Gaining industry-approved computing skills and qualifications can really empower your IT career. Discover the pathways towards professional certification in the most popular fields
A degree or apprenticeship will get your foot in the door as you begin your career, but gaining additional knowledge - whether through postgraduate study, short courses or online learning - is a great way to keep up to date with the latest developments in technology.
This is especially important as employers in the IT industry generally expect candidates to have professional certifications to show their expertise in particular programming languages, software packages or methodologies.
After graduating, consider gaining some highly-regarded industry certifications - such as those from non-profit industry bodies like CompTIA and (ISC)2, which can go far in demonstrating your technical skills to potential employers.
Agile for IT project management
To find a job in IT project management, you don't need a postgraduate degree, but it's a good idea to gain professional qualifications in the best practice methodologies used in the industry. The most popular of these is Agile.
Agile courses are available throughout the UK, such as through BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT - see BCS Agile certifications. The foundation level certificate is assessed through a one-hour multiple-choice exam, while to achieve practitioner status you'll need to complete a three-hour written scenario-based test.
Training towards the exam is offered by BCS-accredited providers. Foundation-level courses typically take two days of classroom-based learning, cost around £1,000 and have no specific entry requirements.
Meanwhile, BCS also offers a range of other project management certifications (including PRINCE2 courses) at foundation, practitioner and higher levels.
Providing the most popular certifications for network engineers, market-leading technology firm Cisco offers several different pathways to choose from, such as Design, Industrial, Routing and Switching, Security and Wireless.
Whichever track you choose, there are four main levels of Cisco certification:
- CCENT - entry level
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
- Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
- Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE).
The CCENT certification has no entry requirements and prepares you for higher level qualifications, for which you'll need more experience. Exams last between one and two hours, and are taken online. Find out more at The Cisco Learning Network.
Meanwhile, if you're a network engineer looking for a certification that's globally recognised but not provided by a particular IT firm for its own products, then you may want to consider CompTIA's Network+ qualification.
Cloud computing courses
If you're interested in becoming an expert in cloud computing, one option is to take a postgraduate course. You'll first need to have studied computer science or a related subject at undergraduate level, although applicants with relevant professional experience may also be considered.
Masters programmes typically take one year to complete when studied full time, and course fees are generally between £5,000 and £12,000 for UK and European Union (EU) students. Search for cloud computing courses.
While this will give you a strong grounding in the topic, recruiters look for candidates with an understanding of the specific cloud platform their company uses. Therefore, working towards professional qualifications may be the best way to develop your skills, especially if you aren't interested in the research element of postgraduate study or are put off by the cost.
Online or short courses lasting one to three days usually cost hundreds (rather than thousands) of pounds. To see what's available, visit the training websites of major cloud providers, including:
Cyber security courses
For those who want to work in a cyber security analyst role, further study and professional qualifications in cyber security are available.
In most cases, postgraduate courses at UK universities take one year to complete if studied full time. Entry requirements tend to include a degree in a computing-related subject, but your application may be considered if you can demonstrate your interest in cyber security through work experience. Masters-level study will prepare you for a career in the industry or further study in the form of a PhD. Search for postgraduate courses in cyber security.
The UK intelligence agency GCHQ, through its National Cyber Security Centre, accredits Masters and Bachelors courses. By successfully completing an accredited programme, this will help you to stand out when applying for jobs.
Once you begin your career, gaining professional qualifications will enable you to progress. For example the National Cyber Security Centre offers its Certified Professional (CCP) Scheme at practitioner, senior practitioner and lead practitioner levels. This is the UK government's approved standard for cyber security professionals. There are six pathways for different job roles:
- IA accreditor
- Security and information risk advisor (SIRA)
- IA architect
- IA auditor
- IT security officer
- Communications security officer.
You can find out more, including entry requirements, fees, assessment and how to apply, by visiting BCS - NCSC CCP Scheme, a licensed provider of the certification.
Alternatively, a range of cyber security certifications are available from (ISC)2, an international membership association for industry professionals. Another widely recognised qualification is CompTIA's Security+.
Read more about cyber security training.
ITIL for IT service management
A career in IT service management (ITSM) is about ensuring an organisation's IT services are delivered effectively, efficiently and reliably to customers. In addition to a degree in an IT-related subject, employers expect you to have, or be willing to work towards, professional qualifications.
The most popular and globally-recognised best-practice certification in this area is ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library), which is owned by Axelos. ITIL certifications are available at foundation, practitioner, intermediate, expert and master levels. The exams can be taken in the UK. For more information, see BCS - IT service management certifications.
Learn to code
If you want to work as an applications developer, you'll need qualifications that demonstrate your ability to code. Employers look for at least a Higher National Diploma (HND), foundation degree or a degree in IT, computer science or a related subject.
The key to becoming a software developer is to learn and practice one or more of the most in-demand programming languages, including:
You can get started with coding courses using a free learning platform such as Codecademy. Once you've secured an entry-level job, you may want to work towards professional qualifications, such as Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) or Oracle's Java certifications.
Postgraduate courses are available, particularly in the rapidly growing field of mobile app development. On these programmes you'll learn about programming for Android, iOS and HTML5 for the mobile web, and get hands-on practice at developing your own apps.
You'll typically require a degree in computer science or a related subject to get a place on a course, and in some cases you'll also need to demonstrate existing programming skills.
Products made by Microsoft are used by countless organisations around the globe, and official Microsoft certifications demonstrating expertise in one or more of these are looked on favourably by employers.
There are six Microsoft certification categories covering different products:
- Mobility - for technologies including Microsoft Intune, Windows System Centre.
- Cloud - Windows Server Virtualisation, Microsoft Azure.
- Productivity - Microsoft Office, Skype for Business.
- Data - SQL server.
- Business - Microsoft Dynamics 365, SQL Server.
For each pathway there are different levels of certification - from the entry-level Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) through to higher levels of qualification such as Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE).
Passing exams for Microsoft courses above MTA level will enable you to become recognised as a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP), a highly-regarded status within the IT sector.
There are also Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certifications for those who need to show their proficiency in one or more Office programs.
The second biggest software company in the world behind Microsoft, Oracle offers globally-recognised qualifications in the use of its products through the Oracle University portal.
Oracle is best known for its database software and for owning the Java programming language. The Oracle certification programme is divided into ten product areas:
- Enterprise Management
- Java and Middleware
- Operating Systems
- Oracle Cloud
Well respected in the IT industry, Oracle certifications are available at five levels: associate, professional, master, expert and specialist. To prepare for the exams, training is offered in a variety of formats including classroom-based, online on-demand and self-study.
Software testing courses
By finding bugs and other issues through manual and automated tests, software testers ensure that products created by developers are fit for purpose.
Postgraduate study isn't necessary, as launching your career in this area is usually possible with a diploma or degree in a computing-related subject. However, taking professional qualifications will allow you to make further progress and demonstrate your skills to employers.
BCS offers a number of software testing certifications at foundation level. These qualifications have no specific entry requirements and are aimed at anyone involved in software testing or just moving into this field. There are three main options:
- ISTQB-BCS Certified Tester
- User Experience (UX)
- ASTQB Certified Mobile Tester.
Intermediate and higher level qualifications are also available.
Web development courses
When looking to become a web developer, you'll need to decide on an area of specialisation and the programming language(s) you'll focus on.
If you're more concerned with the aesthetics and usability of a website, you could take a web design course. There are many online course providers offering introductions to this field. There's some overlap with the marketing sector, so discover how to get into digital marketing.
Online IT courses
Once you know which IT certification you want to work towards, you can take online (as well as classroom-based if you prefer) courses to get up to speed with the theoretical knowledge you need to pass the exams. These typically take one to five days to complete. Exams are often multiple-choice and last one to two hours.
Your employer may be willing to fund these IT training courses. The fees may include the cost of taking the exam itself, or you may have to pay for the assessment separately through the official provider. Be sure to check this before committing.
As well as gaining qualifications and certifications, there are other factors to consider if you're looking to break into the sector. Get an overview of the UK's IT industry and explore the various IT graduate jobs.