Technology, Data, Machine Learning and AI

Development and innovation have delivered not only much more powerful and quicker computing at much lower cost, but also a rich and growing variety of career opportunities.

Traditionally the sector was divided into hardware and software roles in the IT, computing and telecommunications sectors. These fields continue to offer highly attractive opportunities: for example, R&D in the telecommunications sector now embraces super-fast connectivity, satellite communications and the 5G technologies and infrastructures. However, whilst each innovation builds on existing technologies, the variety of career options increases directly through the innovations and indirectly as incumbents react to develop and adjust their existing capabilities and products.

Competition to recruit people with the aptitude, drive, interest and potential to create, use and manage technology in all its forms is already fierce and can be expected to intensify.  Graduates with a computer science background and those who know how to code are in high demand across all sectors of the economy. However, many firms actively recruit graduates without proven technology skills but who are capable of learning quickly and take advantage of in-house training and development. See the Entry Points section below for more information. 

A brief skim through history reveals something of the scope and increasing pace with which innovations and step changes in tools, technology and behaviour arrive:

  • The creation of the first computers in the 1940s and ’50s, and the emergence of big firms like IBM delivering big projects and equipment for governments and businesses
  • The founding of Microsoft (1975) and Apple (1976) and success of firms like Dell, Hewlett Packard and Lenovo in the 1980s and 90s led to the realisation of Bill Gate’s vision of ‘a computer on every desk’
  • In the 1990s, email was a novelty, or unknown to most, and Amazon started selling books online (1994)
  • We might mark 2003 as the start of social networks with the establishment of both LinkedIn and MySpace (the most visited website in the USA in June 2006): Facebook followed in 2004, and Youtube in 2005. Instagram (2010) and Snapchat (2011) are barely 10-years old
  • The introduction of mass-market touch-screen smart phones in 2007 saw a dramatic shift in the use and take-up of mobile devices and the innovation around the development of apps and games became a new leading edge for many tech careers.

Bringing our history up to date, in recent years we have seen significant growth in hiring in cyber-security and forensic computing, first from the firms that lead the field and now end-user organisations building internal capacity to run and manage their cyber-security. However, we are now witnessing a new and bigger wave of change driven by:

  • an explosion in collection and availability of data
  • rapid development of use machine learning tools and artificial intelligence (AI)
  • improved infrastructures, such as the expansion of super-fast broadband and 4G networks now being superseded by 5G 
  • creation of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) and development of new applications such as speech and face recognition and autonomous vehicles.

This pace of change and growth ensures that recruitment competition continues to be fierce for technically skilled people.

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To understand the vast range of opportunities in the tech' sector can be approached both by looking at the kinds of organisations involved and also the many different roles.

Employing Organisations

There is an enormous range of employers that hire graduates into technology driven careers, and an increasing variety of careers where some technical skill or knowledge is a genuine asset. There are four main categories:

  • technology creators, which create hardware and software for end-users, including:
    • household names such as Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Apple and IBM, to more specialist local firms like Nominet (domain names) and Sophos (cyber-security), and
    • companies firmly rooted in digital based services, from advertising and digital marketing, through gaming and screen-based entertainments to computer programming of all stripes.
  • the end-users, which is all organisations that use IT to support their core activities, many of which also develop their own tools and software in-house such as. Firms can be found in all sectors, including banks and fintech firms; engineering; government; healthcare; law; publishing; retail; science and pharma; and the university sector.
  • technology consultants and service providers, that advise on the development and implementation of systems, and may also embed consultants at client firms to implement solutions and support services.
  • start-ups, in any field, from app developers and web developers to high-tech start-ups such as some of the firms which have been successful spun-out from original research at the University of Oxford.

End user organisations employ about 55% of the IT workforce and often run highly developed graduate training programmes. Some of the larger technology creators also have established graduate recruitment programmes, whilst smaller start-up companies are keen to hire talented young people excited by the opportunity to work on new tools and concepts in a rapidly developing marketplace.

IT technical roles

It can be more useful to examine the many different roles to decide which ones look the most interesting or promising, depending on your interests and skills. There is a very varied selection of roles and even more job titles. We recommend that you start by exploring some of the detailed job descriptions available at Prospects: job profiles or TargetJobs: job descriptions  (with 29 different roles in IT & Technology), and if you are interested in Data Science, take time to read the outstanding introductory paper (January 2021) written for us by the Oxford AI Society: An introduction to data science - OxAI society (PDF)

The summaries below offer only a first look at some of the many roles available, and the links will take you to the full job profile on the Prospects.ac.uk graduate careers website:

  • Applications analyst: you will monitor and maintain software infrastructures and applications, ensuring processes run smoothly, and acting as a technical point of contact. You could also be involved in design and development of applications, analysis and diagnosis and testing, and training users.
  • Applications developer: you will translate software requirements into workable programming code and maintain and develop programs for use in a business, usually working within a specific development field and using in-depth knowledge of at least one computer language.
  • Business analyst: within your organisation you help to manage change and plan for the future. You will need to combine an excellent understanding of the organisation and its sector and the application of information and software systems. You will work with internal and external stakeholders to develop functions, services and products to deliver projects outcomes. The external equivalent is the role of IT Consultant, and alternative job titles include business architect; enterprise analyst; process analyst; requirements engineer; or systems analyst.
  • Cyber-Security Analyst: you will work to protect an organisation by deploying a range of technologies and processes to prevent, detect and manage cyber threats. This can include protection of computers, data, networks and programmes in the organisation you work for, or working as a consultant offering advisory services to clients. These roles may also be called Information Security Analyst/Consultant; Security Operations Centre (SOC) analyst and Cyber Intelligence Analyst. Closely related roles include Forensic Computer Analyst and Penetration Tester.
  • Data scientist: you will extract, analyse and interpret large amounts of data, and use algorithmic, data mining, artificial intelligence, machine learning and statistical tools to find patterns, make predictions and help to solve problems and provide accessible insights to businesses. See also Data analyst, a role for which you not only need to understand the data, but be able to provide insight and analysis through clear visual, written and verbal communication.
  • Games developer : working on the creation and production of games, your work may focus mainly on programming or, in smaller firms, the job may incorporate visual design or story development work alongside programming.
  • Information systems manager: you will be responsible for the computer systems within a company. This can be a great fit for people who love a fast-paced, problem-solving IT role and managing networks. With experience in the sector, technical support or operations, the manager can expect to be in charge of technicians, programmers and database administrators.
  • IT consultant: you will need to combine great communication and organisational skills with a good knowledge and understanding of IT systems. You will work with and advise clients on how to use information technology to meet their business objectives or overcome problems. You can also expect to manage projects and provide guidance on all areas from selection and procurement to user training.
  • PPC Specialist: paid advertising on the internet uses pay-per-click (PPC) to drive revenues, usually though Google AdWords or Bing Ads. The PPC specialists are experts in how to maximise traffic and results from online ad campaigns, either working in house in the marketing department, or for a specialist PPC or digital agency managing campaigns for clients.
  • SEO Specialist: search engine optimisation (SEO) ties together technical and analytical skills with a knowledge and interest in marketing in order to transform a company's online presence. Also called online marketer or digital account executive, you can expect to identify and deploy strategies and tactics to boost web-site rankings in search results and increase website traffic and engagement.
  • Software engineer: a wide variety of roles combine highly complex, technical work with computer science and mathematics. Software engineers create, maintain, audit and improve systems to meet particular needs within the organisation, working closely with others to design and test systems, diagnose and resolve system faults. The roles include programming and writing code for operating systems and software to ensure efficiency and making recommendations for improvements.
  • Systems analyst: you will use computers and related systems to design new IT solutions, modify, enhance or adapt existing systems and integrate new features or improvements to improve efficiency and productivity. This role requires a high level of technical expertise and clear insights into current business practices.
  • Web Designer: responsible for the design, creation and coding of web pages, the web designer role combines technical and non-technical skills to produce websites. The work looks after both the look of a website and how it works. Not to be confused with the Web Developer role, which is focused more on back-end development.

Non-technical roles

Just as in any other industry, the IT sector hires staff into roles outside their technical IT teams. For example, Apple, Google, IBM and LinkedIn offer graduate scheme routes. These non-IT roles can include:

  • General Management and Leadership programmes
  • Finance and accountancy
  • HR and Personnel
  • Project management
  • Engineering
  • Market research
  • Sales and account management
  • Buying and procurement
  • Planning and partnership roles
  • Business development roles
  • Marketing and PR

When trying to decide on the type of organisation you would like to work in, take some time to understand how different firms are organised and resourced, and try to think about what environment suits you best.

Smaller organisations often offer a less ‘corporate’ working environment, in terms of location or the office set up (e.g. table football and bean bags in the office). They are also often more orientated around the individual, and may offer better working hours, or greater flexibility. Other small-firm benefits may include more direct contact with senior managers or a greater opportunity to make an individual impact. However, the training and support you receive may be less structured than in a big firm.

Larger organisations may offer a greater range of opportunities and funding for training and development internally, not just in technical areas but also looking after your wider personal development. As with grad’ schemes in other sectors, you may work on a number of ‘rotations’, gaining knowledge about different core business areas (e.g. sales; marketing; HR; operations; product development; financial management). Also, the scale of the projects you work on at a large organisation tend to be larger - and may be high profile – although the teams can be bigger and you may be only one of many working on a project.

Skills needed

Technical skills

In the past few years the most common programming languages sought by recruiters (based on CareerConnect adverts) were: .NET, C++, SQL, Java, C#, PHP, Python, CSS, VBA, MySQL, Ruby On Rails, Perl and HTML5. C is also very commonly sought after.

For people with coding skills it is a good idea to share and showcase your personal projects, and recruiters in this sector will be interested to see your work through your github site, as well as putting candidates through assessed coding exercises as part of a recruitment process.   

For those looking to learn and improve their skills, there are plenty of taught courses available at Oxford University, ranging from short programmes at IT Services (usually free of charge or priced lower for Oxford students) right up to postgraduate-level courses. In addition, Molly: Oxford’s IT Services Learning Centre portal, provides free access to LinkedIn Learning, which includes thousands of tech'-related video tutorials from beginner to expert. It is easy to choose your own learning pathways, and you can learn flexibly and at your own pace. 

If you are interested in working in a technical role, but don’t have any coding skills yet, the University’s Computer Science Society and Code First: Girls offer free coding courses during term time if you want to learn alongside others. Alternatively, you can start by taking one of the many ‘learn to code’ self-teaching programme, either with LinkedIn Learning or another online platform (e.g. Codecademy).

Oxford also has other student societies that are focused around the use and application of technologies and IT careers. In addition to Oxford Computer Science Society, consider seeking out Oxford Women in Computer Science (OxWoCS); the Oxford AI Society; or the Oxford Blockchain Society. You can also sign-up for hackathons, run projects or take on some of the competitions and challenges on Kaggle or those run by companies as part of their graduate recruitment.  Students interested in both entrepreneurship and technology can investigate opportunities and activities at The Oxford Foundry, and sign up for regular newsletter from Enterprising Oxford.

Non-technical skills

Many organisations will recruit graduates from a wide range of degree disciplines - even for technical roles - if they demonstrate enthusiasm for the industry and potential to learn coding quickly. Transferable skills - such as being able to work collaboratively, communicate clearly, and to work with both data and clients - may be highly predictive of future success, and are likely to be given considerable weight in recruitment processes. See our suite of advice on Developing your Employability Skills for ideas and inspiration for how to enhance your transferable skills. 

Getting experience

Experience is not essential to get a job in IT, but makes you far more competitive and demonstrates to a potential employer that you have an understanding of - and interest in - the sector.

A very large number of organisations will run structured internship programmes, some of which require no technical skills and focus more on training and personal development of coding skills (e.g. Ensoft; Metaswitch Networks; Softwire). You can meet representatives of many firms that target recruitment at Oxford in Michaelmas Term through our career fairs - think especially about attending our Science, Engineering and Technology Fair; Careers in Computing; and Jobs for Mathematicians events.  However, there are many other opportunities available (see live jobs on CareerConnect) and if you are interested in a company that doesn’t offer a structured internship programme, speculative applications can be a great way to generate opportunities.

Internships

Internships and work experience places are offered year-round on CareerConnect, and due to the IT skills shortage can sometimes go unfilled.  At the beginning of every Oxford term look for short-term work experience projects advertised as Micro-internships by the Careers Service - you will need to apply in the first 10 days of term and the placements take place in 9th week of the same term. There are also some fantastic opportunities exclusively opened to Oxford students – all over the world, in the UK and even within the university itself – every year in the Summer Internship programme: the programme opens for applications in January each year.

Smaller companies may not have a planned programme, and will either advertise ad hoc as positions or projects come up or they may respond to speculative approaches. Contact companies directly to learn whether or not they might offer work experience, shadowing, internships or similar. Use the employer directory on CareerConnect to search firms that have been in contact with the Careers Service in the past.

Technical internships without computer science skills

Organisations which might well consider an application for a technical role from a graduate without programming skills may not be able to offer the same degree of flexibility when it comes to their internships. This is because in a placement which lasts a few weeks or months there may not be enough time to train you so that you can contribute to the work. If you’re aiming for technical roles without a computer science background, it might be worth initially combining a non-technical internship with a separate opportunity to learn some programming skills (see ‘Skills Needed’ above).

Will I get paid?

Internships and summer jobs are governed in the UK by National Minimum Wage law, which means that if you are carrying out activities that class you as a “worker” by the employer, then you should be paid. Full details of Employment Rights and Pay for Interns are published by the government.

If you are undertaking a learning and development opportunity such as a micro-internship, or volunteering for a charity or statutory body, or shadowing or observing, then you may not be eligible for the National Minimum Wage. The organisation may reimburse you for your travel and/or lunch expenses, but they aren’t obliged to do so.

Boot-camps for Data Science

Short intensive technology training boot-camps are also a viable option to learn new skills quickly to add to your CV. With the growing skills gap in these areas more bootcamp style courses are popping up to help you get up to speed on the latest tech skills. These typically last between 5 to 10 weeks.

In particular, bootcamps can offer the chance for students to gain experience of working on business related projects. The better programmes tend to work closely with commercial companies which can provide datasets and expertise to support teaching. Participants will sometimes undertake analyses and make recommendations on live projects for the commercial partner organisations - which may also be looking to recruit directly from the boot camp!  

Most bootcamps carry a cost for participants and we are reluctant to suggest fee-based programmes. However, in the field of data science, some boot-camps run exclusive programmes for final-year and newly graduated PhDs and STEM Masters students, with fellowships or significantly reduced costs.

These bootcamps can be an excellent springboard to transition from an academic track into a more commercial field. Students considering investing time (and money) in one of these programmes should undertake their own research and due diligence to check whether the programme is a good fit for them. Make a start with  Switchup.org's research and reviews online, but we recommend that you also connect with current or recent participants to clarify:

  • programme content, the quality of teaching and the learning experience
  • the extent to which the bootcamp supports participants' employability, and
  • alumni's success in transitioning into paid work at their 'target companies' and into 'target roles'. 

Expect to make applications up to 3 or 4 months before a programme starts, so follow social media feeds and register for updates and newsletters from providers for any programme to which you might apply. Some programmes that we have noticed include:

  • Faculty Fellowship: Paid fellowship opportunity with London-based Faculty.ai (previously the ASI Data Science Fellowship) offering intensive training for two weeks followed by six weeks working in-house at a host company, helping to deliver a real AI project and ending with a Demo evening to showcase your work and contribution.
  • The Data Incubator: award winning US-based programme that offers a free Data Science Fellowship (you pay your cover accommodation and living costs) alongside its paid programmes.
  • S2DS Science to Data Science: A London based programme run 3-times each year by Pivigo. In-person and online editions both carry a £800 registration fee, but free accommodation and meals are provided for the in-person training in London. Read the Pivigo blog for industry insights.
  • Data Science for All / Women: An online programme devised and delivered by US-based Correlation One, which also runs a high profile datathon recruitment competition for a leading finance firm.  

Even before Covid, some bootcamps ran online rather than being based at a training centre, and we expect this to continue.

 

 

As a finalist or recent graduate there are an enormous range of dedicated graduate programmes at large firms or entry level positions within smaller organisations. IT is also a growing sector within the start-up world for graduates interested in entrepreneurial endeavours. In addition to the vacancies posted on Oxford's CareerConnect platform, you will find vacancies on the many graduate career websites (see External Resources below), the career pages of individual firms, and advertised through social media, including LinkedIn which is now used extensively by tech' recruiters. 

The significant under-representation of women in directly relevant degrees (e.g. computer science; mathematics, physics and engineering) translates into a similar imbalance in proportion of women working in technical disciplines at most firms. This has created a particularly strong interest across the tech'/IT recruitment spectrum in attracting applications from female students and researchers.

All new recruits should have high expectations for the training and support they receive once in post, whether learning is classroom based or you are learning on the job. You should also expect to be paid for all the time that you spend employed, including any full-time training element.

Understand the contract

Whether a new graduate or job-changer, it is essential to make sure that you fully understand any contract that you are asked to sign. We note this here because there are a number of technology firms and technology consultancies which use an employment model that links a period of 'free training' to a minimum contracted period where you work for them as a consultant. This employment ‘tie’ is usually a full 2 year's work following completion of the training. As highlighted in the Financial Times’s article When employment contracts come with exit fees, employees wishing to leave before the end of their contracted 2 years may be asked to repay very large sums (up to £20,000) for the 'free training'.

Do your research into the firm’s practices and press them for clear answers about what you can expect. This ‘Recruit; Train; Deploy’ pattern of employment will work perfectly well for some individuals, and some recruits stay with their companies beyond the 2 years contracted period, but it is best to be aware of the possible risks and pitfalls. In addition to the headline risk of the possible exit fees, there are other issues where you should seek clarity before signing a contract:

  • the quality of initial training, which can last 6 to 14 weeks
  • whether or not you will be paid during training - some companies do not pay trainees
  • will the company add other costs onto the cost of initial training that you may be asked to repay – e.g. for accommodation and/or food provided during training?
  • once trained, are you paid even if you have not been assigned to a client as a consultant?
  • are you able to decline a position, for example, if the work requires relocation or a long commute from where you live? 
  • if you leave your contract early (for example after 12 months, 15 months or 18 months), how much of the initial training debt will have been worked-off?
  • when working as a consultant, does either the company or the client make any commitment to your continued learning and development?

If you are unsure about anything, seek advice from a Careers Adviser in good time. Also, consider seeking legal advice before signing a contract that might end up being difficult and/or expensive to withdraw from.

Starting salaries

The average starting salary in the sector remains around £30,000 (Graduate Market in 2018 by High Fliers), and most recent graduates can expect to earn between £28,000 - £37,000, however, a few firms offer starting salaries well in excess of £40,000. The highest salaries are mainly for software engineering roles in the financial, chemical, oil and manufacturing sectors.

Graduate positions for non-technical roles within the technology sector should have starting salaries typically in the range of £25,000 – £33,000.

Advertised vacancies and occupational information

Technology firms will recruit throughout the year but Michaelmas Term will bring a large number of companies to Oxford for our Career Fairs. There are three fairs in the early weeks of Michaelmas term where you can meet companies targeting recruitment to technology-led careers: the Science, Engineering and Technology Fair, Careers in Computing and Jobs for Mathematicians. Alongside these, many firms will run a company presentation and other events in Oxford: check our events calendar on CareerConnect for details.

Graduate vacancies are advertised regularly on CareerConnect where you will be able to search all jobs, both current and archived (for your information) and set up relevant emails. Also look further afield using the many websites and channels listed in ‘External Resources’ below.

Using recruitment agencies

For graduates and researchers who have more experience, it might be worth looking for opportunities advertised by recruitment agencies. Firms will often use an agency for a role that might prove hard to recruit, more commonly for those that require experience.

The agencies earn their fee from the employer once they have found a candidate who is awarded the job. Once you are signed up with an agency, do maintain your own active job-search and keep your agency informed when you get a job or are no longer looking for a role.

Keep the following points in mind:

  • Research agencies before signing up. You can use LinkedIn to find the relevant experts for your specialist field of interest in a specific agency
  • Some agencies will put forward jobseekers they hold on their books for roles they see advertised so, if you are applying directly to a firm, make sure that your agent does not submit an application as well because the additional cost of the agency fee will disadvantage to your application
  • Most specialist agencies offer an advantage through their industry knowledge and contacts, and it works in their favour to help you improve your CV and application materials
  • It’s fine to sign up with more than one agency (although more than 3 can prove hard to manage!).

General graduate vacancies

  • Gradcracker - An outstanding careers website for STEM students, particularly good for graduate engineering and technology led jobs and internships, providing vacancies, company and sector hubs, webinars and scope for students to follow firms, sign up for alerts and post their CV  
  • Jobs.ac.uk
  • Prospects The Work Experience section of each individual job profile on the Prospects website, as signposted in the second section of this briefing, includes a selection of websites carrying vacancies relevant to that job role
  • TARGETjobs a national graduate careers website, including TargetJobs: job descriptions, currently with 29 different roles in IT and Technology

Sector vacancies and guidance

  • Bubble Jobs – Web, media and e-commerce roles
  • Creative Pool: Jobs – For IT and design roles in creative industries
  • CW Jobs – IT job board with good filter options (direct employer/agency)
  • Datascope – Specialist games industry recruitment agency
  • DigitalOx – Promoting Oxford’s dynamic tech’ scene, including job opportunities in the area
  • Edge online – Games, design and creative roles
  • eFinancialCareers: IT – IT jobs in finance, global
  • InsideCareers: IT – Graduate orientated advice and vacancies
  • The IT Job Board – Not just for graduates, but lots of IT roles and ‘Gradzone’
  • ITJobsWatch.co.uk A free reference for skill trends and salary statistics for anyone thinking about a technology based career
  • Jolt – A UK web hosting company offering a career guide for students looking to pursue a future in development, including tips on learning to code
  • Kaggle - A data science playground that runs global competitions, and provides access to large public datasets and public notebooks with coding free course to allow everyone to get into AI  
  • KDnuggets is a leading site on AI, Analytics, Big Data, Data Mining, Data Science, and Machine Learning offering blogs, tutorials, jobs and more
  • Oxford Sciences Innovation - With a mission to bring Oxford’s best ideas to the world, OSI supports local companies as they grow, including a job board used by dynamic and growing firms with science and technology based businesses
  • Science to Data Science (S2DS) – a 5-week Data Science boot camp in London and online for final-year and newly completed DPhil and MSc candidates in STEM subjects who aim to transition from academia to industry
  • Silicon Milk Roundabout - Twice yearly recruitment fairs in London with more than 200 companies for experienced hires. Apply in advance for free entry tickets.
  • StackOverflow – Job site from programmer forum
  • The IT Job – Global IT recruitment site, featuring many agencies 
  • Technojobs – IT and Technical job site
  • The Data Incubator – Data science bootcamps in USA for PhDs and MSc candidates seeking to transition from academia to industry. Funded fellowships available 
  • Women in Tech – A site dedicated to help women already in or looking to join the tech sector. The site is rich with career advice, profiles

Social media

  • Many firms also advertise directly through social media so use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other channels to follow firms, set up job alerts and search for vacancies. E.g.
  • Twitter: Oxford Careers - Science, Technology & IT 
  • Search on LinkedIn under ‘Groups’ for networks you can join: for example, Women in Technology or BCS (British Computer Society) Young Professionals Group and many more

Recruiters are keen to have a diverse workforce and many will have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting students and graduates from diverse backgrounds. An increasing number of recruiters are offering traineeships, internships and Insight events and many are being recognized for their approach to being inclusive employers. To find out the policies and attitudes of the recruiters that you are interested in, explore their equality, diversity and inclusion policy. Search their website to see if they have any specific staff networks, look out for external accreditation such as whether they are a Disability Confident employer, a Stonewall Diversity Champion or part of the Mindful Employer charter promoting mental health at work. Check to see if they are partnering with organisations such as Rare Recruitment, SEO London, MyPlus Students' Club (disability), EmployAbility (disability and neurodifference) and there are many more that are working for specific communities. A key place to look is to see what they do to celebrate diversity on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

The UK Equality Act 2010 has a number of protected characteristics to prevent discrimination due to your age, disability,  gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs, sex or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act 2010 and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

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