The field of information technology touches just about every aspect of our lives. From mobile phones to airplanes, IT specialists play a major role keeping everything running as it should. Look at most industries and companies and you will find demand for people trained in the field of IT. That's one reason why job descriptions in the field can be so varied. Typical jobs for a recent IT graduate might include software engineer, systems analyst, technical support, or web developer. Add to that software tester, project manager, and business analyst. And the list goes on. This means those who are interested in the IT field have a lot of options when it comes to specialization.
In Germany, many companies have either IT workers on staff or they contract with firms to handle their digital infrastructure. That leads to a steady demand for trained workers. “Providers of information technology, telecommunications and Internet services are the second-largest employer in the German industry – behind the mechanical engineering industry, but ahead of the automotive and electrical industries,” according to the website Make It In Germany. The website notes that firms looking for trained specialists do not always find the qualified workers they need in Germany and the number of job vacancies has recently shown a marked increase.
So for those who want to begin a career in IT—the time is right. In a recent survey by the industry organization BITKOM, companies said they expect to continue to grow in 2015, with almost three quarters of the medium-sized IT enterprises expecting increasing revenues and six out of ten companies planning on hiring new employees this year. And the demand for qualified IT professionals will likely not slow in the next few years as the country expands its focus on innovation and engineering with its Digital Agenda. Through this agenda, the German government wants to actively promote and shape the transition into the digital era.
So if you've decided that you're interested in the IT field and you want to work in Germany. How do you become qualified for a job?
To train for a job in IT, most people in the field agree that some type of IT degree is mandatory. Luckily, university programs in this field have become very diverse in recent times with new programs being created and offered every year. For those interested in getting their bachelor's or master's degrees in Germany, information technology programs can be found at many regular universities, technical universities or Fachhochschulen (universities of applied sciences). Fachhochschulen tend to be more geared toward practical applications and usually have degree programs in fields like engineering, sciences and business administration, but, unlike universities, do not award doctorates.
Information technology curriculum does differ program to program. The best way to find out what's required and offered is to review the individual websites of schools with IT programs. In addition to classroom studies, students should expect to spend some time interning with a company. Internships provide students with needed hands-on learning in a real working environment and also connect students with possible employers and mentors. For internships, most companies have their own application and screening process.
Andreas Schik, a software developer at a medium-sized firm near Mainz, says his company posts the internships on its website and asks applicants to submit a curriculum vitae, an application, and to complete a questionnaire. Schik is part of the team who hires interns at his company. He says it becomes quickly obvious if the applicant has taken time to think about his or her skills when filling out the questionnaire and has provided a thorough application.
“You have people who are very careful to provide a nice letter with lots of additional information about their university studies and a letter of recommendation from one of their professors,” Schik says. Those first impressions make a difference, Schik says, noting that he has passed on applicants who obviously cut corners during the application process.
Language ability should also be taken into account. Quite a number of the IT degree programs are offered in English, but most hiring managers recommend learning some German as well. For international students who hope to stay in Germany and work after their studies, a solid base in the German language will substantially improve their chances of landing a job.
“In general, large corporations operate in English, however German will be essential in smaller organizations or when working in customer, government, or end-user-facing roles,” says Sarah, an employee of a large U.S.-based technology firm, who lives near Frankfurt.
Andreas Schik agrees. “If you can't talk to people or answer coworkers' questions, things wont work out,” he says.
Good ways for beginners to get their foot in the door is to perform well at internships, make contacts with others in the field, and get the most out of the university programs. Also, many universities offer hiring fairs. Students can bring along CVs and meet with possible employers to discuss what types of jobs are available. “Companies always want some kind of experience,” says Schik. “For students, the only thing you can do is to finish your studies and get a degree. I wouldn't expect a newbie coming form university to be a programming god. Usually they are beginners.”
Everyone has to start to somewhere. But a good way to give yourself a head start is to keep an eye on the kinds of jobs you're interested in, get as much hands-on training as possible and think about the job search early.