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Four Ways to Keep Your Skills Current

Four Ways to Keep Your Skills Current

R. Marc Phillips

June 23, 2009

In the IT world, if you aren’t constantly learning new skills, you’re falling behind. Technology changes so quickly that the skills that got you a job just five years ago might not get you the time of day right now. That’s why it’s important to keep developing your skills and learning new ones. Here are a few ways to do it:

Take a class – Whether online or in person, there are few better ways to learn a new skill than taking a class. Online classes, in particular, allow you to fit learning into your own schedule and to go at your own pace.

Buy a book – Sometimes, though, whatever it is that you want to learn is just too new for anyone to be teaching a class in it. You don’t see lots of courses teaching people how to write Ruby on Rails code, do you? In that case, your best bet is usually to expand your library a bit.

Take a spin through the tech section of your local bookstore and you’ll find books on everything from new languages and web frameworks to network architectures and hardware configurations. Many of them are available in electronic format, as well. Still, the bookstore experience has its advantages: There are a lot of tech publishers out there, and depending on which writer they’ve hired to tackle a certain subject, the quality of their books can vary wildly. Takes a few minutes to examine the alternatives before you buy.

Start a project – There’s no better way to focus your learning than to direct it towards a specific project you want to finish. So see if you can’t find a problem you’d like to solve or an app you’d like to write and then use that goal to drive your learning experience.

Find an open-source project to contribute to, or get your name out there and see if you can’t land a freelance gig that will allow you to expand your skills. At the end, you’ll not only have learned new skills, you’ll be left with a tangible result of your learning and possibly a new line for your resume.

Learn on the job – Who says you have to go outside your workplace to learn new skills? Every tech shop or IT department I know is always investing or implementing some new technology or architecture. So volunteer to be the person that takes that on. Even if it means putting in some additional hours, you’ll still walk away with valuable knowledge.

And check with your company about tuition reimbursement programs. Manny larger firms offer to pay for your classes or certifications as long as they’re work related.

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