10 Tech Career Boosters

This guide is for students just starting out in the IT industry, but could just as well apply to anyone who wants to set themselves apart in a competitive global environment.

Going by most media and industry reports, technology industries in India are starting to bounce back from the global slowdown. Our country might not be faring as badly as others are right now, but that still doesn’t mean all is well on the job search front. Many of the workers laid off earlier this year are still finding it hard to get new jobs, since companies are only just starting to recover and aren’t looking at expansion opportunities yet. With so many experienced workers and so few job openings, things don’t look very good at all for the lakhs of freshers who will be graduating six or eight months from now and entering the job market for the first time.

“IT” as a career option is a fairly vague, nebulous idea. Everyone knows that IT is hot and there’s lots of money to be made if you’re young and well educated, but no one can actually pin down a single, specific path to follow that guarantees you’ll make it big. IT encompasses careers in hardware administration, networking, chip design, coding or programming, software development, testing and validation, database management, business analysis, security, visual design, animation, and dozens of other avenues. Additionally, each of those can encompass multiple potential careers, each of which would require additional specialized knowledge, such as game development for mobile devices or enterprise-level data center security.

Added to this, many graduating computer science and IT students don’t feel very well prepared for jobs in the real world. A random sampling of students and recently employed workers CHIP spoke to expressed the common concern that their specializations, usually Java and C, aren’t exactly the best tools to take them beyond entry-level jobs in coding. Recruiters shared the same concern, but rationalized that by saying that tech companies usually hire freshers for very specific jobs such as data entry or a single type of programming, and will put them through a few weeks or months of training in that field. This illustrates the difference between an IT job and an IT career: students who don’t know exactly what they want to pursue will end up being molded by the immediate requirements of the industry. Those who find themselves surrounded by hundreds of others doing exactly the same work will quickly find things repetitive and stifling. Worse, those who don’t have the aptitude for whatever they’ve been pushed into won’t do very well, won’t rise in the company’s hierarchy, and might even get put off by the industry as a whole.

Some students who find themselves unaware of what options lie ahead of them because of this vagueness s only wind up following the herd and joining large companies en masse in the hope of picking up some skills along the way, an attitude that doesn’t necessarily go down well with HR managers or bosses. Employees who have a well thought out growth plan or at least some specific goals and understanding of their own aptitudes will always stand out.

10. Take charge of your future with parallel courses

If you’ve just entered college and are wondering how to make the most of a course that isn’t really keeping you interested or engaged, find something to do alongside. College won’t take up every single waking moment you have, and there are dozens of institutes in every city offering part-time morning, evening and weekend courses. Sure, it might cut down on your social life a bit, but it’s the kind of move that will really set you apart when a recruiter is flooded with hundreds of resumes with identical college degree qualifications.

There are dozens of choices available. Several major institutes with hundreds of branches across the country offer career-focused multi-year diploma courses that allow you to pick and choose from various modules, include training in soft skills, and even promise job placements. These courses, however, are fairly expensive and require serious commitment. On the other hand, short term courses are a great way to pick up secondary skills that will not only help to pad your resume but also give you an edge in your college work. A few months with Photoshop and Illustrator will help you create high-quality graphics for your college Web design projects, and some hands-on experience with hardware assembling and troubleshooting will be a nice balance to a software engineering degree. Everything extra you do will result in a more rounded application and personality, which could work to your advantage in the future.

Such courses are also great for students who feel that their colleges aren't really preparing them for the careers they are interested in, or who didn't manage to get into exactly the course of their choice.

You could also opt for something completely offbeat. Several institutes are beginning to offer courses in ethical hacking, typography, game development, jewelry design, and other things that might not only interest you, but also give you a unique skill that could come in handy later.

09. Exploit your INTERNSHIPS to the max

If your college doesn’t make it compulsory to do an internship, do one anyway. In fact, try to do more than one! Of course it’s nice to relax and wake up late every day, but summer vacations can also be used productively to enhance your career prospects. On-the-job training is invaluable and is completely incomparable to just classroom experience and college projects. Not only will you get an idea of how the industry works, but you’ll have a glimpse of your own potential future. As an intern you might get stuck doing menial tasks for a while, but if you show good aptitude, you’ll almost certainly be trusted with regular, more important work as well. If you intern at a smaller company, chances are you’ll become one of the team and share in their work. At the end of your time there, you’ll have something you can really show off to future potential employers.

Interning is about more than just showing up at an office and earning a recommendation letter. Take every opportunity you have to chat with everyone from senior managers to fresh staffers. You’ll learn tons about the job, the industry, competing companies, plans and expectations, and the kind of lifestyle you’ll have if you make this your career. It’s important to make friends and stay in touch with them. If they remember you, joining the company as a permanent staffer a year down the line will be a whole lot easier. And because churn is fairly high and people change jobs often, you’ll end up with friends in a whole host of companies who can alert you to job openings and put in a good word for you with their recruiters.

08. Work at a NON-IT OutfiT

It isn’t the end of the world if all the big IT houses have frozen hiring. There are hundreds of other companies that can use your skills if you’re talented enough. Every company has IT infrastructure that needs to be maintained, so hardware and networking skills are sought after. In-house Web developers can be found in diverse fields, as can database architects and experts in many verticals. As always, you could get noticed and later be pushed to work on bigger and better projects, or you could even wind up influencing all tech-related decisions within the company because your bosses will recognize your skill in areas they don’t fully understand!

Media houses, ad agencies, law firms, hospitality establishments, logistics operations, and pretty much all types of small/medium enterprises and even family business need staff with tech skills. You can help them save money on infrastructure, Web hosting, replacing outsourced skills, information security, new media strategies, SAP implementation, etc. Many companies just don’t know how badly they could do with technically-oriented staff until the potential for improvement is demonstrated to them. So don’t scoff at an offer for a boring-sounding job at a non-IT firm; chances are once you’re inside, you’ll be able to spread your wings.

07. Network, network, network— Online and offline

With all the regular channels of interaction such as placement agencies and HR recruiters drying up, it’s important to have your own connections. Well-placed friends and colleagues can alert you to positions that need to be filled and recommend you to their superiors. Stay in touch with your classmates and seniors as well as anyone else in the industry you meet along the way.

One great way to do this is through specialized online social networks such as SiliconIndia, LinkedIn and Ryze. Regularly updating your profile and whereabouts ensures that you’ll be seen in your contacts’ news feeds, keeping you visible and relevant to them. You can also use Facebook and other regular social networks, but remember to restrict access to your drunken party photos: these might work against you when it comes to finding someone suitable for a job. Offline networking is also important. Friends, family, visiting faculty—anyone at all could become a valuable resource. Check out communities in your town or college such as linux user groups, barcamps, and other places where those with common techie interests meet. You could end up impressing someone in a high position.

06. Learn to make Job sites work for you

Job sites are widely used by recruiters to select a few promising candidates for any vacancy that might arise. Make sure your profile is visible and relevant by exploiting all the features of the sites, such as supplying the right keywords to make you show up in searches. Regularly updated profiles with as much information as possible will help you get noticed. You can even pay a small fee for preferred listings in many cases.

Job sites also offer plenty of additional help, including articles about proper interview etiquette, job search strategies, tips for negotiating salaries, and even pointers on the kind of brain teasers software companies like to surprise interviewees with.

05. Brush up on your Interview Skills

This is a pretty general tip, but it’s important nonetheless. First impressions count, so make sure you’re on time for your interview, study a bit about the company’s profile and background, and rehearse answers for common questions. Take very opportunity to say something positive about yourself, even when asked “What do people say your worst trait is?”

Carry copies of your resume and recommendation letters, in case they’re required. Don’t jump into salary negotiations or make demands if you aren’t specifically asked what how much you’re expecting. Sit up straight, speak clearly, and don’t fidget with pens or papers. If you get the chance, you can engage the interviewer by asking questions about the work environment, expected projects and clients, and any concerns you might have.

04. Don't underestimate your Portfolio

Just like a recruiter will scrutinize your resume without needing to be technically minded, your potential bosses might not care at all about academic marks. In this case, they’re trying to see how good you are at what you do, and how well you’ll fit in. A slick portfolio or showreel will go a long way in showing off your previous work, even if it’s only academic assignments. Make liberal use of screenshots and captions to highlight any particularly innovative approach to problem solving. If possible (and if suitable to your work), create an interactive Flash demonstration that you can host online as well. Even a simple slideshow of photos could be impressive if done well.

03. Know your basics, know your trivia

It might not sound important, but a lot of interviewers will quiz you on trivia such as Cobol concepts or legacy networking architectures and protocols. This is actually quite a good sign, since it is more likely to occur with smaller companies where you're expected to have more of an individual personality and be less of a code-writing zombie.

The questions asked might be to throw you off, to see what you’ve learnt on your own, or to check your background and the kind of context you have while working on problems. It shouldn't be a negative thing to say you aren’t familiar with these things, but actually knowing them will give you an edge. Besides, if your interviewer is an old timer who likes sharing war stories, you’ll score points by knowing what he’s talking about and laughing along with the inside jokes. After all, you are in the company of geeks!

02. Pay attention to industry Trends

This one really should go without saying, but it’s one of the most important things you can do. You need to follow magazines, websites, job portals, business newspapers, trade publications and any sources you have within the industry to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry. Do all this for a few months and you’ll be able to predict which niches and verticals require skilled staff and which ones offer the maximum potential for growth. Are there any specializations that are always in demand? Are there any fields with a dearth of qualified candidates? The answers to these questions evolve over time, so you’d do well to track them.

Combining your research with specialized courses could additionally work to your advantage because you’ll give yourself a unique set of talents and you’ll be able to present this to recruiters with confidence. Especially if you’re undecided about what to pursue, you’ll get a lot of insight and might come across something that really captures you interests.

You could even find yourself looking at an extremely fulfilling career outside of mainstream IT, such as technology journalism, legal consultation, PR and corporate communications, teaching, or loads of other areas in which your knowledge and background will give you an edge, while simultaneously letting you avoid the crunch that the IT industry is now facing. Again, it all comes down to being an intelligent, informed person with a well-rounded personality—exactly the kind of thing that impresses recruiters and bosses.

Continuing to keep abreast of the industry and economy will always help you grow, long after you've landed a job and have embarked upon your career.

01 Blaze your own Career Path

Most important of all, don’t just follow the herd! Even at the best of times, you could be hired to just sit behind a desk and churn out hundreds of lines of code everyday alongside a thousand other sheep doing exactly the same thing. If you really want to set yourself apart, you have to rise above the herd and do your own thing. All the tips outlined here will help you become unique and valuable, both inside and outside a tech company. Don’t be afraid to take a lesser-known path; many of the sectors which are still booming today were unheard of niches a few years ago.

If at any point you begin to feel burnt out (like thousands of formerly enthusiastic graduates who joined the BPO industry for its glamor and fat pay packets have been), you can always make a change and switch streams. Once you have your basics in place and you understand how the job market functions, and if you have carefullyl evaluated the risk with the present economic scenario, you can make your jump—although this becomes a lot easier if you have a lot of work experience.

Even if you didn’t graduate in a specific stream or specialization, there’s nothing stopping you from switching paths later on if you really want to. A few people have grown to become CTOs without any formal education in technology at all, and some have left engineering careers to be perfectly happy and well paid in other peripheral or even unrelated fields. Your future is in your own hands, so don’t be afraid to spend time exploring different things before you finally settle on what’s right for you.

By Jamshed Avari - http://www.chip.in/

Comments

Natarajaprabhu said…
If you are in need of high paying job just search jobs in India, since in India more companies are emerging with more job openings

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