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Top 6 tech jobs to pay large in 2013

Shane Schick

Maybe it has something to do with the costumes we have on hand in the boys' room, but my four-year-old son always seems to make believe he's in the same roles: fireman, Spiderman, knight or pirate. I'm trying to figure out a gentle way to get him to pretend he's an SEO specialist instead.

Of course, he wouldn't be alone in not fully understanding what a search engine optimization specialist does. It's a job that didn't even exist 10 years ago, but it was among the six hottest careers mentioned in a research report from recruiting firm Robert Half Technology earlier this week. Those with three or more years' experience in SEO can expect starting salaries of between $75K to 95K, Robert Half Technology says. Most of the six hottest jobs fall somewhere in this range, with Web designers having the highest potential starting salaries at the top end, $120K.

What's important to note here is not necessarily the jobs — which also include business intelligence analysts, mobile app developers and user experience designers and network engineers — but how much of a track record you need in order to make the big bucks doing them.

"The talent level is there, but everyone is looking for the really good candidates," says John Lee, divisional director, permanent placement, at Robert Half Technology. "Traditionally, (things like SEO) is not something people go to school for. It's something they pick up in their careers. Now we're seeing a tipping point where people are actively looking for those skills."

I have helped lead research studies on IT salaries in Canada myself, and one of the most common pieces of feedback I always heard from IT professionals is that companies don't really know how to write a "help wanted" ad for many technology roles, or want more experience and knowledge of arcane software programs than anyone could ever have learned. Lee says that's changing.

"You're obviously going to have the odd job listing that's out of whack, but the employers are becoming just as savvy as the candidates. They understand the gaps," he says. "They're becoming more specific and realistic."

The research findings are also becoming more consistent from one firm to another. Another recruiter, Lannick Technology, released its own high-tech salary report on Thursday that predicted salary increases of 9 per cent for network administrators, and 6 per cent for a director of application development. In other words, if you get one of those hot jobs, your earning potential doesn't end with the starting salary. Lannick Technology's data is focused on those working the Greater Toronto Area, but its director, Igor Ambramovich, said there was some hope for IT work at good pay in other parts of Canada, too.

"The Toronto market continues to hold the top spot for compensation levels compared to other markets in Canada," he said. "Following closely behind Toronto for IT demand is Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa and Montreal. Other cities tend to fall below the national average."

No surprises there. In fact, the best way for investors to think about this kind of data is less of a bellweather for the tech sector in general but a way of reading the tea leaves of what vendors will enjoy growth in 2013. The fact that network engineering is still considered a "hot job" after all these years bodes well for companies like Cisco, which make complex equipment to manage growing bandwidth usage. A surge in demand for SEO specialists and user experience designers means Adobe and other firms that provide tools for dynamic online experiences will probably enjoy strong performance. It's not about what the hot jobs are. It's about what kind of products and services need that kind of talent.

Shane Schick is the editor-at-large for IT World Canada and the editor of expertIP. An award winning journlaist, he is a frequent guest on CBC, BNN, CTV.