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10 essential skills for graduates in tech

Jaymes Carr

If you’re planning a career in IT, here are some of the skills that will help you stand out from the crowd.

There’s nothing quite like your first job to throw you in at the deep end and give you no choice but to sink or swim. Your degree would have furnished you with large amounts of theory and knowledge, some of which you’ll use and some of which you’ll forget as the years' pass. But when you find yourself on the job, being asked to perform and deliver to certain standards, expectations and timeframes, the learning curve will be steep and lasting.

The first hurdle though is to actually get hired! When employers look at prospective candidates, there are certain skills they value more than others. While some of these will obviously be technical, there are also valuable ‘soft skills’ that would go a long way towards getting you into that dream job.

A word to the wise. Don’t be fooled into underestimating the importance of those soft skills – you may be a rising star when it comes to coding but if you can’t communicate well with your clients or work as a cohesive member of a team, you will not add value to the business. Top-notch soft skills can also lead to bigger and better opportunities.

Technical skills or knowledge

Killer coding skills in more than one language

At most IT organisations, it’s expected that graduate employees will be proficient in at least one of the following: Java, HTML, CSS and C++. However, it’s best to think of these as being like the Romance languages of the IT world - most people ‘speak’ at least a little of each of them. To really capture the attention of employers, consider branching out into something more exotic, like C#, Python or new Java frameworks like Ruby, React or AngularJS.

Experience contributing to open source projects or existing codebases

One of the best ways to show off your chops to prospective employers is by contributing to open source projects or existing code bases. Sites like GitHub will host your coding projects, making it easy to share them as part of your graduate application. Alternatively (or even additionally), you can lend your talents to the development of open-source programs like Mozilla Firefox, Linux or LibreOffice.

Firm understanding of systems architecture

‘Full-stack developer’ is a phrase that you’ll undoubtedly come across as you peruse job descriptions. It describes an IT professional who is equally comfortable working with back- and front-end technologies, including both hardware and software. Of course, as a graduate, it’s unlikely that you’ll be expected to demonstrate this degree of end-to-end expertise. However, by taking courses in systems architecture, or mastering things like database management, you’ll be able to show your commitment to mastering the full stack in due time.  

Data analysis skills

The future of IT is data - how to collect it (such as via the Internet of Things), how to aggregate it (especially on platforms like SQL Server), and, most importantly, how to analyse it to generate actionable insights. By enrolling in data analysis courses or familiarising yourself with tools like R, Tableau or Google Analytics, you can impress prospective employers with your dedication to developing a vital skill.

Skilled project management

Strictly speaking, this isn’t a technical skill, but without it, even the most accomplished coder wouldn’t get much done. The graduates who get hired by reputable tech companies tend to be those who have a proven ability to see projects through from inception to completion. If this is a string you’d like to add to your bow, consider enrolling in project management courses or contributing to tech initiatives for which you can take credit in interviews or applications. It’s a sure way to stand out from the crowd.

Technical writing

Even if you end up working in a technical role, you may be working with other teams or stakeholders who do not. The ability to ‘translate’ complex technical jargon into documentation lay-people can understand is a much sought after skill in the tech arena. You might have to tap into this skill across many different scenarios like corresponding with clients, writing up press releases, web content or manuals, so it is one that will help you to stand out as a great job candidate.

Soft skills

Adaptability

Grads that know how to code but don’t know how to modify their approach when they encounter a new project management methodology, or can build a tool in Java but can’t scale their efforts to suit a short release cycle, will struggle to survive in a space where the only constant changes. Adapting to shifting priorities and being flexible with how your work is key in this field, as each project and product you work on will be different. This skill will stand you in good stead particularly if you choose to work at a startup which is known for being highly dynamic.

Curiosity

Wanting to know how everything works will keep your mind sharp and your ideas compelling. Having a compulsion to break things down only to put them back together in a more efficient way will give you a deeper understanding of a concept, process or product that will allow you to refine further and further until you reach a razor-sharp end state.

Enthusiasm

This is the most exciting time to be alive when it comes to the tech industry. You will be working on the frontlines, helping the world as it navigates through the digital revolution. The work you do today may completely revolutionise how people or businesses interact with their environment. Do you remember how we kept in touch before Skype or Facebook or Whatsapp? Imagine when physical libraries were the main source of information before the explosion of search engines like Yahoo and Google. Technology changed all of that and will continue to change so much more in the future. If that’s not exciting to you, you probably shouldn’t be considering a career in tech!

Creative thinking and problem solving

Technology is born out of creativity. This is one field where ideas and imagination will never be ignored or given less priority. You will be actively encouraged by your employers to keep your mind thinking out of the box and to look at problems differently in order to find creative solutions. Complacency in technology is pretty much unacceptable because the moment a tech company stops innovating is the moment it is obsolete. Do whatever you can to keep your mind thinking in new ways. volunteer with a tech initiative in your community, enter a technology competition or see if you can apply your technical skills to a current hobby. These will demonstrate to your future employer that you are constantly looking at ways to apply your skills creatively and usefully and that is a sure-fire way to set yourself apart.