How do I get into a career in IT?
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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.
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 computing in business 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, artificial intelligence, 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 developing software.
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. Think about what you can do in your spare time to develop and display your interest in IT or technology, such as learning to code.
Higher apprenticeships, degree apprenticeships and sponsored degrees 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 degree apprenticeships and sponsored degree programmes
There are a handful of opportunities to complete an IT degree while working for an employer, usually called a degree apprenticeship or sponsored degree. 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 both run degree apprenticeship programmes that allow you to do just that, choosing either a technical or a business-focused route. Capgemini also runs a five-year ‘sponsored degree’ programme in software engineering, which is a higher apprenticeship that includes working towards a degree in computing and IT practice.
Other apprenticeship programmes lead to a foundation degree, which is not as high level as a degree, but still a recognised qualification. 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 degree or foundation degree you will typically need three A levels (or equivalent). UCAS points requirements tend to vary between 96 (CCC) and 120 (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 Unilever, GCHQ, Virgin Media, BAE Systems, IBM and VISA Europe.
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; others will accept any subject. And some specify minimum grades they will accept (typically Cs), while others don’t.