How students can bridge the IT information gap

In this guest blog post, Philippa Snare, technical sales and marketing director at Microsoft UK discusses why young people today are ideally placed to develop a rewarding career in IT.

In my opinion there’s no doubt that the technical knowledge of this generation of school leavers and university students is above and beyond previous peer groups. Being a student and graduate means you are now more connected and have more choices of communication than ever before; keeping up to date with vast circles of friends and family across boundaries is now part of how you live. However, it’s just as essential that as a student you posses other skills, such as professional communications, management and leadership, as well as having an understanding of how these work in practice.

With intense competition for the top entry-level jobs in the industry, it’s also important that as a school and university leaver you give yourself the best chance to get the job you want. I know from experience there are many ways students can do this. For example, proactively gaining extracurricular skill-sets through programmes such as Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, where school students around the world are given the opportunity to use technology to help solve global challenges and make a difference in the world. Doing an internship is also a fantastic way you can make yourself stand out and break into the industry.

Traditionally it has been difficult to find internships with top companies. But there are now a variety of organisations, including Microsoft with our Young Britain Works initiative, who offer help to find work experience to develop the skills needed to secure your first job.  

Being a student today means social media is probably engrained into your life. So why not use it to start networking and finding conversations that will help you get into the industry? Following IT companies and people in technology on Twitter and connecting with key IT people and joining technology groups – like the Microsoft Young Britain Works group – on LinkedIn, will help you gain invaluable insight into the industry.

It’s up to students to empower themselves by proactively looking for opportunities to gain the experiences and knowledge required to succeed in the industry.  By doing this, you will start developing the right skills, building on your strengths and giving yourself the best start in your IT career.

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How far does an easy familiarity with social networking and smartphones translate into genuine technical ability or understanding? I'm a reasonable driver, but I have no idea about building or maintaining my car, for example. Are we still tending to present "IT careers" to young people as essentially careers as IT users rather than IT creators and innovators? Being able to use these new consumer technologies is great, but being able to invent and develop the next generation of such technologies is surely far more exciting, if also more challenging.
@Matt You have a very good point; we'd be in a total mess without innovative and inventive IT people. I don't think Philippa was suggesting for a minute that all you need in the IT industry to survive and thrive is a good understanding of Facebook though. I do think there's a genuine need for students (everyone) to understand that they are creating a representation of themselves that's available to employers. Taking a look at some of the frankly revolutionary work that the students involved in the Imagine Cup have created (identifying Malaria hotspots to the meter, systems to encourage safer driving) I think proves that you need some deep skills. I have an expectation that any computer science student can solve complex problems but I'd look beyond that too for someone who can explain how they did it to a non-technical person. Essentially a skills mix is required, not lacking depth in any area but broadening to include others.