How to Expand Your Engineering Skill Set Without Quitting Your Day Job
Benefits of Updating Your Engineering Skills
To keep up with rapid technology changes, you have to be current with your skills. With newer skills, you’ll have greater success in looking for a new career or being recruited to other projects. A new career often comes with the side benefit of a higher salary.
With more skills under your belt, you’re more likely to be noticed and recruited for more projects within your organization. If you’re certified in a particular discipline, you’re more likely to be trusted and hired for specific expertise.
Many companies offer tuition reimbursement as part of the employee benefits package. According to Glassdoor’s 2020 report, some companies offer partial to full tuition assistance, with either the employee or the employer choosing an educational institution. The amount ranges from $500 to $10,000 per year, and may extend to both full-time and part-time employees. T-Mobile, for instance, offers to cover the full tuition bill for full-time workers at designated online universities and partial tuition assistance for both full-time and part-time employees at other institutions.
Negotiation and Commitment
As the requirements for financial assistance vary among employers, talk to your boss about your career goals and obtain permission and sponsorship to acquire your next set of skills. As pursuing education may interfere with your work schedule, offer to take these courses in the evenings or weekends if available.
Prepare a list of convincing arguments why your employer should invest in your education and how you will benefit your employer in the long run. Be grateful and commit to remaining with your employer after you finish your program. Some companies may require you to sign a contract to solidify your commitment.
Job Certification and Legality
Some jobs may require you to be certified to perform your tasks. In this case, you can earn while you learn because, as a non-exempt employee, you should be remunerated for your learning and preparation time toward certification.
Check out some legal requirements to ensure that your training is necessary, your learning and training are conducted during working hours, and productive work is being performed.
The range of skills you’re looking to acquire may be obtained within the company or outside. Amazon, for example, offers training and certification programs in cloud computing for internal employees as well as customers and partners. Tech giants such as Google have been known to support peer-to-peer employee learning programs or mentoring to foster camaraderie and build employee growth. AT&T boasts of its internal AT&T University to encourage employee learning while on the job to boost their skill sets.
Companies like AT&T invest in employee-retraining programs through collaboration with partners such as Udacity, Coursera, University of Notre Dame, and Georgia Tech, to offer advanced degree and certification programs in the latest technologies.
By participating in company-sponsored employee learning programs, you can align your skills to your company’s goals and objectives. Your organization may be teaming up with other companies to sponsor or lead conferences relevant to your industry. Be on the lookout for these avenues, as they’ll help you network with others and pick up additional skills.
Online Developer Communities
As a software engineer, part of your role is to research before you design a solution. When you’re researching and planning, you encounter novel ideas and learn new wisdom along the way. Though unofficial, this is an accepted method of acquiring a new skill set while you’re on the job. While working on your project, you may encounter stumbling blocks. You may be able to find answers within your cohort.
Otherwise, you can always explore the question-and-answer repository on Stack Overflow. Chances are, you may be able to pick up some beautiful gems and knowledge from others’ experiences. You’re learning and getting paid for this research while working.
Free Learning Resources
If you’re a freelancer and ineligible for your current employer’s benefits, you can still expand your engineering skill set. You can learn from free developer teaching websites, such as w3schools and freeCodeCamp. These resources will allow you to gain extra knowledge on your own time.
If you’re interested in cloud computing, take a look at the many offerings from Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Amazon offers professional certifications for AWS as a cloud practitioner, solutions architect, developer, SysOps administrator, DevOps engineer, and other specialties. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science have dominated much of the technology spheres.
You can obtain certifications for these popular fields at Google, Microsoft, Udacity, and DataCamp. If you’re an experienced relational database designer looking to explore NoSQL alternatives, investigate the various offerings and certifications available at MongoDB University.
Sometimes you’re looking to learn a new language, but without having professional development experience in this language, you might be at a disadvantage.
Consider getting certified after learning the new language. The Python Institute in conjunction with the Cisco Networking Academy and Pearson VUE offers free courses in the Python programming language that lead to professional certifications in the language. The C++ Institute offers a similar program for certifications in the C++ programming language. The Oracle University offers free learning programs for the Java programming language, that lead to professional certifications. The Ruby Association offers professional certification in the Ruby language. The OpenJS Foundation offers certifications to demonstrate competence in building RESTFul Node.js servers, services, and applications.
Besides boosting your confidence in a newly acquired skill, being professionally certified demonstrates your diligence and seriousness in professional development to potential recruiters and employers and is an asset for you. If you don’t have the focus or time commitment to pursue a rigorous learning and certification track, you might consider participating in professional webinars that offer relevant topics in your areas of work.
If you’re active on LinkedIn, you can participate in LinkedIn’s Learning Programs. When you add skills to your LinkedIn profile, you may be prompted to take a corresponding assessment. It’s a good idea to challenge yourself to one of these tests to gauge where you are. These tests are short and timed and may be retaken to improve your score.
If you score above a certain percentile, you’ll earn a badge that’s showcased in your profile. Although these assessments are not as comprehensive as a professional certification, they can boost your chance of being noticed by top-notch recruiters.
Sometimes the technology you’re embarking upon is relatively new and there’s no formal support infrastructure for it. You can try to attend or spearhead local meetups as a special interest group to discuss the latest developments in this particular technology and network with other like-minded technologists.
You can organize groups on social media such as Slack, Discord, and LinkedIn, or create your own web forum and mailing list. When the popularity of the technology catches up, you may be distinguished as one of the founders or veterans and start mentoring newcomers. Listing this achievement on your resume adds to your leadership skills.
Many software developers and engineers are educators at heart and want to help others through their writings. Study the writings of these professional bloggers to gain new insights. More often than not, these tech writers aren’t writing for profit, and they often want to document a solution to an uncommon problem or provide a more succinct resolution than what’s available.
Pay attention to those writers whose tutorials are informative, lucid, and well-illustrated with solid, working code samples. You can usually find these writers on Medium, a professional platform that supports quality contributions from a community of dedicated developers.
If you’re a hands-on engineer who learns well by doing instead of textbook learning and exam-taking, you might consider enrolling in a technical boot camp. These short-term programs are often rigorous and require a time commitment.
The number of coding boot camps has risen tremendously over the years and you’ll have to shop around to find the program that meets your needs and budget. Some of these boot camps offer an installment plan and a deferred payment plan that takes a percentage of your income when you land a job in the field.
Thinkful offers a tuition refund guarantee if a graduate doesn’t land a qualified position within 180 days of graduation. Thinkful also offers a monthly financial stipend to qualified applicants who sign its ISA contract.
A typical boot camp offers lessons taught either live or recorded, several short-term coding assignments, and a final project. Some programs also offer one-on-one support from mentors, an online forum to network with your classmates, and career services such as resume review and interview preparation.
Udacity is a well-established learning platform that partners with AT&T, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, to sponsor merit-based scholarships. Udacity specializes in nanodegree programs in the fields of artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, data science, cloud computing, cybersecurity, full-stack development, to name a few.
For a less-expensive alternative, explore Udemy, which offers an extensive catalog of software development courses.
Once you’ve learned a new skill and are ready to gain some development experience with it while waiting for the next job opportunity, consider contributing to your choice of open-source projects hosted on GitHub. If you’re not familiar with GitHub, go through the tutorials to learn how to clone a repository, manage a branch of the local codebase, initiate a pull request, and merge your approved changes to the master version of the repository.
Lastly, there are quality professional publications on the latest technologies that you can subscribe to and study. These technical works are written by experienced subject-matter experts who carve out a chunk of their life to share their talents and experiences with others in the field or newcomers eager to learn.
You’ll learn a lot by collaborating with other fellow developers who may be more experienced than you. Having a busy GitHub profile allows hiring managers and technical interviewers to study your coding habits, evaluate the quality of your work and assess your communication skills with other collaborators and repository owners.
If you’re adventurous, you may wish to create your own repository with an application you create. You can invite others to collaborate with you and build a portfolio to showcase your work. You can also create static web pages with GitHub Pages to document your work.
If you’re developing a full-stack application, consider deploying it on the cloud such as Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and Heroku. The skills you gain from this experience are marketable.
There are many avenues and resources that you can access to broaden your horizons while you’re still employed.
If you work for a company that values employee growth and offers financial assistance, you can apply for the available learning sponsored programs.
If you’re an independent contractor and don’t qualify for any of your host company’s benefits, you can still advance your engineering skills while working.
Whether you’re looking to secure the next project or position, investing time and effort in any of the approaches outlined above will help you towards your goal.