Education, Experimentation, and Relationships
Part two of Meeting the Curve Head On
By Aaron Cox
In the first article of this series (Meeting the Curve Head On) I addressed how the speed of advancement in our industry is affecting our ability as technology professionals to remain relevant and focused on the right skills to meet our career objectives. Moving away from the legacy pattern of chasing technology advancements to form our careers and instead choosing our angle and meeting our career goals head on is now critical. As technology changes so do the best practices for building your career. In the second article of this series I will address the three areas I encourage people to pursue Education, Experimentation, and Relationships. The fourth, Certification, we will discuss in the next article.
For far too long there has been a gaping hole in the quality, availability and cost of technology education for professionals (not to mention the gaps in most college programs). However, now there are many cost effective and free solutions available that allow you to work on your schedule, at your speed and with the topics you prefer. In recent articles I have mentioned my recent investment in several certification over the last twelve months. Just 5 years ago I would have easily paid $8,000 or more in just training. Thankfully we live in a new world, combined my same training plan may have cost $600 and was all done on my time, my schedule, often nights and odd hours of the morning. If you haven't ventured past the expensive and rigid education solutions of old I strongly suggest you take a minute to look at a few of the solutions I have found value in over the last couple of years. Even if you are not into certification, there are micro degrees, and education courses that will help hone the direction of your career and advance your skills. So where do you start? I've built a list of training providers and categorized them based on their value and the type of provider they are. I have found that using a mix of these providers often gets the best result.
Who doesn't like free? -
I know I do! Microsoft and AWS both provide free training for entry level learners and specific product sets. The training can be dry and direct, but I have found it has been valuable for either creating a baseline, or filling the gap.
The Chinese menu -
The following providers have extensive breadth in their catalogs, more than you could ever consume. But just like a trip to your favorite Chinese restaurant, with a menu that large, some dishes are better than others.
- Udemy - The course catalog at Udemy reaches across more subjects than you can imagine, from how to give a cat a massage, to how to learn egyptian, to becoming an AWS Certified Professional Architect. The model at Udemy allows for both free and paid courses, you acquire each course individually. Quality can at times be questionable, and anyone can create a course and post it for sale, so do your research on the instructor before you buy. However I have found there are for more high quality courses than low quality in their business and technology domain. The opportunity to custom build your learning path and the ability to take advantage of free entry level courses is very valuable.
- Pluralsight - With Pluralsight the catalog is still extensive however it remains focused on technology and business. Their model follows a different path where you buy access by the month but to their entire catalog which is massive. In addition Pluralsight screens their courses and instructors so the quality is often a step above Udemy.
Focused quality for certification -
When you have a defined path and If certification is your end goal (and it probably should be) high quality, and a focused path is extremely valuable. Cloud Guru and Linux Academy and are the gold standard when it comes to developing Cloud Skills and I often find that what separates them the most is your own preferred learning style. Both offer free courses or a trial run through their websites and Udemy. Personally I found utilizing both of them valuable. In addition they both provide tools for testing prep you won't find elsewhere.
- A Cloud Guru - Simply knows how to teach people the cloud. Their AWS training is by far the strongest and well positioned to teach you not only how to pass the test but how to actually be an expert with legitimate skills. Their Azure and GCP training is starting to come into its own, however it still is a step behind their core capability which definitely resides with AWS. I would not have progressed as quickly in my certification or professional development without their excellent coursework, instructors, and training tools. You can buy by the course through Udemy, a monthly membership for their entire catalog through the A Cloud Guru website, or for the biggest bang for your book purchase the yearly membership for $250.
- Linux Academy - If your looking for the focused quality with a larger menu Linux Academy is your place. They are speeding quickly towards "Chinese Menu" status with constant additions to their course catalog. If you are an experienced engineer you may find yourself more comfortable with Linux academy. Like Cloud Guru you can also purchase their courses individually through Udemy, a monthly membership with access to the whole catalog, or a yearly membership for $499, or for the more value conscious at least once a quarter you can usually snag the yearly subscription for $299. Which gives you access to practice tests, challenges, and labs.
- Stack Skills - Are you looking to learn or advance your skills in a specific programming language? Stack Skills provides either single use courses or course packages focused on specific topics and or programming languages. Personally I have only taken a couple of courses here but they were effective and valuable, as well as focused on the specific topic I was looking for.
- Cybrary - The primary purpose behind Cybrary is their focus on security skills and certification. However as any good security pro will tell you, if you want to excel in this space you have to build strong technical skills across several domains. Cybrary takes that seriously and offers a tremendous number of courses across various technical subjects. Cybrary offers free and paid courses, this is a great opportunity to take advantage of if you are wanting to build security skills or start down the path of entering that domain.
I really miss college -
- Coursera - Missing college? Or looking for a more academic experience? If certification is your path you will find too much theory and not enough practical training to get you through the tests. However if your looking to build a new skill set, perhaps AI or Machine Learning you can dive deep and develop a new broad skill set that you can then go and refine through certification. Coursera's format is great for access to high quality universities and institutions.
- edX - Want to be truly academic in your professional development? edX is going to give you access to exceptional programs with Universities like Harvard, MIT, CalTech, and Berkeley to name a few. Like Coursera, edX is a preferred path toward a new domain with solid and innovative courses that can eventually be refined through experience and certification.
And these are only scratching the surface. Most offer free entry courses or trial periods to determine which provider bends closer to your learning style and budget. The low cost and availability of quality training has improved so significantly in recent years. My hope is that you understand that those whom you compete with for jobs, promotions, and career opportunities are taking advantage of these tools. If you refuse to invest you are walling off opportunity and advancement for your career. When discussing career planning and training I am often reminded of the following quote:
Be smart! You are moving into the most competitive age the world has ever known. All around you is competition. You need all the education you can get. Sacrifice a car; sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to qualify yourselves to do the work of the world. That world, will in large measure and pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you gain education and proficiency in your chosen field.
- Gordon B Hinckley
For years this subject has only been for those who are wild enough to invest massive amounts of money and time in technology, we all know at least one person who has a small data center in their hall closet or under the folding table in their spare room/makeshift office/IT laboratory. Thankfully it's time to turn those rusty old servers in to your nearest technology recycling depot. Today we have all the tools we need at our fingertips for little to no cost, and for very little effort to maintain or deploy.
While training for a recent certification I decided the best method for me to determine if I had understood how to bolt together the topics from multiple courses was to undertake a large complex deployment of the technologies involved. Using mostly free tier services from a cloud provider I deployed a small data center worth of architecture, tested it, validated it, and dismantled it in a matter of several hours, with my costs not extending more than a few dollars. Is deploying architecture from scratch a little intimidating? Or are you looking for something faster or less complex? That's great, because another tool I have found to be very valuable is Qwiklabs, a great tool for getting hands on experience. Qwiklabs provides pre-configured lab exercises with everything you need in place as you start the lab exercise and then automated tear down of the environment when you are done. Their exercises run from beginner to highly complex. The time and financial investment in building skills you are unable to gather on the job has never been easier, it comes down to your willingness to invest in yourself and your career.
Over the last several years the technology community has utilized social media tools to build and drive a more active and vibrant community where we can assist each other by providing a hand up to others while also receiving a hand up as well. I've recently become a large fan of the #100 Days of Code, this community especially on twitter is constantly working to build up developers, both new to the industry and experienced. If you want to build your development skills, they won't do it for you, but they will guide you, lift you up and encourage you when your growth is challenged. Local technology sector meetups are another great source and have become significant communities within cities both small and large. They have done interesting projects, and are valuable networking tools to find employers that need the skills you are building. If you haven't already, check out your local AWS meetup, Python users group, or Azure Developers discussion Forum. How do you find them? Typically Meetup.com is the best tool for this purpose but you can also search for them on social media platforms like Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter. Employers, if you are looking for people who are invested in their careers and are developing the skills you need, I suggest you also take time to join these organizations. They are filled with people who are dedicated, passionate, and invested in the technology path they have chosen.
Although the breadth and speed of advancement in the technology industry is moving faster, the tools necessary to help you choose your angle, determine your speed, and meet your objective are available in ways never before available to any industry. Those who accept the challenge have an exciting and enlightening career ahead of them. I've only touched on a few of the tools and topics available today for your development, take a moment and add some of your suggestions in the comment section below. Giving knowledge back to the IT community is how we will all grow together.
Next up I will tackle certification, has it run its course and lost it's luster? Or has it found new value?
Part 1 - Meeting the Curve Head On
Part 3 - To Certify or Not to Certify?