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SMETechGuru recently had the opportunity to do a Q and A with Irwhan Rakiep, Metropolitan’s Executive Head of IT, around
his advice to IT graduates and those still deciding which industry to go into among other topics.

Is IT/Computer Science still a good option for a matriculant looking for the best industries to get into or which field should they study to ensure the best chances of finding employment upon graduation? If so, why do students in this field have far better chances of getting jobs?

There is a huge global demand for IT skills, especially software engineering. I believe this is the case because many traditional businesses are leaning on technology and digital for innovation, and software is at the heart of this revolution.

If you think about everyday things in your life: the usage of your smart phone, social media, cashless payments, ordering food or an Uber, and even the car you drive, all rely on software/programs to function.

So, if you are good at mathematics and enjoy problem solving (or puzzles) I would definitely recommend Computer Science as an excellent field of study in preparation for a career in IT.

Is the best route for studies in these fields still tertiary educational institutions such as universities or can they opt for more affordable non-traditional options such as HyperionDev South Africa or CodeSpace?

Non-traditional institutions like software bootcamps are definitely good options as they provide focused learning and “hands-on” learning to programming. It will definitely be a good way to enter the IT field, especially if your matric results limit your options of study at a traditional university.

That said, there are some companies that prefer a 3-year qualification from an accredited university, especially for more senior roles. I did a 4-year Honours degree in Computer Science at the University of Cape Town, and it has really set me up to do well in my career to date.

Which fields in IT are hot right now and will continue to be down the line i.e. big data analytics (Microsoft R and Python coding), cybersecurity certifications etc.

I think for many years to come, there will be a huge demand for software engineers skilled in technologies like Java, .Net, Python, Javascript and front end frameworks. Other specializations in IT that are being discussed in most forums and hot in demand are DevOps, Cloud certifications with AWS or Azure, Cyber security and Data science.

While some universities/TVET institutions offer internships and programmes through partners like Microsoft’s AppFactory for computer science students to get practical, real-world experience and built out their skills and CVs, what advice or alternative options do you have for graduates in the IT fields to help land that first job?

I would recommend looking at job advertisements to get a feel for what companies are looking for, and choose 2 or 3 skills from that list that is in high demand that you want to learn or refine. Let’s say for example, many of the job advertisements are looking for Angular development skills –

My strategy would be to go to www.udemy.com and find the top rate course on Angular, and complete it. This will provide you with all the theory and hands on tutorials to be proficient with this technology. At the end of the course you would have likely built a full application on your laptop. This will not only help you to answer technical interview questions, but you can demo something that you built. This leaves a good impression and in my opinion will give you a good chance on landing that job.

The COVID-19 pandemic as well as the national lock-down instigated to help curb its spread has hit virtually every sector and industry hard. Why has the IT industry remained so resilient amid the pandemic?

The demand for digital seemed to almost increase as a result of COVID; more people were forced to do business via their mobile phones, using an app or some online presence (like website, chatbot, etc.) because they just were not allowed to go to the store or into a branch.

Also, many people and businesses needed to find innovative ways to work from home, which resulted in a greater need for internet, and technology solutions.

In addition to the above, with an increase demand for IT and digital skills, and “virtual teams” becoming a norm, there was a transition to a global workplace. This meant IT professionals were not just limited to working for South African companies; they could apply for international jobs in USA, or Europe and earn more money without moving.

What are some of the most recent advancements in technology that will assist companies in keeping abreast of new technology trends and the digital revolution, thereby making employees more productive, and operations more efficient?

The next wave of innovation seems to be set around leveraging data as an asset, and applying machine learning to help business make better data driven decisions. This is a space I am watching closely at the moment.

That said however, innovation and disruption do not necessarily wait for new technology to arise. If you consider how Uber disrupted the taxi industry, it was not a new technology but rather a great business idea that used existing technology (i.e. smart phone + mobile app) to bring a new service to consumers. Similarly, social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram are applications of software and smart phones, not necessarily a new piece of tech.

In my opinion, we already have lots of technology, and it will be more a case of “who comes up with the next great idea”.

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