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IT career outlook bright for 1999

December 2, 1998
Web posted at: 3:00 PM EST

by Thomas York


(IDG) -- Economists and other professional crystal-ball gazers predict that the U.S. economy will slump slightly in premillennial 1999. How much is anybody's guess. But few expect the slowdown to have much impact on the healthy market for IT workers.

Overall demand is expected to be strong across all industries and all regions, despite the lingering effects of the Asian crisis and the near collapse of the Russian economy.

"IT staffing levels will remain high as business continues to aggressively pursue mission-critical projects, such as systems conversions and Internet enhancements," says Greg Scileppi, executive director of RHI Consulting, in Menlo Park, Calif. "The overall atmosphere is one of continued optimism."

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Indeed, Paul Vornbaum, president of Trattner Network, based in Los Altos, Calif., the IT executive recruiting and temporary placement unit of Atlanta-based Norrell, says it will be a good year for those toiling in IT.

"There is a shortage of people to do the work, and I see that shortage continuing next year," Vornbaum says.

To be sure, some industries will feel the effects of global economic turmoil. IT employment in the New York area, for example, is expected to ease slightly as financial services companies slow hiring in the wake of this summer's market volatility.

But the rising tide of Internet-related activity is expected to more than make up for this slackening of demand, says Stephen Markman, president of New York-based Pencom New Technologies, a unit of Pencom Systems.

Scileppi, Vornbaum, Markman, and others point to the following three major economic trends that will keep the IT employment outlook bright for 1999.

  • Internet commerce. Almost all observers agree that the Internet and I-commerce will barrel ahead in 1999.

Mike Wellman, executive director of the Northeast division of search company Korn/Ferry International, in New York, says opportunities are exploding as many companies move their business to the Internet.

"If you don't have a front door on the Internet then you're behind the eight ball," Wellman says.

The growth of I-commerce will increase the demand for workers with such skills as HTML, Java Script, Perl, and C++. Scileppi says he sees a strong market for networking professionals, database experts, and Web developers. Other experts say those with backgrounds in data warehousing, enterprise package implementation and integration, and middleware will be in high demand.

  • Telecommunications. The revolution in the telecommunications industry will continue to fuel demand for candidates in networking and telecommunications.

  • Year 2000. The job market will be especially strong for year-2000 programmers as small and midsize businesses rush to get their systems compliant.

Many Fortune 500 corporations and federal and state agencies have lots of work left to do as well. But midsize and small businesses have been especially slow to react to the crisis, says Bob Lee, president of the San Jose, Calif., offices of Manpower, a nationwide placement agency.

As a result, Lee says companies like his will be hard-pressed to fill the demand.

"The big question will be what happens to these workers once most of the work has been done," Lee says. "Nobody knows the answer."

Some recruiters and placement specialists see year-2000 work continuing well into the year 2000, given the scope of the challenge.

Meanwhile, the year-2000 crisis will continue to boost the employment prospects for everyone involved in updating legacy computer code for the 21st century.

Salaries on the rise

RHI Consulting predicts that most average starting salaries in 1999 will be between 2 percent and 6 percent higher than in 1998, with much higher increases in certain areas that are in high demand.

Job title



Average % change


$107,000 - $174,000

$113,000 - $180,000


Database manager

$67,000 - $84,000

$72,000 - $90,000


Software development manager

$66,000 - $97,000

$67,750 - $100,000


Systems architect

$70,000 - $92,750

$72,250 - $95,000



$43,500 - $65,000

$51,500 - $73,000


Thomas York is a free-lance writer in San Jose, Calif.

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