Whatever your current position, continuing to grow your technical skills is crucial to landing your dream job over the next few years. But very few of us have jobs that afford the extracurricular time necessary to master the latest skills and trends. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to learn new skills while keeping your day job. Here are just a few of the best ways to make that happen.
This might sound overly simplistic, but knowing exactly which skills you want to improve is critical to actually making progress. Do you want to deepen the skills in your current role (i.e., getting better at Ruby, learning Swift if you are an iOS developer, etc.)? Or do you want to learn a new skill altogether (such as data science)?
Success comes from consistency and focus, and you only have so much time to spend on learning when you’re also working. You can’t afford to bounce around from skill to skill; you need to decide what you want to improve, and then hone in on those skills.
Create a GitHub Account
GitHub is where people share and showcase their code these days, so you should have an account there. Even if you’re not doing fancy code work just yet, GitHub is a great place to share what you’re working on, see what other people are doing, and even get feedback and ideas for improving your own projects.
In order to land a technical job, people need to be able to find your work (especially if you haven’t done it in a professional capacity before), and GitHub is a great way to connect with other people doing the kind of work you want to be doing.
Go Through Tutorials
When you have spare time, try out some online tutorials (these can be found for free or very low cost, a lot of the time). And don’t just read the content: actually do the exercises and examples. Then put the completed work in your GitHub account. If you have the time, add documentation and actually write your code in as elegant a manner as possible; the better your code looks, the more impressive it will be to anyone who checks it out.
Sure, you might not have time to refine the code into a work of art… But even just having it up is a good thing, since having a bunch of code samples (even if they are simple exercises from a tutorial) will give you something to showcase to hiring managers.
Contribute to Open-Source Projects
Once you’re working on and sharing your own projects online, look for opportunities to contribute to other open-source projects. You can get started by helping search for open bugs (even documentation bugs, if you want to start small) and providing solutions.
It might be scary to start sharing your work on other people’s projects, especially if you’re trying out a new skill, but this is a great opportunity to practice and get feedback. In most cases, the creator of the project will share his or her ultimate goal for the code, so you can work in the right direction.
Find Ways to Practice
Your day job may offer the opportunity to work on additional projects; take those opportunities. Just be sure to communicate that any such projects are being done at your own pace, so you don’t end up interfering with anybody else’s workflow.
One caveat: Make sure you only take on additional work when your primary, mission-critical work is done. You don’t want to send the message that you’re not focused on your main priorities.
Start a Side Project
If you’re feeling ambitious, and have the time and enthusiasm to work on an idea outside the office, then a side project is a perfect place to really hone a new skill.
It can be something really simple, such as an app or program designed to solve a small problem. A side project doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking, and it can be an incredible opportunity to apply your skills in a practical way.
Be sure to share your project and get feedback on it; working on a side project alone can be an isolating and frustrating experience. Don’t forget to seek out feedback and answers from people online.
While learning new skills is always a daunting undertaking, it’s very possible to integrate growth and learning into your everyday life—provided you’re savvy about how you spend your time and where you apply your efforts.
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