IT is all about the next big thing. In fact, by the time you’ve finished a class about the current thing, it’s more or less obsolete and there’s a new thing. That’s what makes it so hard to stay on top. And let’s face it, employers are always looking for cutting edge skills. So if what you learned in college a few years ago is the only tool in your toolbox, you may be in trouble.
Fortunately, with a solid background, you can pick up new skills on your own, and there’s no better time than while you’re between jobs. Here are a few ways to beef up your skill set and stay current.
Classes and Seminars
There are tons of courses, classes, and learning seminars available both online and face-to-face. In addition, there are free tutorials available for almost anything you could want to learn. All you have to do is take the initiative and make the time. If you’re angling for a job at a particular company, find out what framework and tools they use and concentrate on those. Even if your dream job never becomes available, everything you learn improves your hireability factor. If you’re working with a staffing agency, find out if they offer training. Many do.
Becoming certified in some aspect of technology can beef up your resume and add to your hiring cachet. The average cost of a certification test is about $100, but the prep materials can run $1K or more, and course instruction far more still. You may want to check and see if you are eligible for any grants to pay for your certification; one of my friends did this just last month.
Some people need the solidity of a book, others learn better by feeling their way along until something clicks or searching the web for solutions. If you’re a book person, there are plenty of books out there to help you. Take your time and find one that speaks to you. Whether you prefer a dense technical manual or a cartoon style how-to guide, pick one that fits both your approach to learning and your level of expertise.
Taking on a Project
One of the best ways to learn new things is by hands-on experimentation. If you have trouble just thinking up some random project, offer your services to create software for a small business or charity. Does software exist for your local animal shelter to identify animals and keep track of their shots and special needs, or keep a database of calls for lost pets? Why not ask? You could also join an ongoing open-source project, which has a bonus feature of getting your name out to the IT community at large.
Teaching a Class
Community colleges and independent learning centers are often looking for experts to teach adult continuing education classes. You’ll stay in the game, add points to your resume, earn a few bucks, and maybe learn a little yourself as you prepare lessons.
Dive Right In (with help from the Internet)
Sometimes there’s no better way to learn than just diving in. Ask your peers how they learned about what they do, I guarantee some of them will say that they found interest in something, read a bunch about it online, and just went for it – teaching themselves as they went along. With so many IT sites up and running, and helpful communities and forums abound, a lot of times the questions or roadblocks you’ll face have already been answered online. Plus, you can usually get access to tools and programs with trial software to explore before buying.
What about you? Do you have any tips or advice of your own?