Although a relatively young industry, IT is extremely popular as a career choice. Almost every business sector now requires IT specialists in some area. As such, there are many different types of IT professional, and IT skills are relevant to those working in almost every modern industry and profession.
A computer science degree is the most commonly recognized route into working in the IT industry, but it’s far from the only one. Completing any degree course shows an ability to meet deadlines, undertake independent research, and follow instructions intelligently, and it might be wiser for someone to take a degree in a subject that best represents the wider sector they hope to work in – for instance, graphic design, journalism, finance, or economics. A math degree is also a good way into IT as most processes are math-based, but again this is not essential. The student who follows their interests and inclinations to get the best degree possible can always take a postgraduate IT course afterwards.
Many companies prefer evidence of hands-on experience to academic qualifications, and companies such as Microsoft and Oracle all offer industry certificates that recognize specific, proven skillsets. These certificates are designed with the industry in mind, and because they are based on proven success using particular abilities, they can often prove more valuable than a more general computer science qualification. Any relevant work experience in an IT portfolio is arguably just as important as an academic degree, and sometimes more so.
Choosing how to work
Any budding IT professional needs to consider not just what sector they wish to work in and how to specialize, but also whether they are seeking an in-house post or to set up as an independent contractor. Many IT specialists work in-house for a company at first in order to gain skills and experience before leaving to work on a contract basis. This means working on a fixed project for a fixed period, at either a fixed or a hourly/daily rate.
An IT contractor moves between different clients and projects on a work-for-hire basis. They are their own boss and can often claim a higher hourly rate than IT specialists who are on the staff. To a degree, they can also choose when to work, and moving between clients gives more variety and freedom. The downside is that there is no guarantee of a regular wage and no in-work benefits such as sickness or holiday pay. An IT contractor also has to do their own accounting and tax returns, which is why many choose to work for an umbrella company, which can take care of these hassles on their behalf and make sure that they are legally compliant.
With such a wide variety of roles available, it’s inevitable that there are many routes into the IT industry. A data analyst for a large financial company may take a very different route than a graphic designer that uses IT skills, or a programmer for a video games company. There is also nothing to stop someone retraining in IT in later life in order to switch careers. The important thing is to gain the relevant skills and then prove to your prospective employer that you can do the job.