Computing and IT - student stories
Simon Hargrave, Information and Data Manager
What did you do before your current job?
I left school with minimal qualifications and spent five years doing a succession of jobs, like being a kitchen porter.
I read that there was demand for computer programmers so I decided on that. A careers adviser said I'd need a qualification so I did an HND. I couldn't get a job because employers wanted experience so did some temping for a year and then got a permanent job in tech support. After a year I became an analyst/programmer for several companies over a period of eight years. I then worked as a business analyst for five years. I now work for an adult education college, managing the database and producing management information.
What is your current post?
In adult education we have to show we are achieving targets. As the person responsible for generating the data to do this, there is a lot of pressure. I manage a team and a lot of my time is spent sharing the work-load - teamwork is crucial.
The main database contains information on students, courses, enrolments and staff. My duties include ensuring that data is accurate and that it works. I generate reports on college performance and the accuracy of the data.
What skills do you use in your job?
Good organisation skills, ability to analyse user requirements and project manage the implementation of any solutions. Technical knowledge, although I'd argue that's less important. You need to communicate with other people to understand their requirements and have good negotiation skills.
Best and worst aspects?
Worst: pressure, people invariably want something that will take weeks done in a day! But through negotiation they're usually more than happy to wait.
Best: when I am able to provide what people need and meet their requirements. Seeing a project through from conception to implementation and knowing that something you helped create has made things better. There's also a surprising amount of creativity involved in effective IT work.
What plans do you have for the future?
A few years ago I thought of getting out of IT, but then realised I was unhappy with the job I was in at the time. Doing the degree at the OU made me realise how much I didn't enjoy IT – because I enjoyed studying so much more! I thought of education so it's great the college I'm at has been very encouraging; I've done a City and Guilds course on teaching, and tutor some classes. I'd like to develop the tutoring more and do an MA in history.
What advice would you give to someone considering your area of IT?
Get a qualification, but you'll need to get experience as well. Try getting any job in IT and studying part time. Make sure you get a wide range of experience to see what you enjoy.
Ask for advice and don't be put off by the jargon. It's important to be able to work with people, to be able to see the big picture and how the changes being proposed might impact on other areas of the organisation.