There’s little debate that accelerated tech-education programs—whether they come in the form of boot camps, online courses or classroom sessions—provide the skills people need to land jobs in software development, UI design, project management and other roles integral to any tech organization’s mission.
But according to some recruiters and hiring managers, employers have discovered that, while many graduates of these programs come with excellent skills, they may not be fully prepared to pursue a long-term career in tech.
For graduates who already have some kind of technology or math background, accelerated programs can be a good way to pursue a new career path or update their skills to be more marketable. But for others whose education may have centered on topics unrelated to tech, the road to a full-blown tech career can prove more difficult.
“A lot of fundamentals are left out of these programs,” said Ben Hicks, a partner in Software Technology Search at Waltham, Mass.-based recruiter WinterWyman. “They teach the skills but not the science behind them. So people have to work hard to learn what it’s like to be a software engineer.”
That means learning about more than technology, according to Luther Jackson, program manager at NOVA Workforce Development, a federally funded employment and training agency in Sunnyvale, Calif. Success in technology is built on four pillars, he added: tech skills, of course, but also academic skills, workplace skills and career-navigation skills. “The people who do well have all these skills,” he said.
With all that in mind, here are four ways to build on the tech skills you’ve learned.
Continue Your Education
Whether you pursue a tech-related degree program or take a series of classes online (or in the real world), Hicks thinks it’s important to deepen your knowledge. Taking classes and learning topics that complement your existing knowledge not only deepens your skill set—it also shows employers that you’re motivated.
Learn On Your Own
Find books or Websites that explore your areas of interest, and join sites such as GitHub and Stack Overflow to see how others tackle technical challenges. Learn from their combined experience. Taking advantage of open-source projects is another way to stretch your skills while getting more deeply involved in the development community.
We talk a lot about networking as a career-development tool, but it’s also a way to make contact with other professionals who can teach you about the business world’s realities. Jackson is a big fan of Meetup groups “where you can talk to people about your passions, hear from experts on trends and get advice on what to do about them.” Your manager, he noted, isn’t likely to tell you that you’re favoring a fading technology, but your colleagues in a will: “These are great places to get labor market intelligence.”
Remember that networking isn’t just about connecting with people outside of your company. By observing colleagues at work, you can learn a lot about communicating with others, resolving conflicts and generally navigating the politics that goes along with any work environment. “I bristle when I hear about ‘soft skills,’ said Jackson. “They’re essential, not soft, and you’re not going to pick them up instinctively.”
Find A Mentor
Identify someone at work who’s further up the food chain and is willing to act as your mentor, then “be a sponge and absorb as much as possible,” said Hicks. Besides suggesting tech areas you need to know more about, mentors can introduce you to people both inside and outside the company who can help you succeed in your current assignment and find your next position.
None of this is meant to belittle the programs offered by the likes of General Assembly, Codeacademy or Codeup. But once you’ve completed the courses and landed a job, you still have work to do. As Marissa Arnold, General Assembly’s senior director of communications and PR, puts it: “Just as you owned your education, you have to own your career.”