There have been some posts about IT education in Sri Lanka.
This article, written and first appeared in a business magazine in 2003, illustrates the job opportunities in the Sri Lankan IT field and what sort of education one should have to target the entry level jobs available in the market.
Things might have changed a bit since then, but there might be few still who might find it useful.
Jobs in IT – What path to follow?
It sounds so peculiar that once we lived in a world where there was not a single ‘IT Professional’. However, not surprisingly, more than three decades later the first computer was installed in Sri Lanka, IT has become one of the key job originators locally. It is estimated that more than 20,000 today work as IT professionals in Sri Lanka, with thousands getting added to this figure each year.
Interestingly, still many youngsters who want to step into this wonder world of computers, and probably their parents as well, have no idea what awaits for them in future. What opportunities are there in the IT job market? What path a beginner should follow to be a good IT professional tomorrow? What skills each job category needs? And after all, why select a career in IT at the first place? These are some of the questions this article intends to answer. We have not restricted ourselves to pure IT jobs, but looked for the business related IT carriers as well, because they too are becoming quite popular these days.
The following job categories are perhaps the most common ones that exist in the today’s IT field, but of course the jobs available in this field are by no means, restricted to these few. In some cases there can be interesting overlaps. (A Systems Administrator working in a small-scale business might need to have a flavour of both software and hardware.) However, these are the points one can start. Let’s see what each job can offer and why should one select any.
1. Software Developer
This can be one of the oldest IT professions, if not the oldest. However, with the time the role of the software developer has changed dramatically. A software developer today is not someone who sits in front of a dumb looking terminal and writes thousands and thousands of codes. Instead, more and more user-friendly software development tools have come into use.
As for the educational qualifications, as a thumb rule all top software companies now expect new recruits to have at least a B.Sc degree in Computer Science or equivalent qualification. Achieving this might not be as difficult as it would seem, as now four state universities and several private sector organisations offer degree level courses in software engineering. So if one wishes to select software development path, it is essential to follow at least a four year degree and complete a large scale software project. Under most of the software development degrees it is a mandatory requirement to undergo a certain training period before graduation.
Again there are different levels of software developers. The entry-level salary might be anywhere between Rs. 10,000 to 20,000 depending upon the work and the type of the application one has to develop. The amount one can earn will largely depend on the languages and tools one can effectively handle. A trained software developer usually earns several times more than what a trainee gets.
2. Web Developer
This is a relatively new role that has emerged with the extensive use of Internet. Web developer is a special kind of a software developer who develops applications only for the web environment. Web developers use selected languages and tools. In the good old days they have to do a fair amount of scripting using HTML language, but now more user-friendly graphical user interfaces are in place.
The skill set a web developer should have is different from that of an ordinary software developer. A web developer should be through with programming and simultaneously should possess artistic skills. A student who does not have the creative abilities might better consider this position out. On the other hand, it is an excellent job for those who enjoy in art and not so keen on coding.
Web developers need not follow the same courses aimed at other software developers. Instead of following a single course, they may have to follow several different types of courses that will help them to develop different types of skills. The list should include courses in web development, multimedia, graphics, etc.
3. Computer Graphics Designer
If you have watched the animated advertisements on television, you know what the Computer Graphics Designers do. However, advertising is not the only field that requires the services of Graphics Designers. They create animations for movies, work in publishing houses, television and newspaper companies and of course even work for software firms to develop graphics required in some of the software applications.
Obviously a Graphics Designer requires a different set of skills and a special kind of training. Basically, they are artists using computers in the place of brushes and paints. The computer applications they should be conversant are the graphics packages such as Page Maker, Photo Shop, Flash, Maya, 3D Max etc. These systems are of no use to ordinary software developers.
If one has the skill and eye, becoming a Graphics Designer is an easier task. Many IT training centres currently conduct courses on Computer Graphics. Some of these courses do not come cheap, but that will be an investment, which will eventually pay off. On the other hand, this is not for anyone who does not posses the artistic skills. Remember it is not the computer that draws. A computer can do very little in creating a good Computer Graphics Designer from a bad artist.
4. Hardware Engineers / Technicians
Since the good old days, this was one of the key areas for the job seekers at the entry level. About ten years ago being a Hardware Engineer was considered something special, as the users knew little about what was going inside their black boxes. Even today, after PCs have become a commodity, and every Tom Dick and Harry appears to know how to fix a sound card to a PC, there is still a need for Hardware Engineers and Technicians. This is largely due to the ever-expanding computer networks everywhere. It is estimated that at least 75,000 PCs are sold annually in Sri Lanka and the lion’s share among this figure are locally assembled machines. In other words, the Hardware Engineers / Technicians in Sri Lanka not only assemble about 200 PCs per each working day but also provide continuous after sales maintenance for them.
The role has now expanded to cover the servers as well. Any medium to large scale organization now have 5 – 10 servers to perform tasks varying from managing e-mails to providing core business services to their customers. All these need continuous maintenance, and that calls for more and more Hardware Engineers and Technicians.
Apart from the state universities many computer training institutes now offer courses in Hardware Engineering. This again, is a good career path to take for those who have engineering in their blood.
5. Network Engineers
Networking Engineering can be treated as an overlapped area between computer hardware engineering and communications. Thus a good Network Engineer should have a background both in telecommunications and computers. Today, only a small percentage of PCs works stand-alone. The rest work in a networked environment for resource sharing and communication purposes. This has created a large demand for engineers to maintain these networks trouble free.
A Network Engineer (also called Systems Engineers sometimes) needs to have a through understanding of the working of a computer network including security aspects. The job functions of this role include the design, implementation and maintenance of computer networks. Fortunately this is an area one can move with a good guidance. All major companies that put networking products in to the international market have designed their own certification courses. Microsoft has certification courses for Systems Engineers like MCSE and MCSA. Cisco too has its own certifications such as CCNA, CCDA and CCNP. Also many local IT training institutes offer courses for those who want to attain these certifications.
6. IT Consultant
IT Consultancy is not a new area, but since Sri Lankan market is not that large, still the opportunities are limited. The good news is that this situation is changing gradually. Probably in another few years this can be an area where a large number of job opportunities are available.
IT Consultants help their clients in a gamut of activities. They prepare IT strategies; draft Requirement for Proposals – better known as RFPs, evaluate the IT resources of a client and make recommendations, assist clients in selecting the correct IT products and vendors, do system analysis, prepare Business Contingency Plans and even do System Security Audits.
Needless to say this requires the technical knowledge in hundred and one different areas. So on the face of it, IT consultancy appears to be a field where no beginner can step in. Not necessarily. There are plenty of opportunities for beginners in IT consultancy firms to work as juniors. They have to assist the Senior Consultants, in the same way the trainee lawyers assist their seniors. When they gain experience and knowledge they can climb up the ladder and become full pledged consultants themselves.
There are no courses to train IT consultants, but if anyone wants to be an IT consultant, it is better to concentrate both on IT as well as in business. At a later stage they can select the areas of specialisation. A CIMA or a CIM with a relevant IT qualification can be definitely helpful for a student who wants to be an IT consultant in future.
7. ERP Consultants
Now many large-scale organisations use software applications widely known as Enterprise Resource Packages (ERPs). These are organisation-wide application systems that integrate all the operations of a firm. It is not cost effective for a business firm to develop their own ERP systems, so they purchase such systems from the vendors who sell such packages. This inevitably calls for customisations depending upon the business procedures of the independent organisations, and this necessity creates job opportunities for IT consultants better known as ERP consultants or specialists.
This is not a pure IT job. An ERP consultant, in addition to the IT skills, needs to have a through business knowledge. Speaking on qualifications, this is a job that ideally requires an IT degree as well as a financial qualification such as CIMA. It is also ideal for those who want to be in the forefront of IT, but still do not want to lose the touch with business.
One good thing about being an ERP consultant is that it pays well. ERP Consultants are a section of IT professions who get the best compensation. The bad news is becoming an ERP Consultant is no easy job. It requires a thorough understanding of both business and IT and so many hours of training. Also it is important to be trained in the correct ERP package. Since this is still a nice there are no courses conducted by the local universities or IT institutes on ERP. So an aspirant might have to invest on foreign training to be a specialist in this area.
8. Computer Sales Engineers
Some may not select the job of a Computer Sales Engineer as a role in IT, but considering the qualifications one needs to become a Sales Engineer, leaves us in no doubt. This is not a job for an ordinary salesman. A Computer Sales Engineer (or a Marketing Executive as they are known sometimes) is mostly expected to offer the clients not products, but solutions. This forces them to have through understanding about how the computers function and what options are available to map the exact business requirement of a user.
Therefore, a Sales Engineer, who sells IT solutions should ideally have a good IT background in addition to a training in the sales discipline. While a CIM would suffice for the marketing part, an IT diploma or degree in the relevant areas are ideal qualifications for an IT Sales Engineer.
Then there are hundreds of lesser know job categories in IT. A Technical Writer may help in preparing the literature for the organisation, a Quality Assurance Specialist might help the software developers in assuring the application error free. Of course there are plenty of opportunities for IT lecturers and instructors at the training institutes. The Security Specialists are one of the latest additions to the list.
The golden rule is that one should select a career path one might enjoy. Otherwise following any of the career paths above can be a tedious and a difficult task.