IT career opportunities are so numerous and varied and that there are IT jobs and specialisations to suit everyone.

This is according to speakers participating in a webinar on Careers in IT hosted by the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA).

With unemployment rife while industries grapple with IT skills shortages, the IITPSA webinar set out to address misconceptions and encourage more young people to consider working in the IT sector.

The experts noted that ‘working in IT’ meant a great deal more than coding, fixing computers or installing cables.

Nyari Samushonga, CEO of WeThinkCode and 2022 IITPSA IT Personality of the Year, said: “IT has become pervasive. We are immersed in a tech world, and the building of tech is becoming for everyone too. Nobody working in IT looks like an ‘IT person’ anymore. It’s a myth that IT is only for the genius wonderkids with mathematical brains.

“With low code and AI-enabled solutions, coding is becoming another natural language. Digital technology offers puzzle pieces or a box of tools that you can use to build solutions to problems. The range of jobs you can do is endless.”

Mixo Fortune Ngoveni, co-founder of Geekulcha, said there were still misconceptions about what a career in IT entailed. “Many young people think the only work in IT is coding and programming. This does play a fundamental role in some fields, but there are so many other areas in the tech space too, like cybersecurity, business informatics, and testing. It’s a myth that if you’re in IT you can fix a printer or hack a Facebook account.”

While anyone can work towards a career in IT, the speakers noted that certain attributes help candidates excel in the field.

Professor Kerry Lynn Thomson, director of the Centre for Research in Information and Cyber Security (CRICS) at Nelson Mandela University, said: “There are many IT options where you don’t need pure maths to do a diploma, degree or certification. However, to choose IT as a career you should be hungry for knowledge, for meeting challenges. You must constantly upskill and learn. It’s a very exciting field that is constantly changing.”

Ngoveni said the most important attribute was curiosity. “Those who are curious about how things work tend to succeed. Generally, IT is about problem solving of some sort and the best candidates are those who are curious, keep trying, and ask questions,” he said.

IITPSA president Senele Goba said it was important for young people to make an effort to learn about the various fields and opportunities in the IT sector. For example, she recommended reading IT publications to learn more.

“It’s important to embrace the journey and allow ourselves to discover the new fields emerging. Read IT news platforms to learn about roles that exist, problems that exist which IT can solve, and which organisations offer training and opportunities,” she said.

On the topic of what training and degree courses were necessary for careers in IT, Prof Thomson said: “Universities don’t have the space for everyone or the time to upskill everyone for endless specialisation areas. A higher education IT or computer science qualification gives you broad knowledge and a taste of areas where you might want to specialise, but you won’t walk out as a specialist programmer or an AI specialist.”

She noted that free or low cost courses were also available for those who could not go to university or college: “Learning isn’t always cheap, but fortunately there are online courses that are more accessible, where you can explore what’s available.”

Prof Thomson also highlighted the importance of gaining experience. “We encourage students to look for holiday jobs and internships while they are still studying. A degree shows you have knowledge, but what companies are looking for is experience, which can be a catch 22 situation for graduates.”

She said formal internships were not the only way to gain practical experience, however: “Employers like to see people applying their knowledge – for example, writing a programme for a friend’s business, or assisting the university running some cable. This shows you are more than the qualification – it speaks to your passion and willingness to put in the extra effort.”

Prof Thomson added: “To work in IT, you don’t necessarily need to go and work for a company – many of our alumni go out and start their own companies. You can create your own space within the IT industry.”

Ngoveni elaborated on his own early approach to getting into the IT sector: “It can seem intimidating, but you should network as much as possible. I used to read a leading IT business magazine, make lists of the interesting people they featured, and go to events where those people were speaking. You should attend events and webinars, find out what people in the sector are talking about, and reach out to people for guidance and direction.”

Samushonga added: “If you can afford to do it, volunteer as an intern for free. Find communities to help you learn and advance your career interest. Don’t be intimidated alone.”

The speakers noted that technology is continually changing, and that IT professionals should therefore keep upskilling themselves and not be afraid to move into new areas that interest them.

Samushonga said: “Go where the opportunities are: where the door opens – enter there, and apply yourself and earn it. Be open minded, be proactive and do the hard work to advance your career,” she said. “Be intimidated and out of depth as you step into a field that’s new. There’s a lot of free learning online – immerse yourself in that and find your tribe and your path. It takes 25 years to be an overnight success, and in those 25 years you’d best be grafting.

“Gone are the days when you pass matric, study for a particular job and do that job for the next 50 years. Life is now a scenic route through a career. Technology makes careers, entrepreneurship and a range of opportunities accessible to anyone,” she said.

Watch the IITPSA Careers in IT webinar here: