What advice would you give to IT students in their final year?
After spending some time at university career fairs I’ve asked myself this question, it only seems like yesterday when I was aimlessly wondering around my university career fair and now 5 years later I’m reflecting on what I’ve done and how I’ve got to where I am today. I was surprised at how many students were interested in hearing my opinions and experiences so I thought it was worth a blog post …
I still clearly remember the daunting experience of choosing a university (way back in 2004!) I always knew I wanted to do a sandwich degree and now reflecting back this was absolutely the best decision I ever made! I can honestly say that I believe that my year in industry was the key to a successful start to my career. I won’t go into all the benefits of this but it’s worth mentioning that these program’s are specifically designed to develop students (both technically and professionally) your effectively getting paid to learn. I personally completed my final year dissertation based on a scenario at the company I worked for and I even managed to get a first (certainly not what I would have got without my year out!). Just a final point on a year in industry… Remember the job marketplace is becoming more and more packed as more students chose to go to university, a years experience will not only put you one step ahead of those that came straight through school and university but it will also make that first interview so much easier (your be surprised at how many examples you can think of outside of university coursework!)
So after my placement year I was fortunate enough to be offered a job back on their graduate program, however I also took the opportunity to explore the rest of the IT graduate job marketplace and surprisingly found it relatively easy to secure interviews & ended up with multiple offers (in my opinion only due to the fact that I had a years experience). Going through this process helped me reflect on what I really wanted to do. However I did end up going with the ‘safe option’ and went back to the company I completed my placement year with, I don’t regret my decision as I wouldn’t be where I am today however I must admit if I was giving advice to someone else I would say don’t get too hung up on your first job decision, at the end of the day it is just a job and you have the freedom to move if you really didn’t like it! If you never take a risk or try something new/different you won’t challenge yourself and in my opinion pushing myself with new and interesting challenges has really helped me make some great first steps in my career. So shall I finally get to the point and actually talk about what I’ve done.. 🙂
I’ve now got over 5 years experience working in IT and I’ve had 5 different roles (inc. my placement year), I started out as a systems analyst (vague role name!) but I was effectively part of a business team (CRM) providing IT advice, implementing minor IT projects/changes, requirements gathering/documenting and testing. My top 3 tips for getting the most out of your very first professional job would be:-
1. Find a mentor/sponsor and tell them what your doing, what you want to be doing and never be afraid to ask questions (your be surprised but mentors love helping you! They wouldn’t offer to support you if they didn’t want to so never feel bad or worried about pestering them too much)
2. NETWORK! Get to know as many people as you possibly can, an office is a very different place to a university and your be surprised at how helpful and cooperative colleagues can be
3. Be proactive- continually look for what else you can do or how something can be done differently, never be afraid to offer suggestions (my advice would be to use the famous word WHY, if you ask questions on why something is done in a particular way it’s likely to lead to further discussions enabling you to point out your thoughts/opinion)
I personally found that this helped me establish myself, before I knew it everyone knew who I was (people id never even met myself!). At this point I must admit I’m generally a reasonably modest person when it comes to talking about my achievements, I personally believe its better to show what you have done rather than talk about what you have done… However this isn’t necessarily the best way of getting yourself recognised. As I’ve seen from some colleagues self promotion and clear expressions of interest for next steps has helped them.
So the final part of my story and advice. I spent just over 2 years in my first company (3 with my placement), I was actually made redundant due to some organisational changes and ill admit I wouldn’t have considered leaving or looking for another job if this didn’t happen. This gave me the push I needed to take a risk and challenge myself! I ended up moving to a technology company where I had literally zero experience in the area (infrastructure) before I had never even considered what would be in a data center! Although I was worried about having no knowledge or experience, this was actually the best situation to be in as I told myself that I had to work harder than anyone else to get up to speed. One thing I’ve learnt is that as long as you have the willingness to learn you can learn any new technical skills. I’m now a pre-sales technical consultant for a global infrastructure company and the part I love the most about my job is you never know what’s coming next! IT moves at an exciting pace 🙂
I will finish by saying always look for your next challenge, never be afraid to try something you’ve never done before and never stop asking questions or for help!