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.
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What is Information Technology?
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...
- App developers
- Data scientists
- Social media managers
- UX designers
Today, nearly 3 million people are employed by the UK’s technology industry - that’s 9% of our country’s workforce! And it’s not showing any signs of slowing down...
However, getting a job in IT, technology and computing is more competitive than ever. Graduate job applications have increased by around 41% since 2020, so it’s essential to get some work experience on your CV to help you stand apart from the pack.
Careers in IT: What Are Your Options?
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 tailored advice to help you crack this competitive industry, read our guide to finding Computer Science Work Experience.
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 our guide to Cyber Security Placements & Internships 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:
- Collecting and analysing large amounts of raw data and transforming it into a more functional format
- Solving problems based on data analysis
- Spotting data trends, and using this to analyse a business’ past performance
- Working with programming languages, such as Python, R and SAS
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.
Start your career in software engineering at the click of a button by reading our blog on how to secure a Software Engineer Internship.
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...
- Product Research - includes focus groups, online surveys and one-to-one interviews
- Information Architecture (IA) - the creation of a structure for a website, app or product
- Wireframing - forming the design structure, before visual design and content is added
- Product Testing - to find out what problems users encounter interacting with the product
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.
Getting IT Work Experience in 2023
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 one 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 & 3rd years
DURATION: 5-13 months
WHEN TO APPLY: Sep-Jan
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.
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: All students
DURATION: Less than 1 month
WHEN TO APPLY: Sep-Mar
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.
What do Information Technology interns do?
Information Technology interns do real, full-time work and are involved in crucial projects. You will not be tasked with managing the photocopier or the espresso machine - no matter how thrilling that may sound.
Typical activities on an IT internship include performing software updates and application development, as well as troubleshooting technical issues, resolving system bugs and providing general support to other team members.
“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.” Microsoft (2023)
“Becoming an intern at Intel Corporation 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 Corporation (2023)
Which IT company is best for internships?
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 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?
Based on thousands of student-written reviews, RateMyPlacement’s Best 100 Student Employers showcases the companies that offer the most valuable, career-defining work experience in the UK.
Below is a list of some of the employers in the Best 100 that have roles in software engineering, cyber security, computer science, and a smattering of other IT-related jobs...
Do tech interns get paid?
‘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 an IT internship is £23,095 (pro rata). That figure is based on the honest reviews submitted to RateMyPlacement.co.uk by former interns and placement students.
You can expect to earn a significantly higher salary if you decide to pursue a career in this field, because the average graduate starts on £32,000 a year in the technology industry. (High Flier: The Graduate Market Report)
Of course, salaries depend on the company, seniority and the actual role. But your earning potential will only grow as you gain more experience. In the UK, the average salary for IT professionals is £39,082/year. That’s according to Glassdoor.
Reviews of IT Work Experience
As mentioned above, RateMyPlacement.co.uk hosts thousands (literally so many) of 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 5,000 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.