Monday, February 29, 2016

Upskilling your upskilling skills. Part 2: The Tools

Working in an industry that is moving at the speed of light requires a lot from us. We need to stay updated on current technology, while at the same time foreseeing what the next big thing will be and making sure we learn what is needed to join the fun. Not an easy task when you have a full time job, a family and a social life.

I've spent the past three years fine tuning my upskilling skills, figuring out which ways of learning suit me best, looking at the available tools out there and creating a schedule and a set of goals that will fit my daily routine. In this blog series, I want to share my thoughts and findings with you, hoping you'll become as addicted to learning as I am.

The list of availabe tools is endless
When expanding their skillset, a lot of people automatically resort to reading books because that is primarily how we were taught to gain knowledge in school. We were taught that books were the magic gateway to knowledge heaven. And they are, but there are so many other options to consider as well.

Let's take a look at the different types of tools available:

Classroom training
If you're looking for longterm training that will give you a certificate when completed, checkout the classes available at your local university. If you're interested in shorter and more intense classroom training, take a look at the professional training providers in your area. They often host one-week training sessions with the best teachers available.

Online training
If you'd rather learn from the comfort of your own home or on the bus on your way to work, online training is the way to go. The number of online training providers has exploded the last couple of years, but I'd like to give you an overview of my favorites:

Pluralsight: When it comes to tech training, there's no one better than Pluralsight. You are taught by the industry's leading experts in a format that allows you to follow the courses at your own pace. Price: $29 per month

Coursera: Partnering with universities worldwide, Coursera gives you access to just about any topic there is. Some courses are on-demand, but most of them have a start date and a schedule you have to follow in order to get a certificate. Price: Free, get a certificate for about $50.

edX: Quite similar to Coursera, but the edX courses mainly focus on science. Price: Free, get a certificate for about $50.

Udemy: Allows anyone to create a course covering the topics of their choice. Price: $0 - $300

Udacity: Together with industry giants such as Google, Facebook, Salesforce, AT&T etc., Udacity provides "nanodegree programs" focusing on the skills these companies are interested in from their employees. Price: $200 per month

Codecademy: Teaching the world to code interactively. Price: Free.

Duolingo: A gamified way of learning languages. Price: Free

As I mentioned earlier in this blog post, books are often the first tool that comes to mind when you want to learn something new. One thing that's important to remember though, is that there are several ways of reading a book. You can read the entire book from beginning to end, you can read only the bits that are relevant to you or you can read the book as a technical reviewer, contributing to the book while you are learning. As a technical reviewer your job is to verify that the examples work, state you opinions about the order of the subjects that are being covered, and letting the author know if there are parts that are unclear or missing. You don't get paid as a technical reviewer, but some of the publishers include your bio in the book. For more information on doing technical reviews, check out The Pragmatic Bookshelf and Packt Publishing.

Tools for personal development
When it comes to topics in the personal development category, it might be a bit difficult to find efficient tools. As an example, consider my own goal a couple of years ago of learning how to say "no" to possible opportunities. I'm sure there are books out there on this subject, but I have to admit I'm a bit sceptical of the typical self help books so I wanted to find a different way of learning this.

I found that I learned a lot simply by discussing the subject with my colleagues or with other developers on Twitter. We shared our experiences and motivated each other to say "no" the next time one of us got that nagging feeling of not really wanting to do something. And it worked like a charm, today I have no difficulties with saying "no".

Remember that these tools are available during your learning experience:

Your personal and professional network
Discuss topics and ideas with your friends and coworkers, learning and receiving motivation from each other.

You don't always have the time or energy to read a book, how about reading a quick blog post then? Or how about writing a blog post yourself? There's no more effective way of learning then teaching someone else.

Learn while doing something completely different at the same time. You can listen to podcasts during your workout or while making dinner. Perfect for those days where there's no time to sit down and concentrate.

Following your rolemodels
Keep an eye on what your role models are doing. Read their blogs and books, follow them on social media, listen to interviews they are doing. They are guaranteed to share some of their expert tips with their followers, and you will find motivation along the way.

Variation is important
In the first part of this blog series, I explained how I select three topics I want to learn more about. A part of this selection process is to consider which tools are appropriate for the topics in question. If you're interested in philosophy, books are most likely the best tool available whereas if you want to learn programming, you should look at more interactive tools such as online training providers. Finding the right tool for the job is important as it will speed up your learning process and motivate you along the way.

When you select your three topics, it's extremely important that you select topics that require different tools. Don't select three topics that all require you to read a book, or that all require you to follow an intense online training session. Doing this will kill your motivation faster than you can imagine. You should ensure that your topics come with three different tools. I often find myself doing an online course for my first topic, while reading a book for my second topic, and following my rolemodels for my third topic. That way, I can always find the time and motivation to upskill, no matter what situation I'm in. If I have 10 minutes at hand, I know there's no point in sitting down watching an online course so I'll read a couple of blog posts instead. Suddenly you have no excuses to not upskill.

Wrapping it up
The list of available tools for gaining new knowledge is endless. I've listed my favorites in this blog post, and with a bit of research you'll quickly come across tools that are a perfect fit for you. Now that we've selected our three topics to focus on, ensuring they all come with different tools, it's time to take a look at how you can make time in your busy schedule to upskill. More about that next week, in part 3 of this blog series.

I'm always looking for new tools to try out and I'd love to hear your opinion! What are your favorite tools for upskilling?

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