Get on the ladder: IT and software development
How to take your very first steps towards a career in IT and software development
IT and software development is an ever changing industry and the types of jobs available in the sector are constantly expanding as technology develops. You could be building or repairing hardware or software, protecting IT systems, supporting others, or even working in national security. This guide will help you take your first steps towards gaining experience in the sector.
If you’re interested in a career in IT and software development, build your skills and learn as much as you can about coding and technology. You don’t have to choose your niche as soon as you decide you want to work in IT - your skills and knowledge will be transferable, and getting experience across specialisms will help you find what you want to do and better prepare you for that in the future.
Who works in IT and software development?
The IT sector can be broken down into three main disciplines:
- IT Support: where there is new technology, there needs to be experts to help people learn about it. You could be helping people over the phone, in person, in a data centre for a large company, or as a freelance consultant where you solve specific problems a person or company may be having.
- IT development: you could be designing and building websites, apps, or software, or work in DevOps (operational teams who develop IT systems and get them working the way a customer needs).
- IT security: protecting IT systems, websites, and data is a vital part of the industry, and has recently exploded meaning that the industry is in need of new experts. You could be involved in writing security systems or even become a ‘white hat’ or ‘ethical’ hacker, where you 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 need:
- Patience - from working with people who are not familiar with technology, to building and testing systems, you need to have a pretty endless supply of patience to work in this industry. When you build new systems, they have to be checked every step of the way for error, and if you’re working in IT support, you may find that some users are less...adept at IT than you and need basic instructions repeated multiple times or even simplified.
- Problem solving - not only do you need to be a strong and creative problem solver, but you need to be able to find effective solutions quickly. You’ll be the person the entire organisation turns to when something goes wrong, so you need to think on your feet.
- Time management and prioritisation - as an IT specialist, you'll almost always be working to an SLA (service-level agreement) that will determine how quickly you must resolve or respond to an issue. You also need to be able to judge which issue or project is the most important one to deal with first, and be prepared to have people unhappy with that decision! You’ll be in high demand and you can’t do everything at the same time!
- Logic - IT and software development are largely based on logical principles. You need to have the skill and ability to see how and why two things connect in order to create something new, and to fix bugs.
How can you get experience?
Through school, college, or university
- Speak to the IT or IT support department at your school or college. They might be up for having you support or help them with things like installing new software or equipment and replacing broken hardware or cabling after school or at lunch. It’s all great experience and you’ll be learning from pros!
- Start an IT club if there isn’t one already. You could learn programming together, have external speakers in, or ask the IT department if they can supervise you fixing broken or old computers - you mustn’t do this on your own or without someone who hasn’t completed the proper health and safety courses.
- If you’re at university, join an IT society or a society dedicated to something similar, like computing. These societies often organise talks from industry leaders, workshops, trips, challenges, and socials. If your university doesn't have a relevant society, ask if you can set one up, or find other societies who are in need of someone to help them with IT support.
- Do your research. If you’re taking an EPQ or asked to work on an independent project, choose a hot topic or debate in the world of IT, technology, or software development to write about. You can use the Subjects library and Read, Watch, Listen tool to find key topics and research material to get you started.
- Teach yourself a coding language. Try out Python or C++ to give yourself a good understanding of how systems work. You can even aim towards coding a basic game like pong or snake. Check out our links at the bottom of this guide for more information.
- Install a new, free operating system like Ubuntu Linux on an old computer. Ask family and friends if they have any computers that they’d be willing to part with for you to work on. 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 has 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 - remember, though, that if you’re working with hardware rather than software you must have supervision from someone with proper health and safety certification.
Remember, you can use Unifrog’s Activities tool to record any academic or extracurricular activities you’ve done and link these to skill on the Skills tool. This makes it easy to use these examples in any job or education applications you make after leaving school or college.
- 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).
- You can also take an apprenticeship 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.
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