People put a lot of value in work experience and industry placement. This is a good thing as this sort of experience provides practical hands on experience in the environment which the majority of IT and Comp/Sci students anticipate they will work in after their degree. However, there is also some danger with this logic because it assumes you need to be in the “industry” to get hands on experience. This is certainly true for most professions, but what do you need before you can do work in IT?
A surgeon needs an operating theatre and support staff. An engineer or architect needs construction companies, machinery and council approval. Working in IT only requires a computer. IT is different because the only physical barrier to starting in IT is having access to a computer, which is so universal that the concept of printing this article would be met with confused faces and remarks like “Just put it on the blog”. So now, with the knowledge that it’s not necessary to be in the industry to “practice your craft”, I am sure many will rebuke by saying things like “It’s not the same” or “There are many other valuable experiences which you can get with placement”.
Let’s look at those valuable experiences.
A key experience is ‘working in a team’ or ‘collaborating’. This sums up the mentally of many quite well, as they assume teams require a formal structure to support the formal structure of a team. For many; a ‘team’ has been forced upon them. In school via group assignments, in sporting events and in part time jobs. But a team which effectively collaborates together to achieve a common goal doesn’t need additional structure to support it, it can be self-sustaining. To address this need for teamwork experience in the field of IT, it’s simple. Get 2 or 3 friends and build something. Create your own internal structure so to align everyone on their expectations within the team (something many people unfamiliar with ‘teamwork’ feel comfort in knowing) and then work towards building something cool with technology. Don’t know what? Doesn’t matter. The point of building the thing is just giving a purpose to the team; it’s up to you to give purpose to the thing.
Another experience which is invaluable is the ‘bigger picture’ that so many people talk about. Being involved with the industry gives the opportunity to understand the culture and the environment and find out how you fit into it. Where-as this is hard to argue with; I don’t think that work-placement is alone in its ability to deliver this kind of value.
There are many groups, organizations and clubs which represent a greater IT community in a certain space - like the Wollongong Information Technology Society. These ‘societies’ host events and provide points of interaction with the industry as a whole; they are often run with industry members and can provide a window into the type of world one might aspire to be a part of. Joining these sort of groups - like WITS - give you an awesome insight into not only the industry itself, but offers a taste of the culture and the type of people that exist within it.
What I am talking about, is getting work experience without getting ‘work experience’.
If you want experience in the ‘work’ of the IT industry; then you already know what to do. It may not involve as many (or any) clients, it may not involve as many emails or meetings (Which I would argue is the best part) and you may NOT learn as much (Because it’s self-directed and I don’t know you). BUT. You totally can just get a laptop and start coding or building something (a game, a website ANYTHING)
Do not think that I am dismissing work experience. Infact I’m doing the opposite. The skills you gain and the stuff you make will be invaluable in helping you get a head start in securing work experience and ultimately will help you find your place in the IT industry.
So now you know you can do that. Go do that.
Also join WITS if you want to. We can help.