Are you considering a career in IT, computer science or the technology industry? That is a marvellous idea. You have so many options.
You’ve probably noticed by now, computers are everywhere. Literally, they are everywhere. How long before the computers take over? Have you seen I, Robot? Just a thought. We are all fascinated with technology, and the advent of the digital age has brought with it a thousand new career paths in the IT, technology and computing sector.
This guide will provide a detailed overview of the sector, and reveal how you can find work experience during your degree. You can use the shortcuts links below to jump to the section you want to read.
IT, an abbreviation of information technology (as if anyone actually still calls it ‘information technology’), refers to all things related to computers and tech.
The industry is constantly changing as new technological advancements are made. If you google “jobs that didn’t exist five years ago,” you’ll discover a fair few of them are in this sector. Here are just a few examples of these newfound roles...
The influx of these new careers is part of the reason why between 2007 and 2017, graduate opportunities in IT and Telecommunications has increased by 96%. Even with the increase in opportunities, the Institute of Student Employers have reported that there was an average of 36 applications for a graduate role in the sector. Getting a job in IT, technology and computing is competitive!
It’s essential as an undergraduate student to get work experience while you’re still at university if you want to get a job when you graduate.
This section features a breakdown of the various career paths open to undergraduates in the IT, technology and computing sector...
Computer scientists spend their time designing new software and developing ways to improve existing technologies. They are problem solvers, or to be more specific, mathematically-adept, high-level problem solvers. A degree in this area covers the four key areas of computer science:
Job prospects for graduates in this area are particularly strong; the skills which computer scientists possess are highly sought after, even amongst companies that operate outside of the IT industry.
For a more extensive guide to this subject and tips for find work experience, read Finding Work Experience in Computer Science.
With more and more systems and data being stored on the cloud or within servers, there is an increasing need for individuals to work in the cyber security field.
Working in cyber security means devising strategies to stop hackers from accessing sensitive information, creating barriers to entry, running penetration tests to improve security and being familiar with all the latest computer viruses and trojans.
Read Cyber Security Internships & Placements: A Closer Look to see what a cyber security wizard gets up to Monday to Friday.
Data scientists are kind of like trainspotters, but they spot trends, not trains. A data scientist’s job is split between two camps: business and IT. They usually have a background in mathematics and computer science (and country dancing, strangely), so a degree in either is fantastic.
Why are data scientists so in demand, you might ask? The rise of the data scientist is - apart from being a potentially thrilling film title - due to more and more businesses realising the benefits of big data. Below is a list of some of the duties a data scientist may perform on a day-to-day basis:
IT support staff are responsible for the installation, configuration and maintenance of the company's hardware and software. Among other things, support staff need to be proficient in using different operating systems, such as Linux and Windows, have scripting experience and also experience of working with servers.
Almost all businesses need some form of IT support staff. Larger corporations will have in-house support, and some small to medium-sized outsource it. Regardless, every company will have computer systems that need supporting.
For more information, watch the IT Crowd, a highly informative sitcom featuring a pair of charming, if not petulant IT enthusiasts.
Software engineers have a hand in the design, development and general maintenance of software.
Imagine a civil engineer is building a bridge. Let’s call her Linda. Linda’s job is to ensure that the bridge is constructed on a solid foundation, so it’s safe for public use. If the bridge collapses, Linda is toast. Along - you would assume - with anyone else on the bridge at the time. The same principles apply to software engineers.
An engineer’s role is to ensure that a software product does not go over budget, exceed timelines and reduce in quality. To put it simply, they ensure software projects are completed to a high standard.
For a more in-depth discussion on software engineering, read our blog, A Guide to Software Engineering Internships and Placements.
The field of UX design is one of the newest in the IT sector. To put it simply, UX is about user experience, and UX designers are preoccupied with how users interact with a website or a software service. Their job is to make a product, useful, usable and enjoyable for its users.
So, what do UX designers do on a day-to-day basis? In truth, it varies, and totally depends on the company and the product. However, here are a few of the general processes that all UX professionals follow...
Adobe’s article ‘What You Know Should About User Experience’ is a must-read if you want to find out more about UX.
Web developers spend their time developing new applications and websites, as well as improving existing applications and functions.
“At Microsoft, our interns work on projects that matter – and your team will rely on your skills and insights to help deliver those projects to market. This is your chance to bring your solutions and ideas to life while working on cutting-edge technology. Our internships are designed for you to do great work with the opportunity to learn and grow.” Microsoft (2018)
As we’ve aforementioned, according to the Institute of Student Employers, there was an average of 36 applications for each graduate vacancy in the IT sector. There’s a lot of competition - just like Takeshi’s Castle.
So, how to get a job after you graduate? Bribes? Blind luck? The key is to get work experience while you’re still at university. There are three different types of work experience available to students - internships, placements and insights.
Below, we’ve broken each of them down...
FOR: All students
DURATION: 1-4 months
WHEN TO APPLY: Sep-Mar
Most IT internships take place during the summer months, in between the end and the beginning of a new academic year. As such, they’re often referred to as summer internships by employers.
The length and duration of IT and technology internships varies, it really depends on the company. They tend to last between 4-16 weeks, and companies use them to find the best students and unearth talent for their graduate schemes.
As an undergraduate student, and perhaps once who can’t do a placement as part of their course, you should apply for every internship opportunity you can find. This vital work experience will be extremely valuable in helping you get a graduate job.
FOR: 2nd years
DURATION: 5-13 months
WHEN TO APPLY: Sep-May
An IT placement is an opportunity to get a full year of valuable industry experience. They are designed for second year (and sometimes third year) students, taking place in the penultimate year of a degree.
Industrial placements are defined by on-the-job learning. A placement student will work for a company for an extended period of time, and in that time, they will be expected to contribute to the business.
Candidates do real, full time work and are involved in crucial projects. If you do a placement in IT, technology or computing, you will not be tasked with managing the photocopier or the espresso machine - no matter how thrilling that may sound. Students who do placement years are more employable and ready for work than those who skip straight to their final year, so if you have the chance to undertake one in your degree course, you should jump at the chance.
FOR: 1st years
DURATION: 1-10 days
WHEN TO APPLY: Sep-May
Insight schemes are primarily aimed at students in the first year of an IT-related degree. They are the shortest type of IT work experience available, and most candidates go onto do internships and placements later on in their university career.
Most insights take place during the Easter break, much like easter egg hunts.
The typical activities you can expect on an insight scheme include work shadowing, short projects, presentations and workshops. Bloomberg are an example of a company that have insight schemes on offer.
“Becoming an intern at Intel gives you access to a great range of opportunities, enabling you to apply your skills to global projects and support industry leading innovations. Our interns are given the responsibility to take on a creditable job role, making their own decisions and taking the lead on their own projects.” Intel (2018)
There are hundreds of companies that offer placements, internships and insights in IT, so it can be hard to whittle down which schemes to apply for. What’s more, how do you work out which companies offer the best opportunities in the industry? It’s can be a bit of a pickle.
So, who are the best companies to work for if you’re looking for top drawer work experience in the sector? The Top 100 Undergraduate Employers is a list of best companies that hire undergraduates. Based on the honest reviews written by students, the Top 100 showcases the companies that offer valuable, career-defining work experience.
Below is a list of some of the employers in the Top 100 that have roles in software engineering, cyber security, computer science, and a smattering of other IT-related jobs...
‘How much will I be paid?’
It’s an important question when you’re applying for a job. As important, if not more important than finding out what it’s like to work at a particular company, your responsibilities and the quality of nearby sandwich bars.
The average salary for internships and placements in IT last year was £19,292. That figure is based on reviews submitted on RateMyPlacement by former interns and placement students.
You can expect a significantly higher salary if you decide to pursue a career in this industry. The average starting salary for graduates is £31,500, according to The Graduate Market Report in 2019.
Of course, salaries depend on the company, seniority and the actual role. Your earning potential will only grow as you gain more experience. In the UK, the average salary for IT professionals is £37,588. That’s according to Glassdoor.
As mentioned above, RateMyPlacement hosts thousands (literally so many) reviews about placements, internships and insight schemes. They are all written by students who have completed undergraduate work experience schemes.
In each review, students answer questions about the content of their scheme, the skills they developed, how well it was organised, and the social elements of it too.
Over 8,000 reviews have been submitted by students who have worked in the IT, technology and computing sector. They offer real insight into what it’s really like to get work experience in the IT sector, and what it’s like to work for a particular company.