. It helps to start out rich, I suspect.