Coming back to work after a summer break can be tough. Your tan fades as fast as the memories of sand beneath your feet.

On the very short list of things that can make the hammock-to-swivel-chair transition enjoyable is finding out you have a big pay rise coming.

And a big pay bump could well be in the offing for some IT workers.

The average pay rise in Australia is barely over 2 per cent, the lowest it has been in decades.

But forget the national statistics – averages conceal as much as they reveal. There are hidden corners of the economy where the numbers are far healthier.

Foremost among them is information technology, and the prospects are especially good if you are located in Sydney.

Recruitment firm Robert Walters starts each year with a survey of hiring managers. Their 2017 salary of 950 professional hirers and 1800 professionals shows very healthy portents for IT workers.

NSW-based network/ system engineers are the brightest spot in the survey. They can expect to see their before-tax pay rise from $110,000 (max) to a massive $160,000 (max).

DevOps engineers are also looking at an enjoyable 2017, with minimum salaries in NSW expected to rise from $90,000 to $110,000.

NSW-based IT testers can expect a bump in minimum salaries, from $70,000 to $85,000.

Such largesse, according to Robert Walters managing director James Nicholson, is mostly because of extra demand.  Government spending is boosting the sector at the same time as financial firms need to meet new regulatory regimes.

Money: it all stacks up


What tomorrow may bring

Of course, while looking at these forecasts, it’s worth keeping in mind the aphorism attributed to US baseballer Yogi Berra: “Making predictions is hard … especially about the future.”

A dose of scepticism is always warranted, but Australian Bureau of Statistics data suggests IT pay truly is in a purple patch.

In the most recent 12 month period, fulltime workers in information, media and telecommunications reaped pay rises three times the national average (6 per cent vs 2 per cent) and pulled in outsized pay rises the year before that too.

A warning though – official data shows IT pay is more volatile than the national average.

While the last two years were strong, in 2014, salaries in the information, media and telecommunications sector actually went backwards (-1 per cent) while the average full-time worker made more (+2 per cent).  Riding the booms means also enduring the busts.

Rises in the east

The Robert Walters salary survey and the official data agree: to make more money, hug the east coast.

The Australian economy is in a peculiar state at the moment. Many national metrics are in the doldrums. Unemployment is stuck at 5.7 per cent and underemployment is high and rising.

However, Melbourne and especially Sydney are in rude health.  Their robustness would normally boost the national mood but it is obscured by the weakness in the west.

Essentially, the further your job is from the collapsing resources boom – both geographically and metaphorically – the better off you are.  Workers insulated from falling commodity sector investment are instead hooked into other global trends.

Global flows

The market for IT talent is strong globally, as vast amounts of capital circulate in the sector.

Record-breaking multi-billion dollar valuations of firms like Uber and Facebook have seen major publications like the Wall Street Journal use the b-word: ‘bubble’, to describe the sector.

Until such a time as the bubble bursts, money is there to be made. A share of the funding that flows from venture capitalists finds its way into the pockets of engineers, and that bids up salaries. Not only in Palo Alto and Mountain View, but worldwide.

In parallel with optimism, a pervasive global sense of fear is serving to boost the IT sector.

High profile hacking and security failures have redoubled demand for professionals with security skills.  

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts demand for IT Security analysts to grow “much faster than average” (18 per cent) over the period to 2014-2024.

What to do

2017 is shaping up to be a great year for some IT professionals. Anyone with skills in network engineering has bargaining power, and those with the combination of management and technical skills have the whole world at their feet.

You could end up taking your next Christmas holiday at a much higher pay rate. 

Jason Murphy was an economist at the Australian Treasury before becoming a journalist. His work has been published around the world, including the Australian Financial Review and The Guardian. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.