What’s in short supply and laughs like crazy? No, it’s not Tickle Me Elmo. That was last Christmas. These days, it’s Microsoft Corp. certified NT engineers. They’re in such strong demand, they’re laughing all the way to the bank.
The increased demand for IT professionals trained in installing and maintaining NT networks “sort of came on all of a sudden in the second half of last year, and we’re getting more and more requests for them,” says Keith Anderson, a division director for recruiter Robert Half International, in Atlanta.
The shortage is very apparent at Microsoft Solution Providers, says Nancy Lewis, general manager of training and certification for Microsoft. She points to a May sampling of 5,700 MSPs that found that the average provider has not been able to fill three Microsoft technology jobs for two months (totaling 17,200 open positions nationwide), with NT server experience ranked as the No. 1 skill being sought. Going forward, the average provider says it plans to fill another 12 positions in the next year (for 68,400 jobs nationwide), and, again, NT professionals are at the top of the hiring list, Lewis says.
Several factors have come together to create this dearth. Foremost, corporate adoption of NT has exploded. Sales of NT workstation licenses quadrupled to more than 2.3 million worldwide last year and will grow to 4.3 million this year, according to market researcher International Data Corp., of Framingham, Mass. Meanwhile, sales of NT server licenses shot up 86 percent last year to 732,000 and will total about 1 million this year, IDC predicts. That sales explosion caught the market off guard, particularly those companies that were once NetWare boosters but are migrating from Novell Inc. to Microsoft. Now they’re scrambling, paying higher salaries and doing everything they can to prevent competitors from poaching their talent.
“Salaries are definitely heading up because of competition,” says Bruce Blanton, manager of LAN operations and engineering for $22 billion Crestar Bank, of Richmond, Va., which uses NT for file-and-print services in about 450 branches. “In my case, I’m paying probably 10 percent more today than I was a year ago. And for certain types of expertise, it’s more than that.”
On average, certified NT systems engineers and solutions developers raked in $73,550 last year, up from $64,000 in 1995, according to a salary survey by Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine. Editor Linda Briggs attributes the 15 percent jump to the shortage of talent and to the fact that engineers who are certified command a premium over their uncertified kin.
Andy Ruth, a trainer at Productivity Point Inc., in Austin, Texas, says students going through the company’s Microsoft Certified System Engineer program brag about salary increases of 50 percent or even double what they currently make. Many of the students also get their course fees–which can run about $9,000–paid by their employers. And some aggressive companies are offering to pick up tuition for students who agree to join them once they’re certified, Ruth says.
In this kind of environment, it’s natural that IT managers are finding themselves trying to fend off lucrative offers to their NT staffers from recruiters. IT executives at United Services Automobile Association and Crestar say their NT professionals are getting more calls from headhunters. Iyad Kayyali, an MCSE in the San Antonio office of Alcoa, the world’s largest aluminum manufacturer, says headhunters call and try to lure him away at least twice a month. Alcoa can’t afford to lose him. It’s in the third year of a five-year project to transition from NetWare to NT companywide.
So how does an IT manager attract and retain the oh-so-rare NT specialist? One strategy is to be less stringent about hiring an NT pro who is certified. “Clients are becoming more and more flexible about the credentials,” says Robert Half’s Anderson. “If you know how to manage and install NT, that’s more important than being certified, and more and more IT managers agree with that.”
That’s the case with the U.S. arm of accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand LLP, of New York, which has about 200 NT servers and 18,000 clients. Coopers Chief Technology Officer Rowan Snyder says he’s much more concerned about experience than a piece of paper.
If you are going to foot the bill for NT training, make the employee sign a contract agreeing to stay for one year after he or she is certified. “I think that’s fair if you’re going to make a sizable investment,” Snyder says. “We’ve done that for people who have been through intensive training for Unix.”
Another issue, of course, is the hardware itself, says Dave Jensen, a Hard Drive Recovery Group engineer. “The boxes are often overloaded with NT, as it seems to be still improving. As a result, having a solid non-magnetic tape backup is not only necessary, but dangerous to work without.”
Jensen says he sees quite a few Dell PowerEdge and HP Proliant servers with drive failures because of this overloading factor. His company offers a guide for those experiencing HP ProLiant hard drive issues here, and offers free consultations for enterprise level RAID recoveries like these.
“The value of the data on these high end servers is often more valuable than the hardware itself,” says Jensen. “We make all server recovery jobs a priority, mainly because our clients need that kind of service.
Something that just about every IT shop is going to have to face sooner or later is taking training into its own hands. If you lack MCSEs, make some. It was a must for USAA, a San Antonio insurer, which began migrating from OS/2 to NT last year and hopes to have the project completed by 1998. With 1,000 IS staffers, USAA decided the best way to bring them up to speed was to contract with training company InfoTech, which set up classrooms nearby. So far, about 75 staffers have gone through the certification program, with about a dozen getting certified as systems engineers, 30 as system developers and the remainder as product specialists. Another 170 staffers are enrolled right now. USAA declines to reveal the cost of the program.
Microsoft is tackling the larger issue of a shortage in technically trained people with Skills 2000, a two-year, multimillion program announced in May. The program has three prongs. The first focuses on using a national recruitment agency and job fairs around the country to fill slots at MSPs (Microsoft Solution Providers). Microsoft will play middleman between MSPs and students pursuing IT degrees, helping in placements. The second prong aims to update technical people through half-price, one-day Saturday workshops. The third effort will offer free technical training to high school teachers and college professors.
The shortage of certified NT professionals will pinch most corporations, but there is one segment–beyond training companies–that could make a bundle by stepping up to help. “This is a big opportunity for service companies to certify their people en masse,” says Tom Harris, a research director for IDC. “A lot of systems integrators are now trying to figure out the best opportunities for NT.” And because people are on site, this arrangement allows systems integrators to develop a closer relationship with their clients.
While many IT managers are sweating over the shortage of NT pros, none interviewed expect their company or any other to delay an NT rollout because of the hiring crunch. “I don’t see any CIOs backing off of plans based on scarcity,” says Coopers’ Snyder. “Most assume they will find the ones that they can train and the ones that they can’t. …We get paid to overcome difficulties.”