From education to employment

How young people can prepare for a career in the tech industry: is a degree really necessary?

Adrian Overall, CEO and Founder of CloudStratex

For young people casting their eyes over the careers landscape, the tech industry has a particularly compelling appeal.

For some, that appeal will simply take the form of financial remuneration. According to a pre-pandemic report from career marketplace Hired, the average salary of UK technology workers increased by a remarkable 13 per cent in 2019. Clearly, then, for those young motivated by lucrative roles, the tech world is a treasure trove.

Of course, tech careers are by no means all about the money. Tech roles are characterised by the rewarding push-and-pull of problem and solution – of tackling, mastering, and overcoming fresh challenges at every turn.

These fulfilling qualities doubtless explain a 2019 poll conducted by CNBC and SurveyMonkey which found that 90 per cent of tech workers are either very or somewhat satisfied with their jobs – and respondents were also found to have better opportunities and more valued contributions when compared to every other type of worker polled.

It’s no wonder, then, that so many young people opt to study tech-related subjects at degree level. UCAS figures suggest that science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) subjects are exceptionally popular, with admissions in these fields having grown spectacularly between 2011 and 2020 – including a 400 per cent increase in AI courses and a 50 per cent increases in computer science acceptances.

However, entering the world of tech doesn’t require university-level knowledge or accreditations – the field is very inclusive to anyone with the enthusiasm, aptitude, or willingness to bring their own skills to the table. For example, research from the University of Washington has found that people with a talent for languages often have a stronger flair for coding that their more numerate peers.

As such, it’s essential that young people considering a tech career understand that the field is very accessible, and that the right preparation and resources can take them a long way.

Taking first steps towards a new career

Coding is an excellent example of an entryway into the tech world that doesn’t require a degree as a prerequisite.

Many in the industry can get their start through attending intensive courses – or ‘boot camps,’ as they are often known – which allow them to assimilate a working knowledge of a coding language in a relatively short space of time.

The popularity and legitimacy of these courses is reflected in the recent “Coding Bootcamp Market in UK 2021-2025” report which suggests that the UK’s coding bootcamp market is likely to grow by almost $50 million over the next four years.

Coding can even be self-taught, with many taking pleasure in learning and leveraging their growing skills in a purely recreational sense.

To the uninitiated, these alternative, self-taught, non-university approaches might not sound as prestigious as traditional tertiary education – but this is not the case.

An enormous survey of over 50,000 developers from discussions site Stack Overflow found that a remarkable 69 per cent of respondents were at least partially self-taught – and fewer than half of those polled actually held a degree in computer science.

In conjunction with developing coding skills, it’s also important to use those skills by building a portfolio of projects that demonstrates their use – whether they were acquired through a boot camp, an intensive course, or (impressively) through the sheer determination of a self-taught developer.

The rise and value of employer training schemes

Of course, not every field of technology is applicable for a crash course in the style of a coding boot camp, but that doesn’t mean young people need to turn to a STEM degree as their first and only resort.

Another fantastic way to prepare for a career in STEM is, in fact, to take advantage of the increasingly valuable on-the-job training schemes and programs being offered by a growing number of tech companies.

This kind of preparation is, of course, exceptionally useful, since it provides young people not only with the skills and understanding necessary to work in tech, but the environment to practice those skills in an immediate and practical context.

Major tech corporations including Amazon, Google, and IBM are engaging in such training programs – and, in fact, the existence of such programs imply that even those who do hold university-level accreditations do not necessarily come equipped with the skills they need to thrive in such environments without further development.

And, in many ways, this kind of preparation is valuable for its capacity to instil, in young aspirants to tech careers, a sense of the importance of continued training and development. Those working in the tech industry are, after all, going to need to engage in frequent, ongoing training across the entirety of their careers.

Amazon has demonstrated an awareness of this in its recent commitment to spending $700 million retraining 100,000 employees over the next six years.

As such, preparing for the tech industry means preparing for a mode of working which embraces perpetual learning, development, and growth in the course of a rich career.

There’s no better way to prepare for a career in tech than to begin by embracing a culture of growth – and if young people are inclined towards learning and preparing for their new careers in tech, they are already halfway there.

Adrian Overall, CEO and Founder of CloudStratex

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