Getting Into IT

I have put this page up to support a careers evening for 14 year olds and up. It is just some basic thoughts on IT as a career, and how to get started, together with a few learning resources.


Why Work in IT?

 

It's not just coding

I.T. covers a variety of skills from fluffy Design and User Experience through techie development and systems administration to  suit oriented support, business analysis and project management.

Watch Video Interviews of people in different types of IT career.

Even coding isn't just coding

I have spent a good chunk of my career as a developer in all sorts of companies from banks to newspapers, breweries to timeshares and telecoms to startups. I have written hard core back end and fluffy front end. Programs that move money and programs that make beer. I have not been involved in gaming -but never say never. The thing about all these is that you get to know how these places work, it's never just coding.

It's great if you like new stuff

It is changing all the time, even if some of those changes seem to be going around in circles, there are new languages, new challenges and new ways of working constantly coming along. Right now Agile, Big Data and Apps are some of the buzz words.

It's great if you don't like change

Weird but true, I started with the Unix operating system around 1980, now it runs the 'Cloud' -oh they changed the name to Linux. Similarly with the C programming language -oh they added ++ on the end.

It is very flexible

IT skills are transferable skills, they work across industries. IT employment can be quite varied from the traditional 9-5, through shift working, contracting and freelancing. It can be in the office, on site or working from home. You can work on projects that might take a week, a month, a year or a decade; or you can work on systems that just keep running.

 

 You don't have to be good at maths

that's we got the computer for. If you are good at maths there's lots of fun to be had though, check out Algorithms, Big Data and Machine Learning.

But I am a people person

What are you trying to say?

Being a people person is good, someone has to talk to the users and clients to find out what they want ,keep it up and you will be able to call yourself an Information Architect, Business Analyst or a Consultant and earn big bucks.

Other routes for you might be Project Management (are you a bit bossy? Do you like organising things?), Support, Marketing and Sales would welcome you too.

User Experience and Design also involve dealing with people quite a lot, both clients and focus groups.

I am always on Facebook

There's a whole industry around social media, from blogging to Twitter and Facebook marketing as well as building apps for those sites. If you're a bit geeky and into social media then in addition to Big Data there's a whole hot field of Social Network Analysis.

What if I am Arty?

Take a look at Design and User Experience, all web sites and apps need these two things, magazine publishing is moving increasingly on line as are brochure sites for companies and ad campaigns. If you are arty and like programming then Data Visualisation is a hot topic. If you like games then there's a whole world out there, of which I know nothing.

What if I am a bit of a chancer?

There's a career waiting for you in online marketing and Search Engine Optimisation (don't worry you won't have to pronounce it) or Domain Flipping.

More seriously it's a great time in IT to start up your own business, resources can be had for free, at least to start with and the knowledge is out there for the taking. The last business I worked was started in an attic and five years later is worth millions. You should be prepared for the fact that most start ups fail, building a better mousetrap isn't enough -you have to bait it.

But I just want to play games

wouldn't it be cooler to write them? There are lots of opportunities out there, especially as games make it more into the main stream and the lines between a game and a web site or app become increasingly blurred.


Getting a Job

 

The best thing to do is to establish a track record, not all (maybe even not most) IT jobs require a degree, but you do need to know your trade. Here's a good article on Getting Started in User Experience that also applies to any I.T. job.

Degrees

That said, you will find it difficult to get started in a large company without a degree as many use the qualification as a filter for CVs, this is also true of recruiters.  Once you have a track record this no longer applies to the same extent.

If you are going to spend 3 years+ and a lot of money getting a degree then make sure it's a good one, as an employer one is constantly surprised by graduates that 'don't know anything'. As a deveoper you need a thorough Computer Science course that teaches you the fundamentals of computers, algorithms and programming and not one that teaches a bit of web hacking and pressing the buttons in Visual Studio. You should also consider turning your degree into a masters by taking an extra year on top, everyone has a degree now and you will need to stand out.

On the arts side you will need a degree that deals with the IT side of things as well, so some front end development to help you understand what works and what doesn't and a degree should also cover User Experience, just looking pretty isn't enough, it has to be fast, easy and usable.

Track Record

This is all about actually doing it and showing that you know what you are about.

Getting involved with Open Source projects is one way to go, taking part in hackathons is another. Projects in school or for your mates or the local community all help; as does just building stuff you are interested in -if you do that it is worth blogging about it.

As well as being incredible helpful for solving problems, sites like the stackexchange network help you build a reputation as you answer questions; in addition to the main stackoverflow site there are specific interest ones for user experience and server fault for sys admins.

If you are feeling confident sites like odesk and Logotournament will let you pitch for work, from the simple and easy to the complicated and hard, and get paid for doing it. Be aware though that mucking it up will get you a bad reputation very quickly.

Lastly, there is work experience and internships. The basic deal with these is that you go to work, but don't get paid. Since this is likely to cost you (or more likely your long suffering parents) real money you need to be sure that you will benefit from the experience and not just be put to donkey work. There are some companies about that are just intern farms churning through unpaid labour.


Free Learning Resources

 

It is a great time to start learning things online, there has been an explosion of courses from top institutions in the last couple of years as MOOCs have taken off. Learning is always good and taking some of these will show that you are serious about your subject.

The couses are free but, in addition, some MOOCs are offering certification schemes that prove you have taken the course and even offer academic credit that can be used towards some degrees, although I don't know if that counts with any UK universities, these schemes are paid for.

Here are some I have come across :

Development

Code Academy  free web development courses and projects, in various languages, starting from the complete beginner wanting to build a web page and going up to basic programming. These are collections of 'baby steps' exercises that hand hold you through the course. I used them to update my HTML/CSS and Javascript.

Udacity have various self-paced programming courses starting from an Introduction to Computer Science that teaches you concepts and Python programming. It claims that you need no prior knowledge, if you take to it there are more advanced courses to follow. The lecturers here are world class.

Coursera have more academic courses in computer science including a 101 self study class or, for the mathematically minded Introduction to Systematic Program Design from there you can learn as much computer science as you could wish for, these are courses offered by top universities such as Stanford, Duke, Edinburgh, Lausanne &c. and generally run to a time table.

Future Learn is running a Mobile Device Programming course for complete beginners, they are a spin off from the Open University.

EdX, from Harvard and Berkley, also offer an Introduction to Computer Science which looks a bit academic, if you make it through that their Saas courses are very worthwhile and employment oriented. For the really brave there's Quantum Computation!!

Design and UX

not really my area, but here's a couple :

The Design of Everyday Things from Udacity is at least part taught by Don Norman who is very well respected.

Maybe more IT related is Scott Klemmers Human-Computer Interaction
class, I have taken this and would recommend it, even better if you can find a couple of friends to do it with. From Coursera which runs it regularly.


Project Management

I haven't come across a decent free course on this, there are lots of paid ones of different worth. It's a difficult skill to learn, a degree will give you the tools and vocabulary but you will need learn on the job the hard way to get good at it.


More courses


Here is a searchable list of open courses

General

 

Meetups and hackathons

Meetup is the place to find talks or practical sessions on anything you can think of, there masses of IT related ones every week in London, as well as some virtual ones.

Hackathons are more sporadic and are often run by companies or special interest groups, they can run over a day or a weekend -sometimes continuously. They are often team based which gives you a good chance to work with others or to bring your mates.

In both cases you should talk to your parents about whether it is appropriate for you to go along, no one is going to act in loco parentis.

 

Books

Bookboon have free ebooks to download -legally!

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