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Boston IT salaries fall behind major cities

Recent graduates of Boston-area universities and colleges may find many good arguments for staying here long-term. But those embarking on information technology (IT) careers will have to ask themselves whether Boston’s charms are worth $17,000.

That’s the pay gap between a first-year tech industry worker employed in Boston and one working in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to Glassdoor Inc. of Sausalito, Calif., which collects and publishes crowdsourced salary data.

In fact, during their first year in the work force, Boston techies lag peers in Seattle, New York, Washington, D.C., and the national average, the Glassdoor survey of 1,600 workers shows.

Other data sources confirm the gap. Tech job board operator Dice Holdings Inc. annually surveys high-tech workers nationwide. Since 2005, Boston slipped from second in the nation to fifth, with an average tech-industry salary of $85,121. Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York all pushed in ahead of the Hub, as top-ranked Silicon Valley has widened its lead over Boston over the past five years, with average annual pay of $96,299.

D.C., the second-highest-paying tech market in the nation, has given its techies raises in excess of 4 percent in each of the past two years, putting the average 2010 IT salary at $89,014.

“Specifically what we’re seeing in Baltimore/Washington is the impact of government conditions,” said Tom Silver, senior vice president North America at New York-based Dice. “The IT workers that do work for the government — particularly those that may have some security clearance — the demand for those positions has just not stopped.”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows IT industry wages in Silicon Valley are pulling away from the rest of the country, said Rebecca Loveland, research manager at the UMass Donahue Institute. Loveland reports Silicon Valley companies say the region has reached its limit in local talent to hire and actual physical space for companies to grow.

“They’re looking to other regions of the country to expand,” she said.

Recruiter David Barbato is betting Boston tech salaries are about to spike, as firms begin headhunting the best engineers and technicians. Some who kept their jobs through the recession by sheer talent or indispensability are now overworked and malcontent, under the recent regime of pay and hiring freezes.

Virtualization and mobile expertises are especially sought-after, said Barbato, CEO of Woburn’s Talent Retriever LLC. “These tech jobs have been held so tightly. They’ve been insulated inside of their environments,” he said. “The next phase of this is how do you lure them from the companies they’ve been staying with.”

Graduates lured away from the Bay State by higher wages may not be able to live high on the hog — unless they opt for a longer commute. Sperling’s BestPlaces, a division of Fast Forward Inc. of Portland, Ore., finds Boston one of the cheapest places to live among the top towns for tech pay.

MIT graduates tend to stick around. For the university’s 2009 graduating class, local companies hired more than competitors elsewhere, a survey by the university’s Career Development Center shows.

Graduates preferred Massachusetts companies in spite of the fact that San Francisco Bay Area firms made the institute’s 2009 computer science grads a median offer of $88,500 in 2009 — $13,500 higher than the median offer from Boston companies.

MIT graduates responding to the annual survey last year ranked salary low on the list of factors determining their first employment destination. A job’s subject matter, creativity and challenge ranked much higher.

That may not be the norm among college-student populations, said Career Development Center Executive Director Melanie Parker.

“Creative and challenging work are among the top reasons for graduates at other schools, but often the top factor was stability or work-life balance,” she said. “Our students tended to value the challenge more than those things.”

Read article: Boston IT salaries fall behind major cities

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