Understanding the vast range of opportunities in the tech sector can be approached by looking at the kinds of organisations involved and the variety of available roles.
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 are all organisations that use IT to support their core activities, many of which also develop their own tools and software in-house. These can be found in all sectors, including banking and fintech, 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 successfully 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 have also 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 helpful 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 the 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 project 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 the 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 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 in 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 through 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, for a specialist PPC or a 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 website 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: you will be 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 involves looking 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.
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
- 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 in your wider personal development. As with graduate 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 tends 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.