Very small computers helping create big careers

This is what a Raspberry Pi looks like

THOSE who know what a Raspberry Pi is will know that computers come in all shapes and sizes. And those who know the IT sector will know that IT professionals do too. That is to say they come from all kinds of backgrounds.

My own route into the sector came via a stint in the RAF, learning to be an electronics engineer, and then a period working for a large manufacturing businesses. I didn't have a degree, and increasingly the industry is viewing degrees as non-essential too.

Many of our team members have come from what you might call non-conventional, and non-degree, backgrounds, including some of our very best engineers. Some of them just developed a passion for, and incredible skill in, what they do with very hands-on experience.

That's certainly not to say that degrees aren't valuable; they can be incredibly valuable. But they aren't for everyone; and they aren't essential for many jobs. Our view is that if you don't need a degree to do your job, you shouldn't need one to get your job.

That's why more and more companies are taking on IT apprentices – we at Novosco have taken on two this year. It's also part of the reason we're running Novosco Cloud Camp this week with Almac at Belfast Metropolitan College's impressive Titanic Quarter Campus.

Cloud Camp is open to year 11–13 students from across Northern Ireland. It is providing them with hands-on IT infrastructure experience and invaluable learning opportunities.

Professional IT engineers and Belfast Met lecturers are facilitating the camp, which is providing experience in things like networking, Python programming, basic HTML programming, and creating virtual servers. And everyone who attends gets a free Raspberry Pi to learn with and keep too!

Some of those attending Cloud Camp may go on to do degrees at university; many of them may not. We would encourage them to do what they think is best to meet their career ambitions, and to always learn and develop themselves throughout their lives – that's something we at Novosco are very passionate about, and support our team members in.

But I would say to them that if they think a degree isn't for them, don't feel under pressure to do one. Take the route that works best for you and which you feel passionate about. Too often in Northern Ireland, I think we encourage pupils into the more ‘traditional' careers via a degree. But don't we already have too many teachers and lawyers?

What I am most encouraged about is the very strong interest that we've had in Cloud Camp. This gives me real encouragement about the increasing enthusiasm there is to begin a career in IT infrastructure. There is already incredible demand for the kinds of skills that these students will be developing, and that is only going to grow in the future.

Whatever career route the students at Cloud Camp chose to take – and maybe they'll decide not even to go into IT – we feel privileged to have met with and worked with them this week. We very much hope that they enjoy and benefit from the experience, and that the IT sector benefits as well. And we hope they have fun with their Raspberry Pi. (They're very small computers for those who don't know).

:: Patrick McAliskey is managing director Novosco, an indigenous managed cloud company with offices in Belfast, Dublin, Cheshire and Cork. It employs 140 people and works for leading organisations across the UK and Ireland, including many of Northern Ireland's top companies, UK health trusts, councils and other organisations. It has been ranked one of the top companies to work for in the UK 2016 by The Sunday Times.

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