I've worked in IT for many years, and find it ever more incredulous that the great academic cathedrals of our time have not yet mastered how to prepare a graduate for our industry.
Having interviewed countless candidates for IT roles over the years, I thought it might be useful to let professional IT wanabes know what the average employer is looking for. What I'm about to share with you is not that difficult to work out - but common sense, it would appear, is not as common as you might think.
Our industry and the software tools we use are evolving all the time. New ideas enable us to do more, become more effective, and produce more useful and user-friendly solutions. This means that knowledge of the current applications makes employees more effective at earning money for the company. Specific knowledge gives an individual an edge. Practical application of the skill enables someone to produce results more quickly - with less mistakes and time wasted trying to find the best way to achieve the desired result. This increase in productivity should in turn produce more money for the company.
Alongside this, companies need good communicators. Understanding what you've been asked to do, and being able to convey your requirements to others is a key factor in having 'what it takes' to be offered the job.
Nothing ground breaking here, so how come the majority of the people I've interviewed over the years are just not right for the job?
I believe it all goes back to the advice that students are given in the early stages of their training. At school, academic qualifications are king. You're a success if you move on to University and a failure if you give up at any stage prior to graduation. So the cream of our new hopefuls come to interview with a better than basic understanding of our vast industry, but no commercial specialisation, no experience and an often out-of-date understanding.
The programmer who's been trained in C+ and vaguely knows of .net is as useful as someone with a degree in 'galleon construction' is to a modern boat-building yard. Herein lays the problem. It's not the student; it's not the tutor.
It's the inertia of the system to change, and the examining board's insistence to hang on to academic qualifications. They can't or won't keep up. Yet these days it's very easy for the employer to define specific skill sets to perform a known job. Thankfully, the commercial accreditations out there reflect these required skill sets, particularly with the latest changes to the Microsoft offerings.
The answer to me is obvious (although contentious to some) - consider alternatives to University if you want to get into IT. Take advice from someone who knows the industry and work out which specific area will be right for you. Get yourself some basic commercial accreditations that will get you your first entry level job. Then, while building the essential experience, continue to study for the higher levels alongside your daily work.
Together with practicing your communication skills, this will give you access to some of the best paying jobs in IT. It will also make your future employer very happy... Which is good for both of you!
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