Top 10 Tech Skills in a Downturn

Amid the worst job market in 25 years, IT is holding steady. Most CIOs are maintaining their current staffing levels; while a few are hiring specialists who have in-demand IT skills.

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Overall, companies are so dependent on IT that they can't lay off the people who keep their data center operations humming, and they're loath to let go of the developers who are working on next-generation Internet applications.

"IT remains a real safe and interesting and high-paying place to be," says David Foote, CEO of Foote Partners, which conducts quarterly assessments of IT pay trends in the United States. "The world has embraced IT…because it enables companies to deliver cheaper and better products. I'm pretty bullish on IT."

Foote says what's unique about this downturn is that IT departments are hiring talent in certain areas – such as business process modeling and project management – while laying off in others connected to weak product lines.

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"IT is counter-trending a lot of what's happening in the general economy," Foote says.

Here's our list a list of 10 tech skills that are still in demand:

1. Business Process Modeling

Business process management, methodology and modeling is one of the few IT niches that saw pay gains in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the quarterly IT salary survey compiled by Foote Partners. In particular, companies were willing to pay for workers with ITIL IT best practices and CobiT IT governance experience. Pay for these skills was up 10.3% from a year ago and 5.6% from the previous quarter, the Foote report says.

Kevin Faughnan, director of IBM's Academic Initiative, says business process modeling is one of the key skills that business majors should be studying. "It's about how does our business work, what are the business processes and how do we analyze them," Faughnan says, adding that this is a key issue for companies to consider before applying IT to solve business problems

2. Database

Database expertise is another area where pay is on the rise, up 2.9% in the last quarter, the Foote report says. Companies are looking for IT workers with experience in Microsoft SQL Server and the Oracle Developer Suite. They're also willing to pay for workers with database certifications such as the Oracle DBA Administrator Certified Master and the Teradata Certified Master, Certified Application Developer and Certified Design Architect, the Foote report says.

Similarly, a 2008 CIO survey conducted by the Society for Information Management listed database skills as among the top skills for entry-level employees. Experience with databases was one of only four technical skills listed by CIOs, who favored soft skills such as collaboration, problem solving and communication in hiring recent college graduates.

3. Messaging/Communications

Messaging and communications is the only other skill set that experienced a pay raise in the fourth quarter of 2008. Pay rose 2.8%, the Foote report says. Companies are particularly interested in hiring employees with experience in unified communications and messaging systems, which was among the highest paying IT skills in the Foote report. A related skill that also ranked among the highest paying was VoIP and IP telephony.

4. IT architecture

CIOs are paying less for IT certifications than they did three years ago, but there are a few exceptions to this rule. One of them is IT architecture, which has seen a 10% rise in the value of certifications during the past year, the Foote report says.

Foote says companies are looking to hire enterprise architects as well as system, network, application, data, information and security architects. Among the certifications rising in value are EMC Proven Professional Technology Architect, Security Certified Network Architects, Microsoft Certified Architects, SNIA Certified Architects, and the Open Group's IT Certified Architect.

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