This article is sponsored by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
Want to make a strong start to your computer science career? Thereâ€™s a lot to consider, from choosing a computer science degree that will nurture a range of technical and soft skills, to gaining professional experience and building up your CV. To help you launch your computer science career on a solid foundation, here are seven factors to keep in mind.
1. Choose a degree with a focus on employabilityÂ
Unless youâ€™re planning to follow an academic career path, youâ€™ll want to seek out computer science degrees with a strong focus on practical and applied approaches to learning. At the UKâ€™s University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), for example, all computer science students complete a series of practical projects, including opportunities to work on real-life briefs for clients. This focus on applied learning ensures students emerge ready for the workplace, having gained valuable hands-on experience and feedback from employers.
2. Complete placements as part of your studies
As well as completing practical projects, there is no better way to prepare for computer science careers than by undertaking relevant work experience. At UCLan, all computer science students have the chance to complete a one-year paid and assessed work placement as part of their course, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Most placements are with local employers, but there is also the opportunity to complete this year in industry at an English-speaking employer elsewhere in Europe. This immersive period of work experience allows students to further develop their skills and understanding of the sector, while adding significant value to their CVs, and in some cases the placement even leads directly to a job offer.
3. Get a strong foundation before you specializeÂ
You may already have a clear idea of the area of computer science you want to specialize in, and it can be tempting to dive straight into a highly specialized course. But donâ€™t go too fast! You donâ€™t want to waste time following a specialization which you later decide to change, or risk skipping past some of the essential elements which underlie all computer science careers. At UCLan, all undergraduate students start with an introduction to the core computer science topics, before deciding on a specialized pathway. Starting from a broad skills base allows students to select a specialization with more confidence, and also means a wider range of careers are open to them.
4. Check the accreditations of your course
Before deciding on a computer science degree, you may also want to find out whether it is accredited by any professional bodies. For instance, UCLanâ€™s computer science programs are accredited by the British Computer Society. This ensures high standards of course development and delivery are adhered to, with the department undergoing regular external assessment. Itâ€™s also an effective way for graduates to prove to employers that they are workplace-ready, as many companies will want to know students have studied a program with professional accreditation.
Of course youâ€™ll also want to know what other students think about the course, perhaps by seeking out the results of student satisfaction surveys. In the 2015 National Student Survey, UCLan was rated first in North West England for its computer science faculty, and 13th nationally (out of 105).
5. Gain the â€˜soft skillsâ€™ needed for computer science careers
You might think technical skills are all you need for computer science careers â€“ but in fact interpersonal skills are just as important. With this in mind, make sure your degree offers opportunities to develop communication and teamwork skills, as well as related areas of knowledge in high demand among employers, such as agile project management. More broadly, being part of a friendly and supportive community will help you develop and succeed during your studies and beyond. UCLan has a strong focus on ensuring computer science students develop a range of related skillsets, as well as running an award-winning orientation program to ensure new students quickly develop close bonds and social connections.
6. Develop your skills through competitions
Alongside work placements, another way to develop and show off your skills is by entering computer science competitions. These can be fun and rewarding ways to challenge yourself, as well as providing even more impressive material for your CV. For example, UCLan students have entered and won the national â€˜Search for a Starâ€™ and â€˜Rising Starâ€™ competitions. They also recently won the first Defectives University Challenge, and have achieved a top-three position every time theyâ€™ve entered the BBC Technology Challenge.
UCLan students are well prepared to excel in such contests. Indeed, the first year of the undergraduate computer science program kicks off with a four-week challenge, in which students collaborate to design, develop and market new apps. Since this often includes a bit of dressing up, theyâ€™re more than ready to present their ideas to others!
7. Consider the local opportunities and competitionÂ
When choosing a location for your computer science studies, you may be attracted to cities where high numbers of employers are based. However, itâ€™s also worth considering the level of competition for jobs; studying in an area with fewer universities could mean you have fewer fellow graduates to compete with. UCLanâ€™s location as the only university in Preston, in North West England, means its graduates are in high demand among local employers. Companies such as IBM regularly visit the university to recruit directly from its pool of computer science students. In turn, UCLanâ€™s strong local alumni community provides an instant professional network for new graduates. This is in stark contrast to many other parts of the country, where the higher density of universities means students and graduates often face fierce competition for roles.