How to Gain the Skills You Need for the Tech Job You Want

Haley Shoaf

Tech skills are more in demand now than ever before. The economy is shifting — it has become increasingly imperative for people to have technical skills in order to stay competitive in the job market. In fact, the number of tech roles is increasing. and the U.S. Department of Labor believe that by 2020, there will be 1 million computer programming jobs open.

As automation changes the way many jobs work, job applicants need to keep up with tech skills as they emerge. Having these high-tech skills can not only give people an edge, but it will also better position them for upward mobility and career growth.

But traditional education isn't always feasible. A typical four-year degree is expensive, and costs are continuing to rise. Over the last 20 years, the average total cost of a private university has risen by 157 percent, while the average cost of a public university has gone up by 194 percent. As Briana Boyington notes, "Tuition and fees at four-year national universities are significantly outpacing inflation.”

And even if, through scholarships or loans, a student is able to obtain a four-year degree in computer science, these programs often focus on theoretical concepts, which may not translate directly into job-ready skills. Most employers are more likely seeking software development skills instead of pure computer science, so degree-holders often have to learn more on the job as it stands.

In recent years, massive open online courses (or MOOCs) have gained popularity as an alternative to enrolling in a university, but these types of courses can often be difficult to navigate and complete. Two such programs, MITx and HarvardX, found that while participation has steadily increased over the last four years to reach 2.4 million unique users total (in either one or both of the programs), only 245,000 successful completion learner certificates were issued to those who had enrolled.

It can be challenging to navigate through the right courses and stay motivated without a support system or community to hold you accountable and keep you engaged. This may be why the attrition rate for MOOCs is so high.

But there are ways besides a four-year degree or completing a MOOC to learn the high-tech skills needed to land that computer programmer job — in fact, nearly everything you'd need to learn how to code is available online for free.

The challenge most people face, however, is navigating the vast amount of resources available — in some cases, you could research and practice for years and still not have the right knowledge or portfolio unless you get guidance. To make the most of these resources, there are a couple of options:

  • Online interactive tools

Platforms such as freeCodeCamp and Codecademy provide people with the flexibility to learn on their own schedule — courses are self-paced with no due dates — and on a much lower budget.


When using these resources, it may also be wise to call on people in your life who may be able to answer questions or supplement knowledge gaps you have as you progress in your studies. An 84-year-old woman, Shirley McKerrow, enrolled in Codecademy’s free coding courses online and enlisted her grandson for tech tutoring along the way. You may not have a software developer on hand to ask questions, but chances are someone in your life can help you figure out how to solve problems that are stumping you.

  • Local educational programs

There are programs available that leverage open source resources and curriculum from universities and online sources but spread them out into a manageable time frame. These are usually split up over several weeks into a part-time structure that people can actually get through while building the skills necessary to efficiently start a tech career.


These types of programs combine the informational aspects of boot camps with the flexibility of online resources, all wrapped in the framework of a supportive community of like-minded students and developers.

There is no right path to entering into the tech world. There are multiple ways to achieve the same goal — just look for the option that's the best fit for you. But whichever route you take, make sure you’re learning job-ready skills, amassing high-quality resources and developing a supportive community to keep you motivated. With those in tow, you'll be on your way to your tech dream job in no time.

Haley Shoaf is the education operations director for LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization preparing individuals for and matching them with opportunities in the technology industry and a recipient of Prior to LaunchCode, Haley was a Venture for America fellow in St. Louis.

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