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Tech has big bucks

Marcelene Edwards (The News Tribune)/Tacoma, WA -- Despite the sagging economy, technical workers continue to bring home the big paychecks.

First-year offers for computer scientists are running near $50,000 per year, according to a study released last month by the Washington Software Alliance. That's more than the state's median income of $44,134 and much more than the lowest-paid profession requiring a college degree: teaching.

During the past two years, employment in Washington's software and Internet industries has increased by 39 percent. And it is expected to keep on growing.

Washington had nearly 30,500 technical positions, with almost 6,000 of them vacant, at the end of 2000. Between 2000 and 2002, the software/Internet industries plan to add more than 12,000 technical positions, resulting in a 40 percent increase in total technical employment.

Nationally, college graduates who work full time and have a bachelor's degree in engineering earn the highest average monthly pay, $4,680, according to a Census Bureau report released last month and based on 1996 data.

But graduates with education degrees earn the lowest, $2,802 a month. That's certainly a deterrent to those who want to pursue education career.

Jackie Kajdzik entered the University of Puget Sound four years ago wanting to be a high school math teacher. But after taking some computer classes her freshman year, she decided a computer career would be better.

Though she said money wasn't the main reason she switched majors, she is happy with the paycheck she will get each month from Weyerhaeuser to work on the company's Web site.

"It certainly will help when it comes to buying a house," she said.

And the opportunities in computer science seemed much more diverse than education careers.

Kajdzik graduated with a degree in computer science in December.

But getting a good job in technology doesn't require a four-year degree. The average person with a vocational certificate earns around $200 more per month than the average high school graduate. But if the certificate is in an engineering-related field, the boost in earnings is close to $800 a month, according to the Census Bureau.

The average high school graduate earns $2,279 a month and those without a diploma earn $1,699 a month.

Today the software and Internet industries represent a $30 billion business for our state, according to the software association.

But despite the big paychecks and prestige of the profession, industry representatives predict they aren't going to have enough workers to keep the industry moving in the coming years. Only 3,000 graduates in computer science and related disciplines were produced from all of Washington's colleges and universities in 2000.

There's a 2.3-to-1 ratio between projected job openings for software programmers/engineers over the next two years and the available graduates produced by Washington universities to fill these openings.

(c) 2001 The News Tribune

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