How do I get into a career in IT?

How do I get into IT?
If you want to get into a high-level IT job you have a choice of routes. You can go to university or start work at 18 and earn while you learn.

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There are IT jobs available at all different levels, depending on your qualifications and experience. If you’re doing well academically at school or college it makes sense to start a little way up the ladder, either by going to university and then getting a graduate-level job, or by starting work after your A levels/Scottish Highers (or equivalent) with an employer who will train you up – for example by putting you through a higher apprenticeship.

Getting into IT: uni first, job later

There are plenty of IT-related degrees available. However, you can get into an IT career at graduate level whatever subject you study at university.

Studying for an IT degree

Studying for an IT degree will mean that there are more technology jobs you can apply for once you graduate than if you choose a different subject. Lots of employers specify that graduates applying for technical jobs need to have studied for a degree such as computer science or software engineering.

However, if you’d prefer to have more of a commercial focus there are courses such as business IT available. There’s also a wide range of more specialist courses if you want to focus on an area such as computer games design, network engineering, digital media or animation.

To get onto a degree in computer science or similar at a leading university you typically need A level maths, often at A or A* grade. Less prestigious universities don’t always ask for A level maths. However, maths ability is important for technical roles so don’t try to avoid studying it.

Studying for a non-IT degree: you can still have a technology career

It’s possible to get into an IT career as a graduate with any subject. However, you may find fewer employers who will accept your degree and more competition for positions. You might want to consider taking a one-year IT conversion course after your degree to increase the number of graduate jobs you will be eligible to apply for.

  • Some technology employers require a particular, IT-related degree, eg computer science or software engineering. This is particularly the case with smaller employers, who are less able to take graduates who need lots of training. Some of these employers will accept an IT conversion course; some won’t.
  • Some technology employers accept subjects such as engineering, science or maths for IT jobs but won’t accept arts or humanities.
  • Some technology employers accept graduates with any degree and train you up. In many cases this will be for slightly less technical roles, but some large companies (eg IBM) are prepared to train you to do very technical jobs such as programming.

Broadly speaking, the less technical your degree the more competition you will face and the more impressive you will need to be as a candidate. This includes having a strong academic record. If you want to go into IT via this route, make sure you do as well as you can in your A levels/Scottish Highers (or equivalent), get into a good university and study a degree subject that you think you will do well in and that is academically well respected.

Getting into IT: starting work at 18

Sponsored degrees and higher apprenticeships are well worth a look if you want to start work in IT after your A levels or Scottish Highers (or equivalent) and study towards higher level qualifications at the same time.

Higher apprenticeships lead to qualifications that are at a higher level than your A levels. This isn’t generally the case with advanced apprenticeships (which are equivalent to two A level passes) or intermediate apprenticeships (which are equivalent to five GCSE passes), though there’s nothing to stop you investigating these if you spot an attractive opportunity.

Earning and learning: IT sponsored degree programmes

There are a handful of opportunities to complete an IT degree while working for an employer. You’ll earn a wage and have your studies paid for, meaning that you can graduate debt-free and with several years of valuable professional experience on your CV. CGI and Capgemini run ‘sponsored degree programmes’ that allow you to do just that (CGI’s allows you to choose either a technical or a business-focused route, while Capgemini’s is largely focused on software engineering).

Several other employers offer the opportunity to join on a higher apprenticeship programme but work up to a degree in time after studying for other qualifications first. Employers with whom it’s currently possible to do this include BAE Systems (if you perform well enough earlier in the programme and there’s a ‘business need’ that justifies the time and expense) and Ford.

If you join a National Grid higher apprenticeship you might be able to work towards a foundation degree (the same level of qualification as an HND, and equivalent to the first two years of a bachelors degree). Likewise, on Unilever’s higher apprenticeship you might have the chance to study for a foundation degree in computing and IT practice.

To get onto a programme that includes a sponsored degree or foundation degree you will typically need three A levels (or equivalent). UCAS points requirements tend to vary between 240 (CCC) and 300 (BBB). Often your A levels need to include at least one or two science/maths/technology subjects. However, this isn’t always the case – Unilever simply asks for a minimum of two A levels.

Earning and learning: higher apprenticeship programmes

Higher apprenticeships in IT are currently offered by employers including CGI, Unilever, GCHQ, Virgin Media, BAE Systems, VISA Europe, Ford, National Grid and Atos. You can also do a higher apprenticeship at IBM if you don’t mind starting out on its advanced apprenticeship and working towards this lower level of qualification first (equivalent to A levels) before progressing on.

Entry requirements for higher apprenticeships that don’t include university study vary widely. Some employers ask for three A levels; others are happy with two. Some expect science/maths/technology subjects (CGI specifically asks for IT/computing); others will accept any subject. And some specify minimum grades they will accept (typically Cs) while others don’t.

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