As it is with most industries and professions, technology is bringing changes to accounting and finance careers.

“The accounting industry is shifting drastically with technological innovation,” said Danielle Brannock, CPA, analytics delivery specialist at EY. “Firms are coming up with interesting and unique ways to approach traditional accounting issues.”

Within the audit practice area, for example, drones are being used to conduct inventory on large client properties, she said. While today’s college graduates may not need to learn to operate a drone, they may want to consider becoming proficient in technologies that will help them get ahead as they enter the workforce.

Here’s a look at the latest technology students should know:

Structured query language (SQL)

SQLcourse.com describes SQL as the standard language for relational database management systems—a language used to communicate with a database.

“In data analytics, we are now able to offer full population testing for our audit teams, providing them a higher level of assurance in their audit findings over traditional transaction sampling,” Brannock said. “In my role, I work with auditors to obtain and analyze journal entries and trial balances from the client. These files can come in a variety of forms, from a small Excel sheet to a large .bak file, which is a full backup of the client’s SQL database and runs 4–5 gigabytes for the average sized company.”

Python

Python is a programming language that can be used by those who may want to develop data, rather than just analyze them, said Brannock, who is currently taking free classes in Python from Codecademy.

For example, a large firm she previously worked for is using Python to develop artificial intelligence that reads leases, contracts, and legal documents. Brannock said the user inputs certain parameters, such as the name of a customer and dates of correspondence, and the system automatically scans all documents in the online database for those keywords. Anything meeting the parameters is placed on hold for a human user to review and confirm whether it meets expectations. Creating a program to read documents removes hours of administrative work for auditors, paralegals, and administrative assistants, all of whom would have otherwise been tasked with this work, Brannock said.

Tableau, QlikView, and Spotfire

Tools such as Tableau, QlikView, and Spotfire can be used for creating and sharing data insights as a way to visualize results.

“Visualization is still a newer skill set within the accounting world, from my experience,” Brannock said. “That said, the ability to use Tableau, QlikView, or Spotfire is a valuable one, as our clients are asking for more and more from us.”

PowerPoint, Excel, and communication tools

Without a doubt, college students need to graduate with an understanding of the basics, including Excel and PowerPoint, said Aaron Saito, CPA, M&A controller at Intel Corp. He said data still often come in the form of an Excel file, while presentations are regularly made in PowerPoint. 

Understanding communication and chat tools is becoming increasingly valuable as well, Saito said. Slack and Skype allow quick access to co-workers, who may be down the hall, working from home, or traveling. He often lets his team work from home, knowing they can quickly and easily communicate using these tools.

Some of the standard technologies, such as PowerPoint and Excel, are integrated into university courses, while more complex software programs, such as Python, are sometimes offered as electives. If the desired courses aren’t offered at their university, students can consider seeking out online courses or internships to learn more. Brannock said she’s currently teaching herself the web programming language HTML through StackSkills, which charges for classes. For students on a budget, free learning opportunities, such as Khan Academy, are available.

“Every skill you pick up is going to make you more valuable and marketable,” Brannock said. “Even if you don’t see yourself using it in your traditional audit or tax role, your team will appreciate the efficiency you can bring to their world if you come on board with an exposure to these things.”