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The IT crowd

Posted October 13, 2011, by Mike Kermode

It’s a ridiculous understatement to say that IT industries have blossomed in recent years – they’ve exploded. Information technology is now the cornerstone of modern economies the world over. IT is big. And it’s only getting bigger.

Today, having at least some skills in IT is par for the course, and certainly an advantage. All businesses use and depend on technology – their ability to function hangs on their ability to communicate electronically, develop and manage their websites, manage their information and databases … and that’s for businesses that aren’t even technological in nature. These days, having the right IT infrastructure is a prerequisite for success.

Naturally, this means that countless job opportunities in IT have emerged – many of them high-paying, with IT salaries expected to grow by five to 10 per cent in the next half year. Given the growth and the potential pay, there’s no better time to get in on where IT’s at.

In-demand areas

According to the Robert Half Technology Salary Guide 2011, which looks at yearly technology market trends and salary data, there are a few key skill sets that are gaining more traction now than ever before. So it’s worth keeping the following in mind:

  • Programmers, business analysts and Java developers are more in-demand than ever and can expect substantial salary rises.
  • Same goes for network specialists, especially in light of the burgeoning implementation of virtualisation and cloud computing technology.
  • The demand for infrastructure support professionals and PC technicians will continue to grow as companies upgrade software and operating systems.
  • Security is paramount. As the number of computer users and IT-dependent businesses grow, so too is the need for security professionals.
  • Major upgrades in the public sector, increased investment in IT by the big four Australian banks and resources sector, the Smart Grid implementation and NBN all mean huge demand for qualified IT professionals. With supply unable to meet demand and major shortfalls predicted, that’s great news for anyone in the industry.

IT roles

There are almost as many IT roles as there are computer programs, languages, networks and databases. Here’s a brief description of some of the key areas that you could work in.

Development

Development’ is a broad term encompassing anything from software design to implementation, project planning, testing and ‘requirements analysis’. While a programmer will write the component-level, bare bones code, developers implement and coordinate the creation of software for clients. They still need to be well-versed in programming languages and frameworks such as C#, C++, HTML, Java, J2EE, Microsoft.Net and SQL Server.

Software architecture

Software architects take a big picture view of the software development process. They’re responsible for making design choices on platforms and coding, and communicating them to the developers. More so than developers, they’re a crucial conduit between a client and their business IT requirements, and the whole lifecycle of the software design process.

Project management

These folk organise all the elements necessary to see that lifecycle through. With a combination of technical and managerial skillsets, PMs muster the resources, team members, contractors and consultants to get a project completed in budget and on time. They’ll also develop business relationships and oversee quality assurance throughout a project. With this level of responsibility, project managers and other senior-level IT staff can earn big bucks – up to $2500 per day.

Network engineering/architecture

Modern companies would be nowhere without computer networks, and network engineers make sure they work effectively. They take care of planning, architecting, installing and configuring WANs, LANs and other networks. Firewalls, routers, switches – these are all the domains of network gurus.

Web development

With a solid grasp of business strategy, Internet protocols and scripting languages, web developers build and maintain websites, keeping close communication with clients on their requirements. This includes fashioning the site layout in a manner that best presents it to its target market, as well as to search engines. Web developers talk the talk of SOAP, AJAX, ColdFusion, JavaScript, HTML and LAMP.

Database development/administration

Any business that depends on the storage of, and easy access to, mass quantities of categorised information will be looking to database developers to design, implement and maintain good database management systems for the efficient organisation and filing of their data. As more info gets stored electronically, these services are increasingly important.

Security

As we conduct more and more of our business and information storage online, we also become increasingly vulnerable to security breaches – so security has become one of the greatest areas of concern for most businesses. The never-ending task of the security professional is to ensure that data remains free from corruption and unauthorised access, spam is kept to a minimum, and viruses, malware and other forms of hacking are kept at bay.

Technical services and support

To keep IT-dependent businesses running smoothly, there need to be skilled technicians on hand to solve application and server problems, or to help manage frequent upgrades. As PCs become universally adopted by individuals and businesses alike, the need for good support for software, hardware and network connections has never been stronger.

Technical writing

These are the explainers, the ones who make the technical gobbledygook comprehensible (sort of) to us mere mortals. The ones who take what the developers have created and translate it into instructions, user manuals, assembly directions, online help systems – all so consumers (or workers who utilise the software, like engineers and factory workers) can understand it and put the product to good use. This content needs to be highly comprehensible and easy to follow, so technical writers need to have a knack for simplifying complex information. These days their expertise can extend to other aspects of the publication process, like layout and graphics.

It takes more than just a head for code

In addition to your technical skills, you’ll need good communication skills. You need these to become a leader in any field, and IT is no exception. That means diplomacy. Listening. Empathy. Building rapport. Good body language. In other words, all the stuff that makes people respect and want to work with you; the stuff that helps you work with and lead teams; the stuff that basically makes you a well-adjusted and personable person. You shouldn’t underestimate its importance.

You’ll also need a head for business. Increasingly, employers don’t just seek performers with the right technical skills, but those with an understanding of how IT decisions bolster business outcomes. This is especially important for those seeking to reach the upper echelons of the IT hierarchy.

Project management skills are also crucial. As businesses become more risk-averse in uncertain economic times, sound planning and rigorous management practices have become dogma – and this isn’t just in IT. If you have the ability to organise, lead and manage projects and staff effectively while keeping your eye on budgets and timelines, you will definitely be the ‘IT’ person employers will clamour for – and they’ll reward you handsomely for your project managing prowess.

You should also consider contracting. More and more, contract work is a favoured employment arrangement for many IT specialists, and for IT companies generally. A recent IT Wire article revealed that IT is one of the biggest areas in which so-called ‘independent professionals’, or ‘IPros’, can exercise the freedom to be more productive working outside a nine-to-five schedule. Currently around 40 per cent of IT professionals are thought to work on a contract basis, although the number of permanent positions is expected to rise next year.

Just a word to those females wanting to get into this notoriously male-dominated industry: don’t worry, you are not alone! Your numbers are increasing, and what’s more, you can find support with a group for female students and graduates called Girl Geek Coffees, which meets monthly in different cities to discuss industry and academic issues. Grrl power does exist in the IT world!

Get IT happening

Given the prevalence of IT in virtually every industry, it is going to pay to get some IT skills under your belt. No matter who you are, there are measures you can take that will help you get ahead.

This might not mean taking on a strictly IT role, but simply expanding your computer skills. For IT or general office workers, this could involve gaining expertise in Microsoft applications and functions. For small business owners, it could be as little as taking an MYOB course, or perhaps a business admin course specialising in IT to better understand how IT can help your business outcomes.

For those already working in IT and looking to progress, you probably already know that professional development in IT just never stops. Your technical knowledge quickly passes its used-by date as technology constantly morphs and evolves. Which brings us to…

Qualifications

There are many levels of qualification available, depending on what you’re after. For instance, you can study information technology as an entry-level certificate, diploma or bachelor degree, and in some cases tailor your studies to something like project management. Consider taking on computer science if you’re interested in the theory and mathematical side of computing, or combine IT studies with teaching if you want to help develop bright young minds.

On top of this, there’s a host of certifications that cater to specific programming languages and developer tools, like, for instance, Cisco, CompTIA, Oracle and Six Sigma courses. These are available as online courses, so you can study where you want, when you want.

So whether you’re wanting to add to your business credentials or you’re looking to progress through the IT ranks, there are many options to get qualified, keep up-to-date, and stay ahead of the game by embracing IT. Don’t get left behind! 

Develop your IT skills with an online course.

Mike Kermode

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