Skilled virtualization admins retain luster in tough IT climate

Virtualization skills-- and VMware expertise in particular -- can boost the chances of landing a high-paying IT job.

Even in a depressed job market, IT professionals with virtualization skills have it pretty good. Their skills are in high demand, and they can command high salaries relative to their peers.

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Over the past year, IT job postings on the online IT job board Dice.com are down a full 42%. But the number of postings requesting virtualization and VMware skills remained remarkably flat in the seven months since Dice began tracking them. In fact, virtualization skills are among the most sought-after technology skills on Dice.com, second only to security.

Virtualization smarts translate directly into higher salaries, said David Foote, the CEO and chief research officer at Foote Partners LLC, which tracks the IT job market. The average noncertified IT skill earns an extra 8.25% above base pay; virtualization skills command a premium of 15% to 19% over the base.

"That's astounding," Foote said. "Virtualization is by far one of the highest paying skills that we track." That number , however, will probably decline quickly as supply catches up to demand, he added.

Wanted: True virtualization expertise
In July 2009 IT Skills & Certifications Pay Index, Foote Partners listed virtualization as the third "hottest" non-certified IT skill, after Java and Linux. And Dice.com reported that employers request VMware skills over Xen and Microsoft Hyper-V skills at a rate of more than 10 to 1.

Organizations report that finding IT professionals with extensive VMware experience is difficult. Kent Altena, an infrastructure architect at FBL Financial Group in West Des Moines, Iowa, is hiring a new VMware administrator, but most candidates had experience managing VMware's free ESXi.

"We received a number of résumés that mentioned [VMware] ESX, but none of them had senior-level skills," Altena said. Many of the respondents' experience appeared to be limited to VMware's free ESXi download. "It's one thing to say, 'Yeah, I've touched ESX,' but have you run it against an EMC SAN, and not just OpenFiler [an open source NAS appliance]?"

Still a skill, not a profession
But virtualization has yet to emerge as a job category in and of its own right, Foote said. "It's still nascent. We'll eventually see jobs like 'virtualization architect' or 'virtualization engineer,' but that's still a couple of years out."

Foote likened the situation to security jobs during the 1990s. "Before, people didn't have security as their full-time job. It was only after the Internet and 9/11 that security became its own job domain."

Virtualization will evolve in to a full-fledged profession either through an external event (like the afore-mentioned effect of September 11 on the security profession) or -- a more likely scenario -- vendors such as VMware, Citrix Systems, Red Hat and Microsoft "will create the segment," he said.

"It's happened before with companies like Microsoft and Novell," Foote said. "Not everyone goes about career planning this way, but IT people have a habit of attaching themselves to a vendor and becoming specialists in it."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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