Would a career in IT suit me?

Would a career in IT suit me?
Discover the skills and attitudes you need for a successful career in IT, which subjects you need to be good at and the hours and travel requirements you can expect.

There are IT jobs to suit a range of skills and talents, whether you’re great with people or a bit of a maths genius. Some IT roles, such as programming, are highly technical, whereas others, such as consultancy, need employees who are good at building relationships with clients. Some jobs involve working unusual hours and others require regular travel but whatever your preference you should be able to find a role to suit you.

Key qualities and skills you need for a career in IT

The following skills and personal qualities will help you get ahead in an IT career.

  • Maths ability (for technical roles). A lot of IT is about maths, particularly if you want a technical role. If you want to get into a top-ranked university to study computer science you’ll typically need maths A level (though that’s not always the case at lower-ranked universities). Entry requirements for IT higher apprenticeships often include having an A level in maths, science or computing. Find out more about the subjects you should study for a career in IT.
  • Attention to detail. In technical roles, mistakes in your code will lead to problems. In business-focused roles, an email to a client that is littered with typos will do likewise.
  • Willingness to keep learning throughout your career. Technology isn’t going to stop evolving, so you’ll need to keep learning even once your formal qualifications are far behind you.
  • Passion for technology. Being genuinely interested in IT will help you to get hired and to make a good impression in the workplace. It will also give you the motivation you need to seek out new opportunities, keep learning and drive your career forward.
  • Good communication and teamworking skills. Even if your job is very technical it’s unlikely that you’ll be the only person working on a project – you’ll need to work in a team with colleagues. Many IT jobs also involve lots of interaction outside the immediate team, for example with colleagues in other parts of the business and with clients or customers.

Aims and values in IT careers

In an IT career you’ll need to balance an enthusiasm for technology with financial considerations. In the private sector the ultimate goal of your work will be to make your company more profitable. In the public sector you’ll be expected to come up with solutions that are a good use of taxpayers’ money and don’t exceed the available budget. However, your employer and colleagues will still expect you to be passionate about technology, keen to learn more and determined to develop better solutions.

Travel for IT jobs

The amount of travel you have to do in an IT career will very much depend on the type of job you take.

Jobs that involve spending lots of time with clients require plenty of travel (to get to and from the client’s office) and potentially staying away from home during the week (if you need to work at the client’s office and it’s too far to commute from where you live). Technology consulting is one such area. You might also have this lifestyle if you work for a company that provides outsourced IT services for clients and sends its staff to work at clients’ own offices.

Any business-focused IT role is likely to require some degree of travel – for example if you’re in technical sales you’ll need to get out and see your clients, though you may only need to spend a few hours with them.

If you need to travel for your job you’ll have your expenses paid for by your employer – including any overnight stays. However, it can add a lot of time to your working week, you’re unlikely to end up in glamorous locations and you’ll be there to work rather than see the sights.

In contrast, if your job is largely focused on technical work (eg developing or testing software) you may spend much of your time in the office.

Office hours in IT careers

IT professionals typically work a little longer than ‘nine-to-five’, but in most cases not massively so. A 2013 survey of recent graduates working in IT by TARGETjobs (our graduate careers website) found that most respondents worked between 36 and 45 hours a week. A typical day could be 9.00 am to 6.00 pm. However, as in any career, there will sometimes be busy periods before a deadline when you’ll need to put in extra hours, and some employers who expect more overtime than others.

If you work in an IT support role there may be shift work involved, depending on how many hours a day support is required by the colleagues/clients/customers you are there to help. Any role that involves creating, updating or maintaining IT systems or websites is likely to involve work outside of standard office hours from time to time – if they need to be taken offline for upgrades or maintenance this is typically scheduled for times when users are less likely to need them, such as evenings, overnight or at weekends.

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