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Salary Survey Report 2014Salary Survey Report 2014

Light Reading's fourth annual salary survey of telecom professionals reveals that good times are here again, as salaries are high and optimism is even higher.

Sarah Thomas

July 23, 2014

20 Min Read
Salary Survey Report 2014

Things are finally looking up in the telecom market, with employees upbeat about their jobs, salaries and prospects.

In fact, 72% of those in the industry are satisfied with their current employer, and nearly 70% expect to make more money next year, according to Light Reading's latest global salary survey.

This is the fourth year we've conducted the survey and, this year, nearly 1,200 of you, including representatives from 326 telecom service providers, chimed in on what you're making, how the headcount has changed at your company, and how you feel about the future (your own and that of your company). (See Salary Survey: What's It Worth to You?)

Here are some key findings:

  • NFV/SDN is not yet having an effect on most companies' recruitment policies, but many are still hiring 4G/LTE skills, albeit it at a slower rate than last year. The good news is that the shift to next-gen mobile broadband and the introduction of telco network virtualization isn't leading to any significant layoffs (yet).

  • Our respondents are fairly satisfied with their current company and pay, but they're more optimistic for raises and advancement next year.

  • A much higher percentage of people indicated this time round that they would be prepared to leave their current employer for reasons such as more money, or greater stability.

It's refreshing to see a return to positivity. We began conducting the salary survey in 2010 when the telecom industry was still clawing its way out of the recession. At that time, it was no longer in a trough, but the labor market was in a bad state, as was employee moral.

Dr. Peter Mueser, professor of labor economics at the University of Missouri-Columbia, told us at the time that most weren't thinking beyond the fact that they have a job. Since then, he says, it's been a slow climb out of the recession. Unemployment rates are still around 6% to 7%, but the economy, in general, is much healthier.

"We're not where we'd like the economy to be, by any means," Mueser says. "It's a very slow recovery. Looking back in history, you do find recessions with very slow recoveries, but in the last 30 years, the recoveries have been much faster than this."

Other dynamics are at play, too. Many big operators are investing significantly in their networks through programs such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s Project VIP, Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s Network Vision, and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD)'s Project Spring. (See AT&T Puts Up $14B to Boost Broadband, Sprint Hunkers Down for Network Vision, and Vodafone Ups 'Project Spring' Capex to $11B+.)

At the same time, the move towards virtualization and automation is making a few positions redundant. And, as always, consolidation typically leads to more layoffs -- and more money for upper management -- something Sprint employees have realized recently. It makes for interesting dynamics in terms of hiring, firing, and money matters. (See Sprint Lays Off 800 Customer Service Reps and Sprint Axes More Clearwire Employees.)

Against this backdrop, we've broken down the salary survey into demographics, numbers, changes, and expectations. To find out and learn more, click on the table of contents below.

  • Service Providers in Our Survey

  • What Do You Do?

  • Are You Experienced?

  • How Much Do You Make?

  • Is Your Pay OK?

  • Compensation Comparison

  • Next Year's Checks

  • Headcount Roll Call

  • Job Satisfaction

  • Where the Grass Is Greener

  • Most Admired Companies

  • Impact of New Technologies

To revisit Salary Surveys from the past four years, click on the links below (and use "Next Page" at the bottom of each to navigate).

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

Service Providers in Our Survey

Our 1,200 survey respondents spanned all ages, regions of the globe, and all types of companies. The survey did skew heavily towards North America, with 61% hailing from the US and 7% from Canada, but the rest were spread across the world, with 5% from India, and 3% from the UK.

The majority have also been in the workforce for quite a while, with 41% falling between 40 and 50 years old and a further 30% older than 50.

Light Reading's target readership is the telco community, so it makes sense that nearly one-third of the respondents work at a service provider. Of those, 13% hail from Tier 1 operators. Here's a look at how just the service providers shake out:

Figure 1:

For the non-service provider respondents:

  • 27% come from hardware system vendors, and 13% work at software vendors, a surprising split since software has gotten much of the love in the past year.

  • 13% were from consultancy/integrator/VARs.

  • 19% selected one of the following: financial institutions, public sector, business users, utilities, component suppliers, education, web services, or "other."

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What Do You Do?

We didn't specifically ask if companies are hiring more engineers or IT folks this year, but it's interesting to see how our respondents' job functions have shifted over the years. This year, amongst Tier 1 service providers, 37% were engineers, compared to 48% last year and 43% the year prior.

For the group in total, the split this year was similar to what we observed in the 2012/2013 survey:

Figure 2:

The survey respondents are a highly mobile group, both in terms of their device usage and their trade show activity. Sixty-two percent of respondents attend one to five conferences and trade shows per year, with 8% attending more than six.

Android edges out the iPhone in terms of the most-used device, with 43% of respondents using an Android device and 39% using the iPhone. Apple does, however, dominate when it comes to tablets. Of the 78% of respondents that own one, 62% have an iPad.

Just for fun, we filtered out the C-level executives to see if any were still loyal to BlackBerry, the former device of choice for top-level management. We found that 11% are still hanging on to their BlackBerrys, but 43% are iPhone users and 38% are on Android. Just one C-level executive is holding strong and actually doesn't use a mobile phone at all. (See BlackBerry's Chen: We're Not Dumping Devices and BlackBerry Kills T-Mobile Licensing Deal.)

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Are You Experienced?

Like we said, it's a seasoned bunch of survey takers, so most have long histories in the telecom industry. Nearly half, 48%, have more than 15 years of experience related to their current role, while only 8% have less than five years of relevant experience.

Figure 3:

In addition, 36% have more than a decade of service with their current employer and only 23% have been with their current company for less than three years.

Figure 4:

Amongst Tier 1 service providers, 51% have been with their employer for more than 10 years, and 19% for less than three years.

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How Much Do You Make?

As you can imagine, our respondents came from a lot of big companies with significant revenues. Forty percent of them work for companies that generate more than $2 billion in annual revenues. Another 26% generate less than $100 million, and the rest fell somewhere in between.

Figure 5:

In terms of revenues at Tier 1 service providers only, just under 70% generate more than $2 billion in annual sales.

And our respondents are a well paid bunch, too. Fifty-five percent make more than $100,000 per year, as do 52% of Tier 1 service provider employees. Nearly 35% of Tier 1 service providers make between $90,000 to $120,000, down from the 41% who made as much last year, but in line with the 35% who fell in that range in 2011.

Looking at just our engineer respondents, 38% made between $90,000 and $120,000. According to job site Indeed, the average salary for a telecom engineer as of April was $101,000, so our respondents fell in line with the average.

Figure 6:

For the respondents as a whole, most were salaried workers, so only 13% were eligible for overtime pay. Of those, 63% expected to make $5,000 or less this year.

Figure 7: Note: These figures relate only to the 13% of respondents who qualified for overtime pay. Note: These figures relate only to the 13% of respondents who qualified for overtime pay.

More, 81%, were eligible for a bonus, and, of those, 24% thought it would fall between $5,000 and $10,000. Just under one-third said it would be less than $5,000.

Figure 8:

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Is Your Pay OK?

We asked our respondents how they would describe their current compensation package in relation to other people in their position and with their level of job experience. Thirty-six percent felt they were right on track. On the extremes, only 6% thought they were well above average, and 11% thought they were well below average.

Figure 9:

As for how they felt about their current situation, exactly half were somewhat satisfied. The other largest group, 26%, was somewhat dissatisfied with their current compensation package. Only 24% had extreme feelings on either end of the spectrum.

Figure 10:

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Compensation Comparison

The good news is that more survey takers than not were expecting a pay bump in 2014 compared to 2013. Only 13% thought their pay would slip, and 27% thought it would stay the same. This is a change from last year when a full 56% of survey respondents said they thought their pay would stay the same.

Figure 11:

The 31% that thought they would make at least 1% to 5% more this year could just be getting a cost of living adjustment, but that's still better than the pay freezes of years past. And, another 30% said they would make more than 5% more, suggesting substantial raises are on the table for many in the industry.

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Next Year's Checks

While satisfaction levels weren't off the charts this year, expectations for 2015 are largely optimistic. Only 6% thought they would make less money next year, but 69% thought they would make more next year than in 2014.

Figure 12:

The Tier 1 service provider employees were even more optimistic than the rest. Nearly three-quarters thought they would make more money next year, with 32% believing they will make more than 5% more next year.

The University of Missouri's Professor Mueller believes the optimism is justified, as the economy is continuing to improve, but he says there is no evidence the overall economy will grow at a very high rate in the next few years.

"The estimates are not for that kind of growth," Mueller says. "On the other hand, some growth is better than none. The people involved in emerging technologies are almost by definition optimists."

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Headcount Roll Call

For the 60% of companies who saw a change in their headcount in the past year, 28% added people, and 32% reduced headcount. Our previous survey was published in October of 2012, but, at that time, 29% predicted they would add employees in the coming year, and 24% thought they would reduce them, so there were slightly more reductions than anticipated.

Looking forward, a third expect to add people in the next months, and 20% expect to reduce their headcount. Mueller says that the typical mode of operation for businesses is to keep employees around when times are good, even as their jobs are being automated via technology: There is still work for them. However, when a recession hits and it's time to cut back, the technology can essentially replace those same employees.

"When things start to improve again, you don't go back and hire them again," he says. "That shift is a reflection of a fast, but in a sense, gradual, technological shift."

Figure 13:

Learning@Cisco is a division of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) that offers training and certification for those in the IT industry. Since companies aren't going back to rehire those employees, Tejas Vashi, the director of marketing and product management for the program, says they have to figure out how to streamline and get the same amount of people to do a lot more. Vashi believes there will be more hiring as well, but as Cisco's certification division, he's of course also suggesting existing employees will have to acquire new skills to keep up.

"We don't see major trends in hiring or letting people go," Vashi says. "We don't expect firms to let people go because of day-to-day tasks being automated; those same individuals will do more of the optimization and automation. They just have to be reskilled."

A contrarian view, however, is offered by Randy Chambers, a recruiter for The Telecom Search Group who works with US-based hardware vendors. He says the optimism is justified, and that hiring in the wireless market is booming right now in the areas of cellular upgrades, distributed antenna systems (DAS), and small cells. In fact, 2014 will be his best year yet, and he's had to bring in outside assistance to help meet the demand for jobs.

"It's just really good right now, as good as it was in mid-90s in wireless," Chambers says. "Hiring for business development is probably one-fourth of my requests and three-fourths is engineering, as far as demand."

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Job Satisfaction

Money and satisfaction aren't one and the same, but there's certainly a correlation between the two. This year, with salaries up across the board, satisfaction was up as well. Nearly three-quarters, 72%, were at least somewhat satisfied with their current employer. In the US alone, 74% were satisfied, up slightly from 71% last year.

Figure 14:

We also asked respondents point blank how they felt about their personal future and their current employer's future. Interestingly, respondents were a bit more enthusiastic about their current employer's future their than own. Almost half, 47%, said their company is well positioned to succeed in its market sector for the foreseeable future compared to the 34% who said they were personally positioned for success in the foreseeable future, down 1% from last year.

Figure 15:

As has been the case the past three times we conducted the survey, 1% said both they and their employers were doomed.

Figure 16:

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Where the Grass Is Greener

As always, a significant compensation increase of 10% or more is enough to get a lot of people -- 70% this year -- to leave their current employer for another opportunity. Interestingly, however, this year's numbers are up 43% over last year when only 27% said they would leave for a big pay bump. In fact, people this year were a lot more likely to leave for any reason at all compared to last year's numbers, which were low in comparison.

Figure 17:

Part of the reason could be that in a good economy, people are more likely to test the waters and see what else is out there. They also are likely to leave for more reasons than just money, because there is less of a focus on just keeping a steady paycheck.

Another theory is that they could just be all talk, as only 12% of people said they were actually very likely to leave in the next 12 months. Another 28% were somewhat likely, but the rest would need a lot of persuading.

Figure 18:

We also offered the chance to write in another reason why you might make the leap to a new employer. Here are some of the most notable responses:

  • Work/life balance: 6 votes

  • More challenging and/or interesting work: 12 votes

  • Better human relationships or better colleagues

  • Less travel

  • Being part of a company focused on NFV

  • Not in Telecom :)

  • Working for a startup

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Most Admired Companies

Like last year, we asked our respondents what companies they admire, in or outside of telecom. Under the veil of anonymity, they didn't have to pick their own employers. That said, a number of respondents do admire companies in the telecom industry. Apple and Google were frequent choices, much like in 2013, as were Cisco, Ericsson, and Verizon.

Here's a look at some of the names that made the list:

  • Google: 303 votes, plus 2 specifically for Google Fiber

  • Apple: 51 votes

  • Amazon: 11 votes

  • Qualcomm: 20 votes

  • Verizon: 32 votes

  • AT&T: 30 votes

  • Vodafone: 12 votes, but one that clarified, "not in India"

  • Cisco: 49 votes, plus one begrudging vote, "I hate to admit it, but as the events manager, I have worked closely with Cisco events and truly admire their first class marketing and events."

  • Ericsson

  • Intel

  • "Any American viable and vibrant telecoms company"

  • "European companies"

  • Alcatel-Lucent

  • Comcast

  • Microsoft

  • "One that is pre-IPO or best chances of being bought out at a good price"

  • Victoria's Secret [Ed. Note: Seriously?]

  • Playboy [Ed. Note: Again, really?]

  • Southwest

  • Ciena

  • Square

  • Splunk

  • NSA

  • Chipotle [Ed. Note: mmm]

  • Berkshire Hathaway

  • "Any company that provides a better position and salary."

  • CostCo

A recent survey conducted by global human resource company Randstad ranked Microsoft India as the most attractive employer in the country for the fourth year in a row. With that in mind, we filtered our results to just our 55 respondents from India, but didn't see any write-ins for Microsoft. Instead, Cisco was frequently listed, and then some of the usual suspects such as VMWare, Google, Arista, and Qualcomm also got votes.

Randstad said its survey also indicated that a competitive salary and related benefits were preferred over career progression, a trend it observed not only in India, but also much of the rest of the world.

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Impact of New Technologies

New technologies are often cited as an impetus for job creation, but in the case of SDN and NFV, that might not be the case. The network technologies are designed to automate network functions, virtualize processes, and lessen the dependence on hardware. It would follow that they have the opposite effect and enable operators to cut back on their personnel.

Our survey suggests that it's still too early for either technology to have an effect on most companies' recruitment policies. Over 60% said there's been no change so far. Of the companies whose recruitment policies had been affected by the advent of SDN/NFV, 56% said they've hired more engineers as a result; 12% hired more in the marketing department; and 14% have hired more support and customer service staff. Only 12% have let people go as the network deployments are completed, likely because most are not complete yet.

Figure 19:

We also let respondents weigh in with their own thoughts on how SDN and NFV are changing things at their company. Here's what they said:

  • More company focus on software skills development

  • We plan to refocus on this, but likely with no huge staff increases

  • Increased IT staffing

  • Hiring more contractors

  • Moved people from other groups to work on virtualization

  • Let people go to outsource the deployments

  • Merged teams for efficiency

Cisco's Vashi says that SDN and NFV are at the point in the hype cycle where reality is starting to set in and engineering departments are figuring out what it actually means for staffing. But they aren't just grappling with SDN, he says. It's also the move to the cloud, the Internet of Things, and the evolution from traditional marketing to real-time, social media driven engagement. Taken together, hiring practices have changed along with changes in technology.

"My argument would be it's more about the transition around cloud, and how businesses run today, as opposed to just SDN alone, but SDN does play a very critical role in this," he says.

LTE still driving new hires
LTE, on the other hand, is a more mature network technology and, as such, the hiring is starting to level off a bit, although deployments are not so far along that operators are letting people go. Of the companies whose recruitment policy had been affected by advances in LTE, half said that this year they have hired more engineers as a result of LTE advances; 10% have hired more marketers; and 18% have hired more support and customer service staff.

Figure 20:

Since LTE is a uniquely mobile technology, it's worth looking at just how the Tier 1 service providers responded. Amongst them, 29% have hired more engineers; 5% have hired more marketing folks; and 9% have hired more support staff. Another 7% have let people go as a result of completed deployments.

Some other thoughts our respondents shared on how LTE is altering the employment landscape include:

  • Overall decrease in headcount but we have added engineers as other groups have downsized

  • Consultants [hired]

  • Most engineering being off-shored to India and done remotely

  • We have moved current employees towards LTE

  • We hired more in-the-field employees

  • LTE deployments have saved jobs in other areas that would have been lost

  • Hired more unqualified people

More to come...
Mizzou's Mueller points out that another new technology is starting to drive job growth as well: big data. You'll already see evidence of this in graduate programs and job listings. Analytical skills are going to be continually important in economies of the future.

But that's something we'll have to delve into next year… Check back to Light Reading for more deep dives into this year's survey results and for future reports on the state of salaries and attitudes in the telecom industry.

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About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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