Wellness Wednesday: How to continue your education once you start your career

By Jameson Zaballos, Machine Learning Engineer, Dell & Code2College Mentor

College was a very transformative time for me, and I chalk a lot of that up to my degree in Computer Science. Learning to code – learning things like how an operating system was built, how cryptography works, and what a hashmap was – was incredibly empowering, and gave me the confidence to pursue a career in software engineering.

I noticed, however, that once I graduated and started working, what I was learning at work was pretty much solely based on the area of the company I worked in. I started in a team that worked heavily with marketing, so I learned a lot about how my company runs marketing. If I wanted to learn more about, for example, artificial intelligence, it probably wasn’t something I was going to encounter a lot in my day-to-day. Contrast that with college – for the most part, it’s a lot easier to carve out the learning path each semester. 

The question is, though, if you’re already learning a ton in your role, why make the extra effort to go above and beyond?

A few reasons.

  1. It shows initiative. You’re willing to go above and beyond expectations.
  2. It’s a way for you to work toward the next thing you want to learn about. Learning more about cloud technologies, for example, could help you if you want to move to a cloud team in the future.
  3. It’s refreshing to learn a new skill in an environment where you’re not facing immense pressure to do so. Giving yourself the ability to work through a curriculum when it can be done on your terms is a less stressful way to learn.

There are a few key ways to supercharge your learning in any role at your new job. 

Company-sponsored schooling

Companies will often sponsor your education past an undergraduate degree. I was fortunate enough to have a good relationship with my alma mater’s UX professor, and learned of a 100% online, yearlong capstone certificate in User Experience design. 

Tuition was on the pricey side, but I asked my manager, and it turned out that my company offered tuition reimbursement for many post-secondary programs, both in-person and online. The best part was it helped expand my job’s responsibilities, as I showed I was proactive about pursuing new education outside my day-to-day job. It helped me immensely when I was ready for my next role at work.

The best part? Between a scholarship I received and my company’s portion, the education was entirely paid for.

This is extremely important to underscore. I asked around, and this is a common policy at many companies. I have several connections fully or partially pursuing master’s degrees paid for by their employer..

What to do: As soon as you start your new job, ask your manager and coworkers, as well as any HR person who you might have communicated with during the interview process. There likely is some sort of program that you can take advantage of. It might not hurt to mention during the interview process, too.

Company-sponsored certificates

In a similar vein, while you might not have the time to pursue another degree (or you might just want to take a break from having to do homework, I get it) professional certifications are a great option that are often quicker and add a great resume boost.

The options are limitless. Everything from technical certifications like from AWS, to more business-oriented courses like Pragmatic marketing, to skills like machine learning and automation.

A little after I started the aforementioned certificate, I noticed some parts of my job responsibilities as a technical project manager that aligned with a certification as a scrum product owner.

Once again, I made the case to my manager that the skills I’d learn were aligned with our goals for growth, and he approved it. Similarly, I know plenty of coworkers who have taken a wide breadth of certifications.

What to do: Make a list of skills you’d like to learn, and separately identify skills in your job that you want to dive deeper with. Bring these up to your manager if you’ve found a certification you think is a good fit.

Industry Conferences

Believe it or not, companies will sponsor you to attend conferences. In 2019, I attended three with help from my company – Mind the Product in San Francisco, Front UX Conference in Salt Lake City, and South by Southwest in good old Austin.

I attended these conferences because I was proactive about discussing with my manager the benefits, and given we were on a marketing-driven team, was able to make the case that these conferences would help me learn more about the technologies our product group was making.

Conferences can be on the pricey side, but if you find one that overlaps with where your team has positioned itself strategically, it can be easy to make the case that going to a conference will help you learn how other top companies are approaching the same problems.

What to do: Keep a list of conferences that interest you. For me, I would google “top product management conferences US” and poach from that list. Once a quarter (for my team, budget was drawn quarterly) bring up the conferences with your manager / team, along with the reasons why it would benefit the team for you to go, and see if there’s room in the budget. 

Internal learning tools like Pluralsight / Udemy / LinkedIn Learning

Last but not least, many companies have subscriptions to enterprise learning studios like LinkedIn Learning. 

These are virtually limitless repositories of knowledge on literally anything you could possibly think of. Photography, API design, public speaking, and everything in-between.

I find these to be particularly useful if you want to learn about a new technology your team is moving to. Want to learn more about effective pair programming? There’s likely a course for it. Is your team moving to AWS for one of your apps? You can probably learn a lot about what that will actually mean.
What to do: When faced with more gritty details of some new skill you want to learn, try and find a relevant guide on your company’s enterprise learning tool of choice. Odds are, you can find an in-depth video with practice materials.

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