Careers advice

Real work stories: what's it like to work in IT?

Here’s an insight into the world of an IT professional.

It’s not possible to test-drive a career before you take your first job. So we’ve done the next best thing – spoken to someone who’s living and breathing the field you’re interested in.

Today, that person is Vanessa Garcia. She’s one of our front-end web developers here at Trade Me, and plays a huge part in creating fun and useful experiences for people whenever they come to our site.

With nearly a decade of experience working in IT in both the U.S. and NZ, Vanessa has some great tips and truths to share with you about the industry.

1. What does a typical day at work look like?

The team starts with a morning meeting to discuss what each of us are working on, and if there are any roadblocks to productivity. The rest of the day is managing tasks using a workflow tool called JIRA that makes sure we’re staying on track.

When a given development is complete, it will go into a code review by another developer to ensure quality. From there, we’ll do testing and bug fixing, for which the developer is still ‘on call’ to make sure we can quickly push changes live.

2. What soft skills are needed to succeed in your role?

For a developer, I’d say the most important soft skills are time management, good communication, and being a team player.

Effective time management gets work completed quickly which is great when we’re experimenting with new functionality or working to a tight deadline (which is generally the case).

Communication and teamwork go hand in hand. If we have anything blocking us from doing our job, or if there needs to be bigger discussion about the right way to do something, the sooner we can voice this to the team the better we can work together to complete the task.

Communication and teamwork are core soft skills to bring to an IT role.

3. ...and hard skills?

As far as hard skills go, I’d say the most important thing is to have a certification or degree in the field you want to get into.

If you already know your interests, you can do a code bootcamp that’s streamlined towards them. If you’re after something a bit broader, perhaps look at getting a degree in computer science. These courses usually touch on a lot of different areas, so you can get a feel for what interests you before getting too niche.

Specifically for developer roles, you'll need knowledge in a programming language of your choice. I’d recommend getting fluent in one or two of the most commonly used languages first – this gives you more opportunities when you’re first looking for a job. Then you can hone in on something more niche if it interests you.

I chose to focus on the front-end development side, learning Javascript, HTML and CSS, which has been a solid base for me. Others might decide they want to go into mobile app development, so they learn languages related to that. There’s so many areas of specialty that it’s really up to you to find what interests you and start there.

4. What are the best things about working in IT?

I love being a developer because I love building things and solving problems. Taking something from just an idea to figuring out the best way to build it, going through pain points, to then finally seeing it live on a site and being used by our visitors. There’s something super satisfying about that.

More generally, there’s so much emphasis on technology today that IT is a great field to get into. There’s definitely a sense of job security in that people rely on the internet for so many aspects of their lives. From commerce to community, technology is heavily used and there will always be a need for people who work in this space. As an added bonus, because of demand, salary is consistently pretty good!

Also, because it’s a digital space, there’s a high chance you’ll have flexibility in where and how you work. This can be as little as being able to work from home every so often, to roles where you don’t have to go into an office at all.

IT has allowed me to try different ways of working and find what suits me best. I’ve worked in office jobs and I’ve worked completely remote and each has their pros and cons. But the fact that I have the ability to choose has been invaluable.

Vanessa recommends becoming fluent in one or two common programming languages as a starting point.

5. What are the drawbacks?

One of the biggest caveats of working in tech is that its evolution is exponential. This can make it very difficult to stay on top of everything.

As a web developer, I can’t tell you how many “new tool that’ll change the web” and “new game-changing programming language” claims I’ve seen throughout my career. Some will gain popularity and reshape the way we work. Some will just disappear or only have a very niche following. Regardless, it can be hard to know what you should or should not be spending time on in terms of learning and experimenting.

6. How would you describe your work/life balance?

This can be different from company to company, but my experience with places I’ve worked is that most tend to make a real effort to ensure a good work/life balance for staff. There have been enough studies to show that people are more productive when they have time for their personal life.

7. What tips would you have for first-time job hunters in this industry? What do hiring managers like to see?

Know your worth

Although most companies are pretty fair with what they offer as a salary, it’s always good to do some research on what is typical for your role, area, and level of expertise. And if you feel like you’re worth more, don’t be afraid to negotiate! Just make sure what you’re asking is reasonable.

Be prepared to show your skills

When applying for jobs, some employers will require you to take a “test” to demonstrate your skill level. This can sound daunting, but the important thing is just to do your best. These tests aren’t always about getting the right answer, it’s usually more about demonstrating how you problem solve or tackle an issue.

Have the right kind of attitude

This is probably most important of all. Maybe you didn’t ace that tech test, maybe the pressure got to you (it’s gotten to me before). But if you can show your eagerness to learn and have interest in the role, that’s huge for employers. A great cultural fit is often valued more than an expert.

You can be the most knowledgeable developer on the planet, but if you don’t work well with others or lack interest in the job, chances are you won’t get hired. And that works both ways. If the culture fit isn’t right for you, it’s okay to turn down a role. You want to enjoy your job and the people you work with.

Showing the right attitude and fitting into the company culture are hugely valued by employers.

8. IT is constantly developing, what advice would you have for job seekers to keep on top of this?

Keep up to date with the news. This doesn’t mean you have to try every new tool that comes out or know everything about everything. Just stay in the know, keep up with what’s relevant and take full advantage of online knowledge sources.

There’s a huge community in support of open-source code. And this community is often really great to help solve problems if you know where to ask. and are two of my most frequented bookmarks. And when in doubt, a good Google search is always there.

9. What does the career path look like in your position/field?

It’s really up to you and what you want to do. Options include:

  • Moving up the ladder – going from junior level to senior.
  • Choosing a specific area of specialty and becoming an expert in it (think: engineering lead).
  • Eventually moving into a more managerial role and becoming a tech lead, or even moving completely into a delivery lead role.

You could even decide to not care about the ‘corporate ladder’ and put your focus more on flexibility or remote work (some of these also have ways of moving up as well). The main point is that there are so many areas to move that you have a lot of options on that front. My advice is to try different things and find what’s best for you.