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Information technology (IT) is still a young profession and has yet to really develop a single recognised career route unlike other professions such as medicine or law. With IT there are many entry points and plenty of opportunities to progress your career, either by full-time study, or by part-time education and training if you are in employment.

In recent years IT salaries have risen by as much as 15% year on year but following the recession times are harder. This was because of an increased demand for senior project managers and business analysts.

Demand for management information systems, IT managers, business systems analysts and project managers also rose dramatically, however, PC support and other low-level skilled roles did not show the same growth.

Students looking to enter the workplace can expect employers to offer a range of benefits, which usually includes several of the following elements; 25 days paid holiday per annum, a pension scheme, private health insurance and overtime for many entry level roles. In addition, most employers want to ensure that their IT staff remain current with all technological developments and are prepared to invest in training in any new technology that is critical to their operation.

Routes to becoming an IT professional

IT touches more areas of business than almost any other discipline. In today’s business world many companies are interested in recruiting well-rounded staff who have business focused skills and can demonstrate:

  • How IT can benefit the business as a whole.
  • How implementation of IT systems will impact on the organisation.

People skills, self management and an ability to see IT as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself are all equally important as the traditional core IT skills.

There are currently several routes to a career in the UK IT industry including full time study, part-time study whilst in employment and on the job training. The following are just some of the options open to those interested in an IT career:

  • Graduation with a non-IT related subject
  • An accredited degree
  • Training in a specific IT skill which is in demand
  • Transfer to an IT department within a company
  • A year in industry/gap year experience prior to University.

Graduation with a non-IT related degree

Many companies are happy to recruit graduates with non-IT related subjects, who are willing to undertake additional IT specific training through postgraduate or professional training courses such as those offered by Information Systems Examination Board (ISEB) – a BCS subsidiary, which offers qualifications in systems analysis and design and project management, among others. It is also worth considering undertaking a language; the IT profession is global and having additional language skills can be useful in gaining employment.

For students interested in a ‘client facing role’ a more business orientated degree such as one in finance, management or another engineering subject, may prove a better grounding than a pure IT degree, providing students with a good insight into business and a better understanding of the sort of problems their future clients are likely to face.

Whichever option taken, the key to improving the chances of being recruited is to achieve the best degree possible and take advantage of any work experience offered as part of the course or during the vacations.

An accredited degree

The most direct route into the more traditional ‘hard’ IT roles, such as software development, infrastructure and research posts, is a degree in computing followed by an application to a graduate recruitment programme.

Careful consideration of the content of any course prior to selection is key, as course titles may not accurately reflect the content. IT is continually evolving and developing and degrees are subject to annual review and adaptation, students are advised to look out for new elements and options which may develop during the course.

An accredited degree offers a core of studies seen as the minimum necessary for the foundation of a professional career in the industry, together with specialist content in one or more areas studied in-depth; it will include an appropriate mix of engineering principles, design and problem-solving, and practical work. BCS accredits honours degrees in the IT area for Chartered Engineer (CEng) status and professional membership. BCS also accredits degrees for Chartered Scientist.

In addition, there are four-year MEng courses in which the fourth year both broadens and deepens the study. Work experience is gained in vacations and the course includes more material on management and costing issues than a BSc.

Many courses include a placement year spent in industrial training in a company with a computing environment prior to the final year. Some employers will offer sponsorship for the final year after a successful placement, with or without a guarantee of employment on graduating.

After study, there are opportunities to join a graduate development programmes offered by companies for new graduates aiming to work in IT. Alternatively, graduates with a strong degree result may consider studying for a PhD or moving into industrial research.

Training in a specific skill

A specific training course in a skill which is in demand offers a quick way to enter the industry. Internet website design and enterprise resource planning (ERP) are just two examples of skills currently in high demand, although the market is continually changing. However, as demand for particular skills can be short-term, it is advisable to continue developing additional skills and gain broad experience.

Organisations such as Microsoft (for Windows), Novell (for networking) and Oracle (for databases) offer vendor certification courses. The Information Systems Examination Board (ISEB) offers qualifications in systems analysis and design and project management, and learning can be done via classes, computer-based training or distance learning.

Courses like these which focus on specific computer skills are aimed at the experienced practitioner and are not suitable for the beginner.

Transfer within a company

Large organisations sometimes offer opportunities for their employees to transfer to an IT division within the company. Training, education, and experience will come with the package.

ECDL as a starting point

Finally the European computer driving licence (ECDL) is a users’ qualification recognised across the world and offers a starting point and evidence that students are prepared to train and build skills.

About the Author

  • About Henry Tucker: Henry is Editor in Chief at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

Henry Tucker

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