Choosing the right degree for a career in IT

What degree should I take for a career in IT?
Computer science? Software engineering? Artificial intelligence? Games development? Find out which technology degree would be best for your career and how to find the right university to study it at.

You’ve decided that your future lies in IT and are looking for the degree that will help you launch your career. There are several options open to you that can lead to a range of varied jobs.

Types of IT degrees

IT courses can generally be grouped under four different subjects: computer science; software engineering; artificial intelligence; and games development. At some universities, separate courses in the IT department will share the same modules for the first couple of years before branching into specialisation. This could make it easier to switch to a different IT degree if you decide to change your focus later on. However, other degrees such as artificial intelligence will teach mostly different content.

  • Computer science aims to give a grounding in many subjects related to IT – it offers a wide choice but does not typically specialise in any single aspect. Students will learn programming, mathematics and the underlying computer science theories.
  • Software engineering courses tend to be very similar to computer science, albeit with more of a focus on software.
  • Artificial intelligence focuses on the programming and software behind AI processes.
  • A degree in games development will focus on the techniques used in games creation.

However, there are other subjects that can make you employable and further broaden your opportunities. A degree in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) will be welcomed by many major IT employers if you have a good grade – but be prepared to back it up with extracurricular IT activities if they’re looking for technical skills. See our advice on how to get into a career in IT.

What types of jobs do different IT degrees lead to?

Computer science and software engineering are widely available subjects that can open up a range of careers, including computer programmer, network engineer, IT consultant, software designer, systems analyst, scientific researcher and games developer.

Artificial intelligence is a more specialised degree that can lead to careers such as robotic science, software engineering (in applications such as facial recognition software), search engine support and programming.

A games development degree will point you towards the video games industry. All courses vary but degrees focusing more on practical skills such as programming and software design will help if you decide to move into a different area of IT.

How to choose the right technology degree

IT degrees can have lots of different variations in their names, such as computer science or computing, BSc or BEng. However, the course title is less important than the content.

IT employers tend to look for graduates who have practical skills such as programming and coding rather than those who only know computing theory, so look through course content for details of project work. It’s also worth heading to online forums and finding out what students think of their course.

If you are not certain about the direction you want to take your career in, computer science may be the safest choice. That’s not to say it’s an easy option or will guarantee the job you want.

The standard advice for people interested in the video games industry is to go for a computer science degree because it offers a wider choice in terms of career. However, a games development degree can have side benefits – for example, some of your classmates may become successful, providing you with contacts. If you are determined to take a degree in games development, then look for courses that give a foundation in computing, software design and discrete mathematics, along with tuition on programming artificial intelligence and graphics. You can always train yourself in available games engines such as Unity, Game Maker and Maya.

What else to find out about IT courses

  • Check to see what facilities your potential universities have available for building your practical skills.
  • Find out whether the universities you are interested in have links with relevant IT employers. For example, some companies target particular universities when they want to recruit interns and graduates, or to hold careers events on campus.
  • Some courses require you to have mathematics A level to ensure you already have a grounding of knowledge. This should ensure that all students are on the same level, so the course will move on to advanced content more quickly.
  • Another thing to consider is whether your course has been accredited – BCS is the professional body for IT and visits universities to review whether their degrees teach the skills that employers are looking for. It will put its name to any course that meets its standards.
  • Bear in mind some universities are better regarded than others, depending on your chosen subject. Websites such as Unistats or The Guardian’s University Guide can help you work out where to look.

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