Gaining New Skills Doesn't Have to Be Expensive

Susan Hall

Though many of us make New Year's resolutions, even if they're the same ones we made last year, adding new skills remains one worth revisiting, even if you didn't make it happen last year.


Though IT pros know they have to keep up with changing technology, they can't expect their employers to provide the training they need. Taking charge of your own learning is a common theme in HR consultant Peter Weddle's newsletter. (Free sign-up required.) In a post before Steve Jobs' death last year called "The iPhone Proposition," Weddle wrote:

Steve Jobs and company recognize that standing still is the single best way to fail in today's economy. Their competitors are always raising the bar in terms of design and performance, so they must too. Similarly, consumers are forever raising their expectations about what they want and need from a cell phone, so Apple must oblige. In effect, those two inexorable forces mean that the only way Apple can survive and prosper is by working continuously at getting better.
The same dynamic also now impacts all of us in the workforce. Our competitors in the U.S. and abroad-those who want our job or the job we want-are upping their game and improving their ability to contribute to an employer's success. At the same time, employers now expect higher performance and harder work from both their current employees and those applying for their open positions. As a result, the only way we can survive and prosper in today's economy is by adopting the iPhone Proposition: we must work continuously to stay ahead of both our competitor's capabilities and employers' expectations.

And it's becoming easier than ever to gain new skills - at least less expensive. Can't fork over $2,800 for a six-week class on Ruby on Rails? Increasingly, you can find free classes online. One such offering is startup Codecademy, which offers interactive coding lessons for free. Though so far its offerings are limited to a beginning programming class and a couple on JavaScript. But in October the two-man company raised $2.5 million in venture financing, with plans to expand with more languages, including Ruby and Python. It has signed up nearly 75,000 people for Code Year, a year-long series of lessons that arrive each week in email to provide a little more structure. BetaBeat quotes Codecademy co-founder Zach Sims, saying:

What we had up till now was very self-directed. The biggest problem with that is motivation. The email gives people a way to direct their learning so that they know what they have to do and by when.

Another bright spot in training on the horizon: Massachusetts Institute of Technology plans to offer certificates for completing coursework in a new initiative called MITx in which it will offer its courses online for free. It's expected to be a more interactive experience, building on its success with its original online learning platform, OpenCourseWare, which has been used by over 100 million students and contains course material for roughly 2,100 classes, according to Forbes. Though access to the classes will be free, there will be an as-yet-undetermined "affordable" charge for a credential, according to The New York Times. The program is to gear up this spring, possibly building from just a single class.


If you're still working on your resolutions, there's a handy tool among our IT Project Guides, an IT Career Development Plan, to help you determine where you want to go and how to get there. And for motivation, Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, offers this advice in his new book: There's only one thing you really control in life - and that's your own effort. You'll find excerpts at Business Insider.

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