Expert advice on moving from public sector IT to private sector IT

I recently dipped my toes into the world of crowdsourcing when I asked for opinions on how public sector IT staff can get into the private sector. I have had a few respondents who have taken time to give us some great feedback.

At a time of job cuts in the public sector I thought information about breaking into the private sector would be useful.

Thanks to all of you that have contributed. If you have opinions to offer please fill in the questionnaire here.

Here are the questions and some of the answers I have had so far.

1 – What are the main differences between working in public sector IT and private sector IT?

“I would differentiate Private sector into: Public Suppliers and Private Suppliers first. Words that describe working in Public sector: individual islands, frustration, working for a department, shirking any accountability, fear of misinterpretation, bunker mentality, ordered, driven by job security, stove-piped hierarchy without leadership. Words to describe Public Suppliers: (same as Public sector!) because it can use the same techniques to maintain high prices, and long contracts to block competition.  Words to describe working for Private Suppliers: driven by success or competitive failure, focus on working as a project team, learn by being allowed to make mistakes, recognition by peers, growth is seen as positive instead of a further cost to the nation.”

“Public sector IT is much larger, and is driven by the commercial department instead of IT.  The solution focusses primarily on the numbers and the overall business benefit comes way down the list.  If the public sector were to consider the overall cost of government IT, including the ridiculous number of commercial managers through the life of the contract, then they would probably realise that it makes better sense to start pulling some of the IT work back in house.  It’s an outsourcers dream when they look at UK PLC.”

“The Private sector is vastly more aggressive environment.”

2 – What IT skills are most in demand in the private sector?

“Actually being encouraged to make improvements rather than just talking about them or indeed using ‘oh dear’ legislation to block improvements in the public sector”

“My recent experience of private sector tells me that web skills, agile and RAD, and architecture to platform systems over the long term enabling re-use and sharing across the board.”


3 – What opportunities are there for public sector IT professionals in the private sector? Please answer in regard to the sector you work in.

“I work in the public sector.  Having come over from the private sector I can’t see a lot of people that would be able to make the transition the other way.  I think that the key skill that is lacking tends to be attitude.  There are a lot of very good and very clever civil servants, but they are in the minority and I can see that they are usually destined to reach the higher levels of management.”

“Unfortunately I don’t there are many opportunities for public sector staff, perhaps supplier management.”

4 – What advice would you give to public sector IT professionals attempting to get into the private sector?

“Be prepared to start lower than your pay grade and work your way up by learning that business speaks more clearly than politics. Numeracy.”

“Rethink your aspirations and attitude.  Start shouldering some responsibility and read industry magazines to at least try to stay in touch with the pace of technology.”

“Go contracting.”

5 – What training would you suggest IT workers that are looking to move from the public sector to the private sector take-up.

“Courses in risk taking, assertiveness and simple finance to understand profit as a driver for change.”

“It depends on the level of staff and what role they currently do or would aspire to in the private sector.  I suppose things like agile methodology, web technologies, architecture skills, service management. “

“The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) or ITIL, depending on job.”

6 – Which qualities do private sector companies look for in IT staff?

“Hybrid skill pairs like tech/people skill, self manage/openess, leadership/team working, fearless/out of the box.”

“Again very generic, but I think it comes down to things like experience, knowledge, personality and potential.”

“Flexibility, communication skills, pre-sales skills.”

7 – What experiences from the public sector are seen as the most attractive for private sector companies?

“Supplier management. That tends to be all that they do.”


8 – If you are transferred to a supplier as part of an outsourcing deal how do you go about building a career within that company?

“I don’t think many suppliers would take civil servants on.  And if they did they would probably try to manage them out as quick as they can.  It’s harsh but fairly true.”

“Move into a customer facing role.”