The Higher Education sector offers a wide range of opportunities for those interested in developing a career in IT. Would you like to work as a business analyst? A web developer? Would you prefer managing IT projects? Are you good at problem-solving and coming up with creative solutions? If you are searching for a new role, you may feel confused about what skills and experience you might need.
UK universities have experienced a wide range of technological changes over the last five years. Without the support of IT departments, lecturers would not have been able to transition from face-to-face to online course delivery in the recent pandemic. Cyber security is an ongoing concern and requires careful management when delivering new projects. Remote working needs to be supported by skilled IT officers who can troubleshoot issues. Both students and employees heavily rely on IT.
IT is one of the largest and most well-funded professional service departments in Higher Education. To meet the increasingly complex demands in this area, universities are keen to recruit IT professionals. In the following article, I have listed some of the key skills you will need in order to progress in your career.
Did you know that the role of business analyst is listed as one of the 20 best jobs for 2020? Most business analysts spend their time investigating business problems and giving recommendations to improve processes. You would generally need a range of technical and soft skills:
You should have a Bachelor’s degree in Computing, Data Science, Business or any other relevant discipline. You will need to demonstrate the ability to translate problem statements into analysis requirements. Employers would expect you to understand process mapping and process improvement, and how to work successfully in the context of an agile environment.
You will need to have outstanding research skills in order to investigate problems. Critical thinking will enable you to come up with a wide range of solutions and to investigate problems from different angles. As you will be working with a diverse range of university staff and external stakeholders, you would need to demonstrate excellent communication skills. You might be asked to deliver workshops, manage a team of business analysts, and communicate with non-technical audiences.
To work successfully in this role, you would need to have soft skills such as effective communication, flexibility, critical thinking, organisation, problem-solving, team working and creativity.
According to a recent article published by the Institute of Coding, there is increasing demand for data science, data analysis and data engineering skills. Data engineers build the infrastructure to transform data for analytical or operational uses. The MIT Sloan School of Management highlights that the work of data engineers is ‘…the foundation of a data operation as they take large amounts of raw data and prepare it for others who make business decisions, write prediction algorithms, and the like.’
Data engineers could be generalists (overseeing all data tasks), pipeline-centric (managing the data flow into the organisation) and database-centric (working with multiple databases). They typically have a strong understanding of software engineering and data science. You could transition into this role from a software engineer, data analyst and business intelligence developer background.
You would possess an undergraduate degree with Engineering, Mathematics or Computing elements. You would be confident using statistical, spreadsheet and database packages. You would need to demonstrate knowledge of programming languages such as Java, SAS, SQL and Python. You should have a good understanding of operating systems like Apple macOS, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Solaris and UNIX. Some of the roles you may come across in this field include head of data engineering, lead data engineer and senior data engineer.
It is helpful if you have gained experience of commercial or open-source data-driven applications. The Gov.uk website indicates that you would need to be able to communicate with technical and non-technical staff effectively. In this role, you would frequently liaise with business analysts, data scientists, designers and other university staff without any background in IT.
According to the National Careers Service website: ‘Data scientists use software, artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyse and interpret large amounts of data.’ You would often work in a team of data experts and use data and analytics to achieve organisational goals. On a day-to-day basis, you would gather large amounts of data and get it ready to be analysed and interpreted. You would be expected to have a postgraduate degree in a relevant field such as Computing, Mathematics, Operational Research or Statistics. You would need good knowledge of R, SAS, Python and SQL, Java, C/C++, Perl and Ruby. Employers could ask for experience in statistical techniques, data visualisation, analytics and machine learning tools. You might also have to show awareness of the cloud toolkit (AWS/Microsoft Azure other), CI/CD and Git.
Universities would also look for applicants with strong commercial acumen and to be able to communicate findings to both technical and non-technical audiences. You may be asked to present your findings in departmental meetings.
You would need to have experience in analysing data from multiple angles, predicting trends and identifying patterns. You would be genuinely interested in new developments in analytical and statistical methods, and machine learning. Intellectual curiosity is important as you will be expected to look for answers to provide solutions to problems and support the university’s future growth. The most successful data scientists are storytellers. They are able to create a narrative using data and help others make more effective decisions as a result.
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