For ensuring job satisfaction, nothing's better than a nice fat paycheck. So let's cut to the chase. According to SQL Server Magazine's 2004 salary survey, who is the highest paid SQL Server professional? With a base salary of $250,000 to $299,999, he's a white male in his thirties with some college (maybe a bachelor's degree), 11 to 15 years' experience in IT, and at least one Microsoft certification. He likely works for a mid-sized (500 to 5000 employees) European financial or telecommunications company. He enjoys his job and feels he is well compensated. And...he's a DBA.

A DBA? Yep. Not president or owner of the company, not CIO or even IT director. Among the 778 respondents to our survey, all the highest paid are DBAs. (Note that 40 percent of the 778 hold the DBA job title and DBAs have a wide salary range.) President/owner has a good minimum salary, but among our respondents, the maximum salary for that title is under $150,000. These guys just can't compete with the top DBAs.

Among our respondents, the average base salary for 2004 was approximately $70,000, as Figure 1 shows. Respondents also consider this, on average, to be a fair salary—any less than this amount, and the pay dissatisfaction rises above 50 percent. Consider, however, that for this money, the average SQL Server professional works more than 59 hours per week. Break that down, and it works out to about $23 an hour. Still satisfied?

Most people (73 percent) said their pay increased at least somewhat this year, as Figure 2 shows, but 22 percent said their pay remained the same, and 5 percent said their 2004 pay was less than they'd earned in 2003. Of this last group, one-third said their pay had decreased by at least 10 percent. Ouch!

Maybe the couple-thousand-dollar bonus that 56 percent of you get on average (see Figure 3) helps make up the deficit. Still can't make ends meet? Nineteen percent of our respondents supplement their incomes further. Most do consulting or contracting work on the side, and many have investments or pensions that bring in extra cash. Other money-making enterprises mentioned cross a wide spectrum; our respondents include part-time teachers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and authors.

Non-salary benefits help, too. Most of you have at least health benefits, although 23 percent report no benefits at all, as Figure 4 shows.

Making the Most

So, what can you do to increase your pay? A Microsoft certification might be worth your time—at least, many of your colleagues think so. Overall, 46 percent of our respondents have at least one certification, including nearly 60 percent of the highest paid professionals in the SQL Server industry (those making more than $150,000). So, you certified 60 percent who make less than $40,000 a year can take heart; your chances of getting that big income—eventually—are good. Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) is the most popular certification, with 31 percent of respondents holding this certification. Note that the highest paid professionals are also likely to have a Microsoft Certified Software Engineer (MCSE) certification along with that MCP. The next-highest paid tend to favor the Microsoft Certified Solution Designer (MCSD), with Microsoft Certified Trainers (MCTs) stuck firmly in the middle and lower pay ranges. Twenty percent of you are Microsoft Certified DBAs (MCDBAs) and tend to be slightly higher paid than the worldwide average, with an average salary of close to $80,000.

What industries pay the best (and the worst)? Banking and finance are at the top of the heap, with telecommunications (e.g., cable, telephone) not far behind. Though the top jobs at energy and utility companies don't compete with the finance industry, the majority of these jobs pay above $80,000 a year. As you might expect, jobs at education and nonprofit organizations carry the fewest monetary rewards, with no salaries over $90,000 a year and most much lower. Interestingly, the IT industry is one of the worst-compensated overall. Nearly one-third of SQL Server professionals serving the computer industry earn less than $50,000 a year. (For a full breakdown of pay by industry, see Web Figure 1.)

Company size can affect salary size, too. Smaller companies (those with fewer than 500 employees) can pay as much as the corporate giants (up to $199,999) but average around $60,000. By comparison, companies with at least 10,000 employees tend to pay their SQL Server experts between $50,000 and $125,000.

Career tracks also make a difference in pay, as Figure 5 shows. DBAs can earn almost anything; their salaries are all across the scale. But on average, DBAs are slightly better paid than SQL Server professionals holding other titles. Overall, however, you're likely to make more as a data warehouse or systems architect or a business intelligence (BI) specialist than anything else—except CIO/CTO. Application programmers and database developers have a lower-than-average salary; systems administrators, database designers, and Web developers are lower-paid still. Don't even ask about network administrators or trainers: Their average salary is less than $50,000. (For full details, see Web Figure 2.)

Pay and Demographics

You probably won't be surprised that the highest paid men in the SQL Server field earn more than twice what the highest paid women do. This finding is in line with a 2003 study by the US Department of Labor (cited in the 22 October 2004 CNN.com article "Equal pay for women? Not till 2050"), which showed that women on average make 78 percent of men's wages. And the wage gap is wider among more highly educated professions such as doctors and statisticians. However, this fact may come as a surprise: Although 6 percent of women we surveyed earn less than $40,000, nearly 13 percent of the men earn less than $40,000, as Figure 6 shows. In fact, 71 percent of women in SQL Server professions earn between $60,000 and $90,000 per year—so the news isn't all bad.

Age and race still make a difference in pay, too. As you'd expect, our survey showed that young people tend to earn lower salaries and see increases as they get older, as Table 1 shows. Most people under 30 earn $50,000 or less, with nearly one-third making less than $40,000. People ages 50-59 make the highest wages, with a range of $40,000 to $249,000. However, the top salary drops to $124,999 for those 60 and older. Years of experience seem to have the most influence on salary here, with the highest wages paid to those SQL Server professionals who have 11 to 15 years in IT, as Table 2 shows. More education doesn't seem to affect pay raises, though, after you achieve a bachelor's degree, as Figure 7 shows. In fact, survey respondents who have master's or doctorate degrees reported earning salaries that were lower than the worldwide average.

On the ethnic front, Caucasians reported the highest incomes (up to $299,999 per year), followed by people of Hispanic or Asian ethnicity, who reported earning as much as $149,999. However, 20 to 30 percent of people in these latter two groups earn less than $30,000 per year. There's less of a gap between the highest and lowest wages among the other ethnic groups (e.g., black, Native American, Pacific Islander), but on average, Asians earn slightly less than whites, blacks earn about $10,000 less than whites, and Hispanics earn an average of $10,000 less than that—about $50,000 per year. (For details, see Web Table 1.)

Location, Location, Location

A lot of the wage disparity among ethnic groups ties directly to where respondents live. North America and Europe pay the best, on average, with Ireland, the United States, and Denmark ranking 1, 2, and 3 for salaries in our survey. Table 3 shows the top 10 best-paying countries in the world (for full results, see Web Figure 3). Figures 8 and 9 show graphically where the money is in the United States and the world. (For a breakout of Canadian provinces, see Web Figure 4.) CEOs aren't kidding about offshoring as a way of cutting expenses: SQL Server professionals in India and Latin America really do work for less than their US and European counterparts—a lot less.

If you're in the United States, Table 4 indicates that you might want to hit the coasts for the best-paying jobs. On the East Coast, the best options include New Jersey (with the highest average pay in the country, at nearly $90,000), New Hampshire, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. Out West, Oregon and California are tops, at nearly $80,000. Or try such northern Midwest states as Minnesota and Michigan for a better income­to­cost-of-living ratio. (Web Table 2 ranks salaries in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.)