IBM i Salaries: Underpaid, Yet Highly Valued And Hard To Replace
March 7, 2022 Timothy Prickett Morgan
It is a funny old world. In many cases, the applications that are running on the IBM i platforms of the world are trapped in a kind of time warp and so are the people who created and who maintain them. This is the only plausible explanation for the fact that salaries in the IBM i real world also seem to be in a time warp. And here we are riding up a huge wave of inflation, in something of a war footing thanks to COVID and the war in Ukraine, and it is not yet clear to any of us how much financial pain this is going to cause. And we certainly do not know if the IBM i market can respond – or will even try to – with higher salaries or other kinds of compensation.
To get a sense of what is going with programmer, admin, and manager compensation on out there in IBM i Land, we recently talked to Bob Langieri, chief executive officer at Excel Technical Services, which is based outside of Los Angeles and provides IBM i staffing and contract programming placements, and Patrick Staudacher, an IT executive recruiter at Talsco in Muskego, Wisconsin.
“While salaries in the IBM i market are going up, they are not even close to the salaries in open technologies, such as Microsoft .NET and C# and so forth,” Langieri tells The Four Hundred. “While a senior RPG programmer/developer makes on average $115,000/year, a Microsoft .NET developer makes $150,000 or more. JDE developers also make $150,000 or more. IBM i system admins make from $90,000 to $120,000, but a senior Windows Server network admin can make from $125,000 to $165,000. This year. I worked on some CIO needs and found some IBM i CIOs doing surprisingly well with total compensation, including bonuses, reaching $300,000 to $350,000.”
Staudacher, who spends a lot of time recruiting people for positions where there is a custom MAPICS XA or JD Edwards ERP system where people are looking for the full stack RPG developer to manage these applications, which have been heavily customized, often over decades, not years.
“I always see things on a bell curve,” Staudacher says. “A lot of these people have not moved companies in 20 or 30 years, even if they are doing a lot of freeform RPG or SQL, or even some open source, they just have not moved. One person I just placed, well, it was shocking because his salary was only at $80,000 a year. He loved what he did, and it was a great work environment, and the bump for him was in the range of $105,000 when he looked around – and it should have always been in that range because of the modern RPG and SQL skills, or maybe they are starting to use APIs and Python and Java and PHP.”
The more you know, the more you do, the more you are worth, which is a concept that all of us in the workforce understand.
“The people that I would call IBM i architects – they know the hardware, they do the admin stuff like the hardware and operating system upgrades, they do application development – are worth more,” Staudacher continues. “The ones that know how to do everything, they are skating up to $120,000 a year. One person with this skill set, who was even looking at DataBricks for implementing a data warehouse, was able to get a position at $118,000.
Age is becoming an issue, although it is a touchy subject to broach with employees or prospects.
“I see lots of RPG talent that are in their 60s who want to work, but companies are reluctant to replace a retiring programmer with someone who will also retire in four to five years,” Langieri explains. “And there are not lots of openings in RPG thanks to COVID causing hiring delays, and the situation is more wide open because everyone wants to work remotely. Lack of young talent continues to hurt the future of the IBM i platform.”
Not everyone in the IBM i base is close to retiring, but they are certainly getting closer by our math, which was done using the raw data of the 2022 IBM i Marketplace Survey done by HelpSystems. By looking at the results of the snap poll done during the webinar going over the survey results, we were able to calculate that 48 percent of those polled were from 56 years to 66 years in age, and another 7 percent were 67 or older. If these numbers scale, then more than half of the IBM i personnel base, on the order of 384,000 we reckon are 56 or older. That’s 210,000 people or so, and within the next five to ten years, many of them will be looking to retire.
This pattern matches what Staudacher sees in the base, too.
“I do see people who are in their upper 50s, which you can infer because they have got kids graduating from high school or are early in college,” says Staudacher. “But a lot of the folks that I’m working with are trying to modernize and do new stuff. I definitely seek such candidates out. So it could be the case that the clients that I’m trying to attract are the same ones that are attracted to me and vice versa.”
There is always such biases in any interaction and particularly when it comes to surveys of the IBM i base. Those who keep their hardware and software reasonably current and also those who tend to read newsletters and also to take surveys. These are the active IBM i shops, as we call them, and we think it represents about a quarter of the 120,000 strong IBM i base. These rest are laggards, for various reasons, and we don’t make judgments. If what they are doing works for their companies and they make less money doing what they love and no more, I say more power to them. All I want is for IBM and business partners to make it easier for them to move ahead if they really want to do that but can’t for technical or economic reasons.