Not everyone can be, or wants to be, a star athlete. A lifetime of training for short moments of intense glory takes a specific mindset. But being a part of the industry is nevertheless an exciting prospect. To play an important part in global spectacles like the London Olympics or the World Cup is a thrill many aspire to, but only a select few achieve.
IT plays a critical role here. Its commercial, multimedia-rich nature means that IT is essential to everything from the running of live events to broadcasting them around the world. For those who love working with technology and want to combine this with a passion for sport, IT could be your dream career.
CompTIA has spoken to three experienced IT professionals who have been involved in some of the world’s most important sporting projects to bring you some top tips and real-life experience of what a career in sports IT holds – and how you can kick off yours.
If you don’t get into a sports role straight away, don’t worry. Many skills are transferrable, so after a couple of years building networks, you will have an even better shot at getting that job with your team.
Tim Boden was BT’s technical director for London 2012, responsible for the infrastructure that delivered the Olympics action in real time to billions of people’s TVs, computers and phones, and for ensuring this high profile event was safe from cybersecurity attacks.
Working for the official communications services provider for the 2012 Olympics, Boden played a key role in one of the largest logistical operations ever seen.
Boden believes that the Olympics wouldn’t have taken place without communications. “IT gives a path for all systems to be connected and distributed; from providing the information to the scoreboards at event venues to relaying that same information online, to the media and beyond,” he said. “Everything relies on those systems operating flawlessly.”
During the event, Boden ran press services with the global media who had bought services from BT. This involved ensuring these customers were getting what was needed in terms of information and footage. Their requirements often changed at short notice and expectations were high. Essentially, Boden said, the position involved both technical expertise and strong personal relationship skills.
BT’s direct major involvement in the Olympics was a one-off opportunity, but many who worked on it have been able to continue their sporting passion. BT’s new TV Sport channel has taken a number of staff, while many have moved straight to the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Boden now works on a major multinational consumer goods customer account at BT, highlighting the variety of IT careers and the possibility to switch in and out of industries that excite you.
Boden strongly believes a career in IT requires strong skills in innovation and organization. “It’s important to be able to understand customer needs and articulate them,” he said. “An ability to think round risks and issues is important. In teams, there is a need for balance between free thinkers and those with a more structured approach.”
Rob Mackmurdie is the head of IT at the Rugby Football Union, the national governing body for rugby in England, with 2,000 rugby clubs as its members. Mackmurdie heads up a team of 26 staff, which provide IT and technology support across the organisation, to local and elite rugby clubs, and for the Twickenham Stadium itself. His big challenge right now is to modernise the stadium in time for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. From one office, Mackmurdie’s team manages the IT infrastructure and collection of data for all rugby clubs across England, from those with young players right up to the England team.
Mackmurdie’s team manages specialist data collection systems and ensures elite rugby players have the latest technologies available to them. Data comes in from technologies that monitor player performance through GPS tracking systems and advanced medical systems. The team collates and reports this data to management teams so that game strategies can be decided and training and health plans put in place for players. With only eight rugby matches at Twickenham a year, the stadium has had to become a multi-purpose venue catering for music concerts, tours and conferences. Last year, Mackmurdie developed the IT infrastructure to host, amongst others, Beyonce and Rihanna.
Mackmurdie started at the Royal Air Force and specialised in programming. A move to Virgin Atlantic gave Mackmurdie his first taste of IT project management, which he now does for the Rugby Football Union.
“There are so many ways for young people to get into IT whilst also joining an industry they are passionate about,” Mackmurdie said. “Many skills can easily be gained with technology at home and will be transferable to the business world. And the great thing about IT is that it is everywhere, so whether you love sport or any other industry – IT always offers a way in.”
Step up to Bat
Dilbagh Virdee is the IT service desk manager at the world’s most famous cricket organisation, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), based at the renowned Lord’s Cricket Ground. Its challenge is to bring in the best new technology and services whilst preserving the MCC’s tradition and prestige.
“IT plays a part in every aspect of cricket,” Virdee said. “Every day at Lord’s is different. I oversee two analysts who manage a large range of servers, desktop computers, networking, switches and almost 200 users, as well as the scoreboard.”
His department also covers IT support issues, bringing in new technologies and upgrades across the club. It’s also heavily involved in processing tickets and payments through servers, Wi-Fi and electronic point of sale systems.
Virdee considers Marylebone an organisation that has maintained its traditions while adopting a technology policy that best suits its diverse staff, something he is heavily involved in.
“To other people working in the IT sector, it may seem odd that some of our staff still use personal assistants instead of laptops – but I see it as part of my role to find what works for them,” Virdee said. “I have to consider user interaction and how comfortable some members of staff are with technology. It’s not just about buying the latest gadget; it’s about finding a way to use technology to make people’s lives better in a way that works for them.”
In addition to his IT services duties across the organisation, Virdee enjoys being involved with match days at the club when time allows. “Cricket is a good game to work in because it’s a whole day affair, so you can drift in and out while you work,” he said. “Lord’s is also a great place for a bit of celebrity spotting on match days!”
Virdee says that experience and personality are key to success in IT. “Anybody can work in IT, as long as they have the patience to learn and aren’t afraid of new technologies. We look for qualifications and skills to be backed up with some experience of using software and computers, but also someone likeable and sociable who will fit in with both the IT team and the broader club environment.”
Virdee started life with a computer science degree, and has since taken a wide range of industry developed certifications, including CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) and ITIL for service management. His career shows that IT offers a lifetime of learning and development.
Our IT-in-sport experts shared the following advice for embarking on a career in IT:
- It’s not always about having a degree. The most attractive job applicants can often be those who have practical, hands-on experience of the type gained at home, on practical courses or apprenticeships.
- A love of technology and a passion for applying it to your area of interest will always impress recruiters for IT roles.
- IT is not just technical. The best candidates are those who are both excited to learn about IT and are able to work well with people.
- Social skills are as important as technical ones. Good applicants are sociable and able to fit in with both the IT team and the broader sporting environment.
- There are roles for technical and creative people. A good IT team needs a mix of free thinkers and those with a more structured approach.
- Once you have developed core technical skills, apply to organisations that suit your interest: Formula 1, football, yachting and boxing all need IT.
Taking the First Step
Most entry-level IT jobs look for basic IT knowledge of areas like networking and security, combined with enthusiasm. There are a number of ways to get your foot in the door. CompTIA, the global IT trade association, simplifies the processes by offering a range of widely recognised certifications that assess exactly the skills needed by the IT industry.
CompTIA A+ is an introductory technology certification that covers hardware and operating systems, security and environmental issues. A+ is usually followed by a certification in working with a specific technology; depending on your area of interest. Most major technology and software producers offer certifications to assess different levels of expertise in their products. The major, entry-level certifications are Microsoft MCITP, Oracle OCA, Novell CNA, Cisco CCENT or CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+ or one of the specialist CompTIA certificates in green IT or cloud.
Many IT courses and apprenticeships are based around gaining CompTIA A+ and a technology-specific certification. This can reasonably be completed within a few months, though some courses also cover additional skills and so run for longer.
The following are good places to start your career in IT:
John McGlinchey is senior vice president of global business development at CompTIA.
- Colleges whose IT courses include industry-recognised certifications, such as Edexcel’s BTEC National in IT.
- Courses run by local and national IT training providers, some of which are funded by IT companies or the government.
- Online training providers like QA, Computeach and Firebrand Training, which offer flexible learning, ideal for those who want to work and study.
- Self-study, with certifications taken at testing centres run by Pearson VUE.