Skills and competencies

The best programming languages for graduate jobs

25 Jan 2023, 13:38

Whether you write code on your degree or not, use these practical suggestions for learning the programming languages that IT graduate employers seek.

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Supported by:

RedTech Recruitment

A handful of employers train graduates with no experience to write code, but you can apply to a wider range if you learn a programming language in your own time.

Studying a computer science course or a related degree? Don’t rely on your course to teach you all the programming skills you need. The topics and modules that are taught across computer science degrees, as well as how they are taught, are likely to vary quite widely between universities. So, there is always room to improve your skills beyond the classroom.

Not studying computer science but looking at careers involving code? While a handful of employers train graduates with no experience to write code, you can increase the number you can apply to by learning a programming language in your own time. Start your research on graduate IT employers here.

Read on to find out which languages your favoured employers want and for recruiters’ ideas on learning to program or getting evidence of your skills.

What are the best programming languages for graduate IT jobs?

Different employers’ requirements vary widely, so always research them individually.

  • Kirsty Smith, graduate and apprentice recruitment manager at Capgemini , advises: ‘It’s definitely beneficial to have knowledge and experience of some programming languages. Specifically, knowledge in Java, JavaScript, Python, SQL, C#, Ruby and PHP would be of value.’ She adds: ‘It not only demonstrates that the individual has the capability of picking up coding skills, but it also shows the passion and desire to learn them.’
  • BlackRock has previously told targetjobs that, while they primarily work with Java, any object-oriented language (such as Python, JavaScript or C++) would be beneficial.
  • Morgan Stanley has previously specified that its graduate technical analysts need to have an understanding of Linux/Unix and Windows, as well as good knowledge in at least one programming language, offering C, C++, Java and C# as examples.
  • Tessella states that its data scientist and software developer graduate roles require applicants to have experience in one of the following languages: Java, Python, C, C#, C++, R or Matlab.

Top tip: learning one language is better that none

Many of the employers we spoke to specified that, while they may not ask for specific languages, it’s beneficial for graduates to have learned the fundamentals of at least one language.

  • ‘Programming languages, toolsets and techniques allow you to build systems and explain solutions and are something all developers need to keep on top of: learning a common language is a good idea,’ explains Francesca White, technology graduate recruiter at Deutsche Bank . ‘However, tools and frameworks go out of date very fast, so the key is to be able to think algorithmically without tying yourself to a specific tool.’
  • ‘I wouldn’t say we’re looking for graduates who know a specific coding language or technology,’ states Iain McFadyen, global graduate recruiting manager at London Stock Exchange Group . ‘What we’re looking for is people who have taken the opportunity to familiarise themselves with, and have a passion for, technology in general.’

How can I learn a coding language?

There are many ways that you could boost your programming skills or learn a new language, both as part of, and outside of, your degree course.

Learning the basics of a new language

Even if you are not studying computer science, you may still be able to find opportunities for you to gain coding experience as part of your course. ‘More and more students that are studying physics or engineering have used Python,’ explains Iain from London Stock Exchange Group . ‘If you have the opportunity to do modules that give you an exposure to programming, take them. Some business degrees even offer business programming courses. It won’t make you an expert, but it’ll allow you to start building an understanding.’

If you want to learn a language from scratch, try out one of the many free courses and resources available online, on websites such as Coursera, Codeacademy or FutureLearn. A technology recruiter at MI5 advises, ‘There are free online coding courses and YouTube channels that can take you from “zero to hero” in a matter of weeks. Think of a project you want to create or build, and just do it!’

Developing your coding skills further

Once you’ve learned the basics of a new language, the best way to develop your skills is simply by finding excuses to use your newfound skills. This will allow you to deepen your knowledge and you may be able to draw on the experience of other coders. ‘Start coding in your spare time, building your own solutions and gradually increasing the complexity,’ advises Iain.

Look out for hackathons, open-source projects and coding competitions that will provide experience of coding in groups. ‘Developing in a team is a challenge to master, but it’s as important as having a strong knowledge of toolsets,’ states Francesca. As well as developing your skills, you will also be able to talk about these during applications and interviews.

‘There are many student hackathons to take part in, which fully cater for complete beginners to very experienced programmers. Make use of the mentors at these events, as they’ll help you design and build on an idea,’ advises a technology recruiter at MI5. They also added that, ‘free pizza and soft drinks are usually on offer at these events.’ Although, of course, this is for in-person events – there are online hackathons that you can attend from the comfort of your bedroom.

Work experience, placement years and internships, whether they’re held in person or online (or with a hybrid approach including both) are excellent ways for you to learn more about coding languages and how they are practically applied in the workplace. This is also an opportunity to build your network and experience the culture and values of the different employers: an important thing to keep in mind when choosing who to apply for.

Should you learn more than one coding language?

If you already know one language, learning another similar language can be fairly straightforward. Matt Gardner, a product manager and development team lead at BlackRock , says: ‘We’ve had people pass our Java test who only knew C++. They had spent a couple of hours preparing with a book and found the transition to Java simple.’ Students developing their skills should ‘never build two systems with the same architecture and tools, and work in teams whenever possible,’ advises Francesca. ‘Learn at least one programming language to a higher level, so that you can fall back on that as a solution when pressured for time.’

When choosing an additional language to learn, it’s worth taking some time to think over your options and select a language that is likely to be useful in your future career. ‘Research what different languages could be used for your projects, think about how that code could bring something a bit different to what you are working on and how this could add value,’ advises Kirsty. ‘For example, R is used for more statistical data. Join groups so you can compare your finding and experiment with what works well.’

I would recommend joining online communities and contributing to open-source projects. – Hannah McGarty,

How do I promote my programming skills in my graduate CV, application and at interview?

However you develop your coding skills, you should make sure that recruiters know about it. Don’t be afraid to mention attending hackathons and events, or completing personal projects, on applications, CVs and at interviews.

You can see our technical graduate CV writing tips here , which includes a template IT graduate CV. Clear presentation is key, and make sure you put the languages your chosen employer wants to see at the top of your list and somewhere that can’t be missed when a recruiter scan reads your CV.

Recruiters will also want to see examples of your skills in practice. Upload examples of projects onto a GitHub profile and include links to this on your CV, so employers are able to take a look at your code. This is an opportunity to show evidence of how you’ve approached a problem and how you can apply your technical knowledge in practical scenarios. Make sure the examples you put forward are free from mistakes and are a good showcase of your skills. Additionally, be prepared to talk about any examples you include at the interview stage.

Remember: other graduate skills matter too

Programming languages are often a requirement for graduate IT jobs but the employers we spoke to stressed that you shouldn't fixate on this as the job spec will list plenty of other skills and strengths too. The good news is that if you try some of the suggestions above for learning to code you are bound to pick up a host of other desirable skills.

Find out more about showing your passion for tech and making sure you have a range of soft skills .

Follow us on Twitter @TjobsEng_Tech .

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