Product developers create new products to be sold by information technology (IT) organisations.
IT is a rapidly changing world. If an IT company is to sell its products and remain profitable, it must keep ahead of new developments and offer customers the very latest technology. That is where product developers come in.
Product developers work on a wide range of projects, such as designing new software, producing a new generation of mobile communications or creating ever more exciting and fast-moving computer games.
They research a possible product to see if it is likely to prove popular. They then decide what is needed to launch it, and estimate the costs involved.
Together with other members of the development team for a particular product, they produce detailed designs and diagrams as well as the programming code. They test the product and report on progress.
The next step is to test the new product in real-life situations to evaluate its effectiveness, ensure that there are no major problems and make any improvements required.
Finally, the developer writes instructions for users of the new product to make sure people know exactly how to operate it.
The work varies according to the size of the company. In a small organisation, product developers could work in all the areas mentioned above. In a large organisation, they are much more likely to specialise in one particular area, such as performance testing, or to work as part of a team on one element of product development.
Product developers work office hours of around 9am to 5.30pm. Some companies work on a flexitime system where staff can start early or finish late and put the extra hours towards a day's holiday. If problems arise, which they often do, product developers have to be prepared to work late.
Product developers work as part of a team, which is usually based in an open-plan office where there is space to set up projects and carry out tests.
Travel and overnight stays may be involved to attend meetings with clients.
Starting salaries are between £18,000 and £25,000.
Product developers have a wide range of career opportunities in different areas of IT. They could work for:
There are jobs in most areas of the UK, particularly south-east England. The number of vacancies in the IT industry can vary considerably, but are currently on the increase. Vacancies are often advertised in trade magazines and publications, eg Computer Weekly, Computing, Computer Users' Yearbook and Computing Careers Yearbook.
There are also a large number of websites advertising vacancies and many employers now prefer online applications. Recruitment agencies are another source of vacancies.
Most product developers have a degree, HND or HNC in an IT-related subject such as computer science, software developing, electronics, maths or engineering. However, employers do take on and train graduates with degrees in non-related subjects as long as they have knowledge of, and interest, in IT. The usual entry requirement for a degree is a minimum of five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two A levels/three H grades, or equivalent qualifications.
It is possible to go into an IT career - although not into product development - straight from school with good GCSE's/S grades in English, maths, IT or science. Apprenticeships in IT and Electronic Servicing may be available.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Many product developers are initially asked to gain experience of computer programming, often followed by some experience of systems analysis.
Many employers offer training on the job through in-house courses. Further training is also available through specialist courses led by the major hardware and software suppliers or through various computer-based tuition packages.
As they are already experienced in IT software, product developers are often expected to learn new techniques at a fast pace using computer or web-based training packages and working on their own initiative. Many software products are now issued in developer versions that enable extensive adaptations to be made to them.
The recent trend in developer training is towards 'extreme' or 'agile' programming, which aim to ensure that systems are constantly refactored to meet changing customer requirements and to maximise the customer's own ability to adapt the products to their own needs.
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Product developers should:
With experience, product developers may progress to become senior developers or project managers.
Product developers are expected to keep up to date with the latest changes in software and hardware. To support their continuing development they may choose to study for the professional qualifications offered by the British Computer Society or the Institute for the Management of Information Systems.
Some may later move into work on a freelance or consultancy basis. There are opportunities to work overseas.
British Computer Society,
1 Sanford Street, Swindon SN1 1HJ
Tel: 01793 417417
British Interactive Media Association (BIMA),
Briarlea House, Southend Road, South Green,
Billericay CM11 2PR
Tel: 01277 658107
e-skills UK, 1 Castle Lane, London SW1E 6DR
Tel: 020 7963 8920
Institute for the Management of Information Systems (IMIS),
5 Kingfisher House, New Mill Road, Orpington, Kent BR5 3QG
Tel: 0700 002 3456
Institution of Analysts and Programmers,
Charles House, 36 Culmington Road,
London W13 9NH
Tel: 020 8567 2118
NCC Education, The Towers, Towers Business Park,
Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester M20 2EZ
Tel: 0161 438 6200
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.