IT, or Information Technology, is the transfer of information by way of computers and computer systems. People who work in IT maintain, build, or repair hardware and software relating to these systems. The IT sector is wide and varied, and there are jobs that cover a large area and jobs that are more specialised. This guide will help you to take your very first steps towards gaining experience in this sector.
When beginning a career in IT and software development, the most important thing is to build key skills and gain industry-recognised qualifications. It’s important to know that you don’t have to choose your niche straight away; some people work in the industry for years, gaining experience across different specialisms, without narrowing themselves into one discipline. It can take time to figure out what you really want to do.
Who works in IT and software development?
The IT sector can be broken down into three main disciplines:
- IT Support: this is a key part to the sector that includes everything from first line (helping people face-to-face or over the phone) to working in datacentres (buildings that contain networking equipment and servers) for large companies. People who work in IT support try to solve specific problems a person or company may be having.
- IT development: roles include web design (building websites to client specifications), application/software development (writing programs and applications for people or businesses to use) and DevOps (working with operational teams to develop IT systems and get them working the way a customer needs).
- IT security: this discipline, which includes both physical and virtual security, has recently exploded, meaning that the industry is in need of new experts. There are even groups known as ‘white hat’ or ‘ethical’ hackers, who are paid to test a company’s security and point out any flaws in the system before criminals can exploit them.
What skills will you need to demonstrate?
To work in IT, you’ll need to have these basic, but vital, skills:
- A willingness and ability to embrace change. Things move quickly in IT and you must be able to keep up.
- Good communications skills. In any part of the sector, you’ll often find yourself working to a specification of some sort. You must be able to make sense of a customer’s requirements and then turn this into a service or product.
- Time management. In IT, you will almost always be working to an SLA (service-level agreement) that will determine how quickly you must resolve or respond to an issue.
How can you get experience?
Through school, college or university
- Most schools and colleges have IT support, who will often be happy to have some assistance. You can ask if they need any help with anything, even if it’s helping install some new PCs after school or over a lunch break. It’s all great experience.
- If you’re studying IT at school or college, keep a record of any skills you develop, and how you developed them, using Unifrog’s Competencies tool. You might also want to use your Locker or the Activities tool to keep a record of IT-related projects. This will help when it comes to applying for entry-level positions later on.
- If you’re at university, you might be able to join a student-led IT society or a society dedicated to something similar, such as computing. These societies often organise talks from industry leaders, workshops, trips, challenges and socials. If your university doesn't have a relevant society, there might be other societies or groups who are in need of someone to help them with IT support.
- Teach yourself a coding language. Python is a good start and gives you a good understanding of how systems work. You can even aim towards coding a basic game like pong or snake. You can get information from online resources (listed at the end of this guide).
- Install a new, free operating system such as Ubuntu Linux on an old computer (ask family and friends if they have any that they’d be willing to part with). Linux is a free, open-source operating system that gives you a chance to try out new things and have a play around without fear of breaking anything. It’s also useful to gain experience with Linux as around a quarter of PCs and two thirds of servers run on Linux.
- If you’re more interested in IT security, you can look at things like Kali Linux. This is a free operating system used by many white hat hackers. It contains lots of useful security tools and you can learn a lot from it. You should also have a look at some free online resources for information security - this will help you to develop your understanding of the industry and figure out whether it’s the kind of thing you want to do.
- Offer to fix the computers of your friends and families. It works out for them as its free IT support, and it gives you a chance to develop your skills.
- Some companies may be willing to take you on as an intern, even if you have minimal experience (see our guide on How to get an internship to get started).
- Another route towards gaining workplace experience is to begin an apprenticeship, and there are quite a few available in the IT sector (check out our guide on IT and Software Development apprenticeships to get started). Some of these apprenticeships only last a year, so this can give you a chance to try out the industry and see if it’s for you.
- www.learnpython.org for free tutorials on python programming
- www.ubuntu.com for a free Linux operating system download
- Search YouTube for coding tutorials in the programming language of your choice.
- The Coding Train on YouTube is a creative coding channel where you can see examples of how different code languages can be applied.
- www.kali.org for a free download of Kali Linux
- https://resources.infosecinstitute.com/ for cyber security training resources
- www.codeacademy.com allows you to learn a wide range of in-demand progamming languages
- Microsoft Technology Associate Books such as Security Essentials, OS Essentials and Networking Essentials are used to train towards Microsoft certifications. These cost money to do. however, they will put you in very good stead for getting a job in the industry.