Five things we learned from the Science & Technology Fair

Last month saw the return of our second Science and Technology fair, where across two days over 30 of the leading employers in the Science and Technology sectors were on campus talking to King’s students.

While over 700 of you made it down there in person, for those of you who missed out or simply didn’t have the time to talk to everyone (and when there’s over 30 employers, who can blame you?) I went down to the fair both days myself to chat to the employer’s representatives and get their thoughts. Below are five of my main conclusions:

Coding skills are important…..

Not exactly a revelatory finding for the technology sector, but definitely worth re-iterating given that it came up in just about every conversation I had at the fair. Coding is central to huge amounts of what companies operating in the Tech sector do, and so abilities in this area are always going to be looked upon favourably. Java and Python are good general coding languages to learn, but if you’ve got a particular employer in mind and can find out what language they use, then get practicing in those to really impress and show your commitment to them!

To build up that practice, Codeacademy and Cousera are both useful resources. Practicing your coding skills on real datasets is even better though, and for that Kaggle is a great resource.

….But not as important as you might think

A slightly contradictory finding after my last two paragraphs? Well, yes and no. Because while it’s true that coding ability will always be looked on favourably, a number of employers were keen to emphasize that they’re by no means looking for the finished product when it comes to coders! While they’d expect to see that you’ve begun to get familiar with coding, traits such as an enthusiasm to learn, a passion for technology (more on both of these later) and the ability to be able to work with other people were just as important. And if you’re not a coding expert but have an interest in the sector, don’t rule out looking for related jobs within the sector such as sales, consultancy and communications, which are a way for you to still use your knowledge and enthusiasm for the sector without having to be a coding genius.

A degree related to technology can be an asset, but think about what else you might be able to bring

This conclusion is similar in many respects to the previous two around coding, in that while a degree linked closely to technology will always be viewed positively, and for some very specialised roles and companies will be seen as crucial, it’s rarely viewed as essential.

More important is a general demonstratable interest and enthusiasm for the sector. Tech companies’ YouTube channels were mentioned as a good source of basic technical information and ideas, and as with pretty much every sector, individual companies’ websites always have a wealth of information. You might be asked at interview about recent developments in the sector, so keep on top of what’s going on. Participation in hackathons, open source projects and app development are all also great ways of displaying an interest.

Also make sure that you’ve to a good knowledge of any other sectors the company you’re applying to operate in – so if it’s a technology-based role in a financial company, you’ll need to have some understanding around that too.

You can also use the fact that you haven’t done a directly related degree to your advantage if you think creatively. One representative I spoke to was a Psychology graduate, and she stated that her experiences around research and cleaning up data were all hugely valuable assets that her employer were keen to hire her for – even though her coding experience was limited, they were confident that she could be trained on this in the role!

Be willing to learn!

A commitment to continuous learning was repeatedly cited as a key personal quality that they look out for in applicants. And really, this makes perfect sense in a sector as fast-moving as this – even if someone knew absolutely everything there was to know now, what would be the use of this in two years’ time when the landscape is completely different? Two different quotes from employers on this subject stood out to me:

  • “You don’t need to be an expert, but you need to be someone who would like to be”
  • “No-one ever “completes” being a developer, so you must be prepared to carry on learning”

Linked to this was the need to be a problem solver, and someone unphased by new challenges and circumstances being thrown their way. These are often tested at interview stage, often in the form of strength-based questioning so think about how you’d tackle these.

Don’t forget the basics!

In a sector as exciting and ever-changing as this, it would be easy to get so caught up in all the skills you can offer that you forget that the basics are as important when applying to companies here as anywhere else. So that means getting your CV checked and proof-reading it for mistakes, making sure you’ve done your research on the company you’re applying to and tailoring what you say to them as a result at the application and interview stage, and making sure you’re aware of anything new that’s happening with them or in the wider sector. Failure to do these things irritates employers in this area just as much as any other and could see you kicked out of the process in spite of the wealth of talents you have to offer.