Learning to write software was tough for me.
I had been an English major because I loved literature, but I turned to programming because it offered better career possibilities. To learn programming, I bought books and searched the Internet for free instructional materials, and I found and completed a couple of certification programs that were particularly helpful.
I was lucky to have a good friend that was (is) a gifted software developer and was willing to mentor me, and I was also lucky to have a technical writing job that was closely related to programming. Most of my self teaching happened outside of regular working hours and the learning curve was steep and long. Even after getting my first programming job, I lived for years with a near constant urgency to compensate for my lack of formal training. I thought for a long time that my situation was fairly unique. It's not.
Recently, I’ve become more aware of how common it is for people to switch career tracks.
Some, like me, are pursuing a better opportunities in rapidly expanding fields like high tech and healthcare. Others are responding to wholesale career obsolescence in fields like manufacturing, farming, and publishing.
A report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that people change jobs an average of 11 times between the ages of 18 and 46. It’s a safe bet that a lot of those changes require new training, new skills, and new knowledge.
Going back to school was not a good option for me.
I already had two college degrees, and the cost of a third in both time and money was just too high. A university degree (from any university) also involved ridiculous quantities of administrative overhead for application, registration, and program adaptation. More than that, I didn’t really need another credential, I just needed the knowledge and the skills. I needed to learn, not just go to school.
I would have loved, LOVED, to have a robust selection of online courses available when I was learning to program. The books I bought tended to cover concepts well, but they didn’t often help me apply them.
The programming course of my dreams would have included:
- Video segments showing how to configure my dev environment
- Quizzes to help me assess my learning
- Portfolio projects to help me demonstrate mastery
- and feedback from an instructor and other course participants
So now I’m on a quest to help create more online courses.
My plan is pretty simple. I’m going to understand the process from the inside by creating a course myself. Because I work for a company that makes an online learning platform, I have good access to people and resources to experiment and observe. I’m going to study best practices and available options, and as I find what works, I’ll write about it.
What about you?
If you’re thinking about changing career tracks, I’d be interested in hearing about your experience. Are there online courses available for the specific things you want to learn? If there are, how would you rate the quality and the learning outcomes of what you’ve found?
Let me know in the comments, below.