Are you in with the IT crowd?

Now that all university leavers are computer literate, IT is no longer the preserve of the hardcore techie
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The Independent Online

While the geeky stereotype of the IT crowd lives on, it couldn't be further from the truth, according to Nick Watson, a director at Cisco Systems UK & Ireland. "The thing that many graduates seem to miss is that IT isn't as purely technical as it used to be. In fact, we take on a growing number of graduates who don't have a technical degree."

It doesn't even matter if you studied a completely unrelated discipline such as history or languages, he says. "For the more customer-facing roles, far more important is having a rudimentary understanding of business and good interpersonal skills," he says.

So keen is Watson to persuade people of the benefits of working in the IT industry - which he describes as "lucrative, exciting and transformational" - that he is taking his message into schools to try and capture the imagination of young people. "We want them to get excited about the idea of working in IT, whether they're technically minded or not. Of course, people need to have an appreciation of IT, but few people don't, considering they're growing up with mobile phones, iPods and so on."

Isla Derwent, 26, who works for the IT services company Fujitsu Services, agrees that the industry is often misunderstood. "You still get people who think IT is all about programming and you still get more men than women initially attracted to IT," she says.

Having studied a degree in marketing, Derwent decided she didn't want to work in that industry. "But I still wanted a job that involved building relationships and I quite liked the idea of working in an industry that's really cutting-edge. IT seemed perfect."

Having joined Fujitsu, which takes on around 100 people annually from all disciplines onto its graduate scheme, Derwent says it's amazingly satisfying when you solve an IT problem for a customer. "A couple of months ago, a customer had a problem with a supplier and asked us to provide a solution. Within a week, I was able to do so at a low cost and they were amazingly grateful. To know that I was a primary instigator, and the liaison between all the teams involved, was brilliant."

According to this year's Target IT magazine, published by GTI, there are more non-technical IT careers on offer than ever. Chris Phillips, director of GTI, says, "What these employers are after are good communication and analytical skills, as well as evidence of logical thinking and practical problem solving," he says. "Team-working skills are also key."

The IT market is buoyant, he says. "After a number of fairly flattish years, we've seen an increase in the demand for students." Amanda Cowley, HR manager at M&G Ltd, agrees. "We've had our most successful recruitment campaign ever this year, and we expect the market to be similar for our 2007 campaign, which we have just begun."

M&G is among the employers that does prefer graduates to have a technical background, but Cowley says that even they need strong interpersonal skills. "Our graduates work with key business stakeholders from early on in the programme," she explains. "So not only do they need to understand technical aspects, they need to be able to articulate their work to non-IT people within the business."

Jamie Olver, 26, a business architect for BT, says, "A lot of people still think you deal with computers all day if you work in IT, but you're often out on site talking to people, as well as managing relationships, selling your ideas and some creative work too."

Jason Dias-Patel, 23, who works in IT for UBS investment bank, agrees. "Other rewards include working in such a rapidly changing environment that you could never get bored, and the amazing career opportunities," he says.