Selecting an employer

January 2006

Silhouettes of peopleIt is difficult, if not impossible, to categorise the many ways there are to work in the IT industry, writes Wilf Voss, senior product development & marketing manager, BCS Qualifications. In this article he examines how to select an employer.

IT is one of the most diverse and hybrid engineering disciplines and one that affects every one of us in our everyday life, from the computer on our desktop to the complex safety-critical systems used in the transportation and power generation systems. This means that the industry can offer a wide range of job opportunities across a number of disciplines.

There are, however, some generalizations that can be made as to the sorts of employment you could encounter in IT. There are two main types of IT employer: those who are systems developers or manufacturers and those who use the technology. There are also two types of each employer: large and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs).

Large versus small

An important requirement for any prospective employee is careful research and questions at the interview stage to ensure that whatever company you choose will be right for you.

The smaller company will give the employee a greater involvement in the organisation. Likely you will encounter a more varied remit than those who work within a larger organisation. You can become part of a closely formed team where there will normally be less formality related to procedures and reporting. This can foster a feeling of being an integral part of the company, meaning that your efforts and contributions can be quickly rewarded.

However, you should consider the risks involved with smaller companies. A large company may lose a major customer and feel the effect but a smaller company could be put out of business. Any dip in the profits will become apparent far more swiftly, so the viability of any company should be part of your early investigations and you should monitor this throughout your employment. Be ready to move out if the situation arises.

You should also be aware that training and development may not be so simple in the smaller organization. Nevertheless the SME might spend every penny wisely by ensuring that you develop up-to-date skills to meet the needs of their business while the larger one may not use their training budget so effectively.

Large companies will have a different way of working. They will have a more formal structure because of their size and number of employees, with separate departments dealing with product development, support, marketing and so on. This can provide a great deal of flexibility so that the employee can find the right niche from which to forge a career. Employees can often move between departments and there can be a clearer career path through the chain of management.

Many large organizations in the IT sphere employ a team-based approach, meaning that as specific projects reach fruition the team is reorganised. This change of structure can give you experience of working with different people, different management styles and on different projects. This can help you build a strong professional career. Many organisations will provide work experience for new employees within different areas or departments to give an overall view of its organisation and products, and support this with continuing development and training to keep their skills up to date.

As membership of a professional body becomes more important you should consider whether your employment will match the requirements for professional membership. The BCS has an accelerated membership routes for those who have been on one of their accredited training courses.

Generally, there is no way to say that working for a large company is better than working for a smaller one. You need to weigh up the pros and cons and decide whether you prefer the close-knit environment of the smaller company or the more structured approach of the larger organisation. In a small company you may take a share of the credit and profit when a project succeeds whereas the larger one can offer a wide range of experience across the organisational structure.

The developer versus the user

Next you need to consider the scope of a potential employer's work. You may wish to be involved with development or with a user-based perspective.

Development companies will generally have a range of products and they will be responsible for their life cycle, not just the coding and programming, but the analysis and design testing, implementation, maintenance and support. There are roles available across the range of activities and each can be very satisfying.

User-based companies are the other side of this equation. They will use the developers' systems and IT staff will be responsible for the implementation, installation, use and support of those products. There are also the essential services required to keep a computer system running efficiently as well as reviewing the security, maintenance and so on.

You are likely to be dealing with users on a daily basis, solving problems and looking for solutions. Generally there are many more user-based organizations than there are developers, and you could be involved in virtually any industry.

Wilf has overall marketing and product development responsibility for BCS Qualification products, including ISEB and the European Computer Driving Licence in the UK. He is also involved with event management and has organized a variety of events and exhibitions in the UK and internationally.

This article was published in the 2007-2008 Inside Careers: Careers logo