12 October 2023
Computing Work Experience and Where to Find It
If you were asked to picture a computer scientist, you would probably imagine a chap in a lab coat taking apart one of those old PCs with a screwdriver surrounded by the parts of a thousand other computers. But this doesn’t tell the complete story.
As technology continues to advance, more job opportunities arise. So what exactly is computer science and how can you get involved? Read on to find out more.
- What is computer science?
- Computer Science Placements
- Computer Science Internships
- Work experience in the computing sector
- Will you be paid?
- Computer science salaries in the UK
What is computer science?
Computer science is a branch of IT that revolves around the study of computers on a theoretical level, and in application.
In truth, computer scientists do a lot more than study laptops. Computer systems have entered almost every aspect of modern life. It’s the digital age! They control the world’s financial systems, travel services and even our fridge freezers.
Computer scientists look at the systems we’ve built to manage the world’s finances (and fridges) and ask the question, could we be doing this better? To put it simply, they think about how computers or computation can solve problems.
Below is a nice list of some more specific things computer scientists explore through their work…
- architecture and organisation
- computational science
- graphics and visualisations
- human/computer interaction
- intelligent systems
- networking and communications
- programming languages
- software engineering
Computer science placements
DURATION: 5-13 months
FOR: One and all
WHEN TO APPLY: Sep-May
Placements are better described as a ‘year in industry’. They last a full academic year, which means you’ll take a year out between the second and final year of your degree.
An undergraduate placement is the most extensive type of work experience you can get while you’re at university. It’s a real job!
Placement students don’t spend 12 months photocopying and making paper aeroplanes. Although that does sound magical, they actually do real work, not dissimilar to graduates.
You also might be surprised to hear the types of companies that offer these types of schemes. It’s not just tech companies (like IBM or Google) that offer placements in computer science.
Almost all big companies have their own IT department, or at least rely on technology to operate. As such, big banks, professional services companies and businesses across all sectors are looking for students with the skills that computer scientists possess.
Did you know?
Did you know, the winner of the BBC’s ICONS campaign was a computer scientist? The BBC series asked the public to assess the achievements of the 20th century’s most influential and important figures. The winner was Alan Turing.
Alan Turing was one of the world’s foremost computer scientists and he is considered to be the father of the modern computer. His work as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park helped the Allies win the Second World War.
The most celebrated computer scientists of today, (think Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page), built on Turing’s groundbreaking work almost 75 years ago.
Computer science internships
DURATION: 4-16 weeks
WHEN TO APPLY: Sep-Mar
Internships in the UK are sometimes advertised as ‘summer internships’ because the majority take place in the summer months.
The content of an internship really depends on how long it lasts. If it’s a short four-week scheme, the programme will likely be designed to introduce you to a specific department or area of a business.
More extensive schemes on the other hand could include adventures across multiple departments.
No matter the length of the scheme, all interns get a taste of a company’s culture, and what it’s really like to work for a particular company.
Work experience in the computing sector
A degree in computer science is not enough to ensure you’ll get a graduate job. It might sound savage, but it’s true!
The reality is, there is a lot of competition for places; the Institute of Student Employers report that, last year, there was an average of 60 applications for graduate jobs in IT. It’s super competitive – like a particularly feisty episode of Countdown.
It’s so, so important to get work experience in computer science while you’re still at university. Getting a placement or internship will improve your chances of getting graduate roles significantly – and there are two reasons why…
Graduate recruiters are a little like trainspotters, but they’re looking for talented students, not trains. They search high and low for the best students to join their business.
One of the first places employers look for filling graduate roles is their undergraduate intake.
That’s one of the main reasons why businesses hire placement students and interns – they’re talent spotting. These schemes are used by companies to find potential candidates for their graduate roles two years down the line.
For this reason, students who get undergraduate work experience during their degree have a better chance of securing work post-graduation. In fact, 49% of hires made by the Best Student Employers consisted of former placement students and interns.
Imagine the situation… Two computer science graduates, Trinny and Susannah, are interviewing for a job at a Fintech company, but there’s only one position available.
Trinny and Susannah have the same degree, a similar academic record and a remarkably similar CV, except in one key area.
Susannah, or Suzie, as her friends call her, completed a year-long technology placement with IBM as part of her degree. The employer chooses to hire Suzie for this very reason.
Suzie’s placement imparted the key soft skills which all employers look for. Her experience of working in a professional environment gave her the edge. Trinny was a fantastic candidate, but she lacked these crucial employability skills.
Doing a placement or internship, and getting work experience while you’re studying, will make you more employable. Just ask Suzie.
This short – but BAFTA-worthy – video breaks down the study of computer science. It’s well worth a watch!
Will you be paid?
The short answer is yes, but it depends.
All placement students will be paid for the year in industry. The salary for a placement student in the IT sector can range from anywhere between £17,000 and £23,000.
With interns, it’s not so simple. The majority of computer science interns will be paid for their troubles because most employers recognise it’s fair to pay their interns for their hard work. For interns, the average salary is £23,095 on a pro-rata basis.
At the very least, an employer will cover your travel expenses. They may even cover your lunch, in which case, treat yourself. However, unpaid internships are not yet prohibited, so there is a chance you will not earn a dime for your work.
We don’t advertise any unpaid roles, so if you find a role and apply via RateMyPlacement, you can be sure to be paid for your work experience.
Computer science salaries in the UK
If you decide to pursue a career in this sector after you graduate, you can expect to earn a salary that far exceeds the national average. The average computer science salary in the UK is £57,500, but it can vary across different regions.