Have you ever wanted to pick up a new hobby or learn a new skill, but can never seem to find enough time in the day to devote yourself to the task? Like most working professionals, balancing a full-time job and learning something new can be an overwhelming task. So what exactly is the best approach for an IT professional to take to build their technical skills, while holding down a full time job?
Michael Manganelli, Senior Technical Recruiter at ES Technology, a division of The Execu|Search Group, highlights the importance of proactively keeping your IT skills up-to-date. “While it can be easy to become complacent with your skill set (i.e., Big Data, Business Intelligence, Cloud Computing, etc.), especially while working full time, IT professionals must always find ways to build upon their skills,” advises Michael. “Technology changes frequently and the skills that you possess now might not be relevant in a year from now, so it’s important to continuously improve your technical skills to remain competitive in today’s job market.”
To help you pick up new tech skills while working full time here are 4 areas to focus on:
1. Utilize online tutorials and training manuals
There is always so much to learn in the IT space and whether it is a new programming language or a different type of framework you want to learn, books and online tutorials can serve as a great resource. With the advances in smart phone technology and mobile applications, which allow you to read books or watch videos almost anywhere, you can easily learn new technical skills on your commute to and from work. In addition, sites like codeacademy.com or codeschool.com provide a great supply of video tutorials on learning different programming languages. “Whenever you have downtime, get in the habit of browsing these sites or reading articles relevant to what you’re interested in,” recommends Michael. The more information you can pick up in your spare time, the easier it will be to put these skills into use once the right opportunity arises.
2. Work with the IT community at large
One of the unique advantages of working in the IT industry, are the sheer number of communities on the internet where IT professionals share and critique each other’s work. “One of the best ways to gauge your progress in a new skill is by sharing it with like-minded professionals that can give you honest, constructive feedback,” says Michael. For example, GitHub allows you to post code to an IT community, and ask questions for coding advice from other users. Users on this site range from novice coders to the most experienced professionals, so you will be able to get a wide range of feedback on your work. The more comfortable you become with sharing your progress, the more you will feel confident about trying something new.
3. Start a side project
As you continue to learn a new technical skill, starting your own side project is a good way to measure your own growth. For example, you could build a website or a mobile application geared towards something you’re passionate about to make it seem like less of a task, and more of a hobby. “For working IT professionals, not only can a side project create a way to build new skills, but it can also serve as an illustration of your strengths during an interview. “Many hiring managers specifically look out for candidates who are genuinely passionate about learning and evolving their skills,” highlights Michael. “Employers need to trust that their IT staff members will be able to keep their business up-to-date with advances in technology. As a result, it’s vital to demonstrate your commitment to professional growth.” In the end, make sure that you’re learning these new skills not because you have to, but because you want to, as it will take you a long way in mastering them.
4. Take on additional projects at work
While it can seem counterintuitive to take on more projects during working hours, if you already can’t find the time to learn something new outside of work, this is one of the most straightforward ways to further develop your skills. This is not to say that you should take on the biggest project you can find to impress your supervisor, but instead, find an opportunity to lend a hand in a specific area you’ve been practicing or are interested in learning more about. Keep in mind, choosing to take on additional projects at work should never take away from your core responsibilities, so make sure you’re able to be as productive for your normal projects.