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IT and technology
How university students can increase their IT skills through exraurricular activities

Extracurricular activities that will develop your IT skills

Your degree course will not necessarily teach you all the programming languages and technical skills you’ll need to get a graduate job in IT. These are some of the things you can do in addition to university study to ensure you’re not short of skills when you graduate.
We want you to be part of your local tech community, so go to hackathons and contribute to GitHub and Stack Overflow. – Jade Daubney, graduate talent scout at ThoughtWorks

Over recent years, TARGETjobs IT has carried out a lot of research and has spoken with a bunch of graduate IT recruiters to find out if there has been a shortage in ‘IT skills for the workplace’ among the graduate community pursuing jobs in IT. The short answer is yes.

Raeeka Yassaie, Imagination Technologies’ university and HR programme manager, says: ‘Certain universities in the UK are better than others in relation to what we are looking for, but we are still seeing a huge skills gap. This is a real shame because we hire more than 60 graduates per year.’

The Association of Graduate Recruiters, meanwhile, revealed at the beginning of 2015 that although IT and telecoms sectors predicted a double-digit rise in graduate vacancies over the year, recruiters anticipated slim pickings among aspiring technologists, owing to a dearth of required skills.

It’s not uncommon for computer science students, for example, to arrive at the end of their degree not knowing sufficient programming languages to get a technical role within the industry. Before you graduate, it’s worth finding out the technical skills and programming languages that IT employers seek.

These are some of the ways in which budding IT professionals can develop their technical skills in their spare time:

1. Teach yourself new skills

Jade Daubney, graduate talent scout at ThoughtWorks, says: ‘I want graduates who take the initiative to teach themselves new skills. There are lots of free online courses available. It shows an employer that you have the drive and motivation we’re looking for.’

Gillian Bray, HR manager at CHP Consulting, echoes this: ‘If you’re coming from a non-technical background and simply want to learn code, you could use sites like Coursera to develop a few skills. Coursera will then allow you to add information about finished courses directly to LinkedIn, enhancing your profile in the eyes of potential employers.’

2. Join a tech community

Jade says: ‘We want you to be part of your local tech community, so go to hackathons and contribute to GitHub and Stack Overflow. Doing such things will show an employer that you’re passionate about the industry.

Gillian adds: ‘You can take part in coding competitions where those with no professional experience get to work in a team with more experienced people. This is a great way to experience a “real” project and work in a multinational team of developers.’

3. Set up your own tech business

The editor of TARGETjobs IT & Technology recently spoke with a young professional working in CGI’s cyber security department about her career story. She taught herself how to build websites after she did a web design module in school, and then set up a small business which generated a small income that she used to buy IT equipment.

‘I got pretty good at web design and a few people asked me to help them build websites,’ she says. ‘After this, I set up my own website to promote what I do and a local guy who had a business building sheds asked me to develop a website for him. I was also asked by my then employer to help expand the company’s site.’

4. Volunteer with tech initiatives

Volunteering is an excellent way for people who already have technical experience to hone their skills. ‘If you are already skilled in software development, you could volunteer with an initiative such as the Barclays Code Playground, which looks for suitable people to run sessions helping under-17s learn the basics of coding. Alternatively, you could get involved with an open-source project; Google Summer of Code is designed for exactly this.’

5. Make tech your hobby

Remember that getting involved with widely known initiatives and big projects aren’t the only ways that you can develop your technical skills. Gillian says: ‘With some basic coding skills, you can start writing software for fun – such as applications to keep track of your expenses, make statistics on the words you use in your emails and Facebook posts, or interface with public weather services around the globe to find the most pleasant locations to live each day.’

6. Enter technology competitions

The explosion of innovation and activity within the technology sector in recent years has resulted in the emergence of a few tech-related competitions that give university students the chance to develop their technical and soft skills. The Cisco Switch-up Challenge is a prime example of this. The competition is aimed at teams of students in the UK, and tasks them with devising an innovative mechanism that can tackle a social or environmental issue by using the Internet of Everything. The teams compete and the prize for the winning team is a week-long trip to Cisco’s global headquarters in San Jose, California. (Click the link for more information about the competition.)

7. Take free IT classes

Keen to give people the chance to develop their IT skills, some organisations run IT classes that are free of charge. Future Learn, an online resource, for example, provides a wide range of free online courses, covering IT and much more. A quick search has generated the ‘Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game’ seven-week course that enables students to learn basic Java programming (Java is one of the programming languages many IT recruiters seek in graduate applicants).

Meanwhile, committed to bridging the gap between males and females in IT roles, Code First: Girls (CF:G) offers free classes too. CF:G’s classes teach over 500 young women how to code each semester. Over the past 18 months over 1,500 young women have participated in one of CF:G’s courses or events. These types of opportunities might be particularly suited to those who are not doing a technology degree but have decided that they want to work in the IT industry when they graduate.

Follow us on Twitter @TjobsEng_Tech.

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