You've finished your A-levels (or equivalent) and like the idea of working in IT but university just 'the route you want to take. Is it possible to get the IT career you want without a degree?
There appears to be a bit of a misconception of the IT industry that without a degree in Computer Science you won’t be able to get your foot in the door. The actuality is that there is a global digital skills shortage and now more than ever students are being encouraged to pick up skills that will help them in the future and there are more jobs in the tech industry than there are workers to fill those roles.
It is well documented that machines are taking over jobs. In the United Kingdom, the Institute for Public Policy Research say that as many as 10 million jobs - a third of the total jobs in the country - are at risk from automation over the next 20 years. With the looming threat of our robot overlords imminent, the government is being pressured to ensure that British workers have the skills necessary to work post-robopocalypse. If machines are being built to automate tasks, then who is building these machines? That’s where IT workers come in. But how can you get started without a degree?
Learn to code at home
If you want to get into web, software or app development then one of the easiest ways to learn is by completing one or more of the free online courses that are at your disposal. Many web and software developers are usually self-taught so this is a perfectly acceptable route into programming.
If you prefer a book to flip through, several developers recommend “Seven Languages in Seven Weeks” by Bruce Tate as an introduction to seven of the most popular programming languages and what makes them all different.
Having a portfolio of the projects you have worked on through your online course as well as those that you have completed in your spare time is vital. This demonstrates to employers that you know how to apply your knowledge to real-world examples and also gives you something practical to talk about at interviews.
When you do decide to start looking for work you have a couple of options in front of you: contract work or full-time employment. Companies use their own websites and social media to post their own vacancies but they also reach out to recruitment agencies too. There are lots of recruiters out there, but your best bet is to find a niche recruiter that is dedicated to the area you want to work in so if you want, for example, Java jobs then you know where to look without being bombarded by roles that don’t interest you.
Apprenticeships / Degree Apprenticeships
“But I don’t want to get a degree!” I hear you saying. Well, just hear me out. Like I mentioned before, the government has been tasked with finding a way to reduce the digital skills gap and degree apprenticeships are their solution. This way you can work a job in the industry you want to be in, getting paid while receiving on-the-job training and being allowed study time to complete a degree. In the majority of these scenarios, the employer actually pays for the cost of the degree, which is certainly a bonus.
Degree Apprenticeships have been around since late 2015 but appear to be picking up momentum now people are getting to grips with what exactly is on offer. Through a degree apprenticeship, you can study for a level 6 (full bachelor’s) or a level 7 (Master’s) qualification. There are lots of different IT courses to consider too, including aerospace software engineer, software tester, technical support and cyber intrusion analyst.
Through a degree apprenticeship you can earn up to £300 per week and you will be an employee of the company you work for, complete with a contract as well as holiday entitlement. Employers such as the BBC, BAE Systems, IBM, Sky, and Starbucks are all offering apprenticeships and you might be surprised at what you can do.
Traditional non-degree apprenticeships are also a potential route and involve vocational work combined with some learning and studying towards a certification demonstrating you are capable of doing that job.
Higher apprenticeships are also available which give you access to level 4 to 7 and are the equivalent of a foundation degree or a professional qualification.
The Armed Forces
If you want to add travel and physical exertion into the mix, then there are myriad opportunities for IT careers in the British Army. Roles range from Communications Systems Engineer to Technical Intelligence and Electronics Technician.
As an Army Officer, you will receive state of the art practical training - it doesn’t get much more hands on - and you will work towards completing a qualification as you work. This is normally a degree but depends on the role you are interested in and can also include NVQs and City and Guilds Awards.
Upon leaving the Army, you will have an abundance of experience ranging from the IT skills you have picked up along with key leadership skills that employers look for when hiring, leaving you in a perfect position to capitalise when you return to civilian life.
You can join the army after the age of 18, or if you are under 18 but have parental consent. You will need a decent level of fitness, although the requirements of this will change depending on the role you are applying for (a soldier is going to need to be fitter than an IT worker!).
So there you have it, three different routes of getting into top IT jobs without having to go to university. If you’re unsure of which career path you want to take, check out our most frequently asked questions about careers.