If you’re just entering the workforce, or you’re contemplating a career change, you might need to learn a new skill to make the jump into gainful employment.
Tech professionals are in high demand. Amazon, for example, is actively hiring for over 9,000 software developers and engineers right now. With all those jobs just sitting there ripe for the plucking, moving into a software development career seems like an easy choice. But what if you don’t have the time or money to go back to college for a degree?
There are many options online for learning specific skills, programming languages, and project management techniques that can help you land your first tech job. You might be wondering, though, if those courses are really enough to get you hired.
Even if you have some formal education in the area of expertise needed for your desired job, the tech job market is competitive. You’ll probably be competing with a lot of other people who have your same level of formal education. They may even have a lot of the same real-life work experience as you.
Differentiation is the key to making your resume stand out in the huge pile of qualified applicants a hiring manager is likely to face. Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a great way to quickly and inexpensively learn specific skills and knowledge that will set you apart from your fellow job-seekers.
Understanding the needs of the company you’re applying to will help you target specific skills that will make you a more valuable applicant. In the rest of this guide you’ll learn about some of the available options for online learning that can get you a job. You’ll also learn about some of the specific technologies that are easy to learn online and are in the highest demand for software companies today.
How to use MOOCs to learn the skills that will get you a job
More and more people are using MOOCs today to learn new skills for advancement in their industry, career changes, or personal enrichment. These online platforms offer high quality education at a fraction of the price of taking a college course. The best MOOCs also allow students to progress at their own pace, meaning you can fit your learning around your already busy schedule.
What is a MOOC
MOOC stands for Massively Open Online Course. These online learning platforms have become extremely popular in recent years as a way for universities, professional training organizations, and experts of all kinds to deliver online lessons to the masses. MOOCs are the ideal environment for learning a new skill while continuing to work a full-time job.
While a MOOC may not be a magic bullet for getting you hired in your dream job, increasing your arsenal of specific skills will give you a huge advantage during the hiring process.
MOOC platforms abound these days. Some of the most popular include:
- Udemy (link to the Udemy Review) is one of the most flexible and diverse MOOC marketplaces available with courses ranging from tech certificates, to quilting, to yoga. Most of the courses on Udemy center on video lectures, with downloadable materials and interactive quizzes.
- Coursera (link to the Coursera Review) was founded by two former Stanford University professors to provide a formal platform for online education. Coursera’s offerings focus on courses provided by top universities, professional certification organizations, and other formal entities.
- Pluralsight (link to the Pluralsight Review) is geared toward tech professionals. Their platform offers individual memberships, as well enterprise training packages for the delivery of corporate upskilling and other education efforts.
How online learning can help you get a job
As you begin planning your job search, you may wonder whether skills-based online training is valued by potential employers. You don’t want to waste your time and money with a MOOC if a hiring manager isn’t even going to care that you took it. But rest assured, skills-based training and non-traditional learning is on the rise across many industries.
As more jobs, and even entire industries, are made obsolete by the advance of artificial intelligence, human employees with specific skillsets and specialized experience are more than valuable than ever. For a view into the changes that are taking place in hiring and professional training, take a look at this article from Pew Research (link to the article).
What specific specializations are companies looking for
Skill-specific training is more important than ever, and employees with deep understanding of the skills and technologies driving change are more valuable than ever. Communication, team management, and Agile development training are all extremely valuable skills.
If you’re looking for a particular programming language or software suite to learn, that’s a tough question. The nature of the tech industry today is that it continues to grow and change at an increasing pace. Staying ahead of emerging tech and always being aware of the newest programming techniques and paradigms is almost a full-time job in itself.
That said, there are a few topics well-suited to online learning that are also more or less guaranteed to add value to your resume in the era of machine learning, big data and artificial intelligence:
- Python – This language is invaluable in the world of big data and other AI related pursuits. It’s simple syntax, flexible coding structure, and ability to handle large unstructured datasets make Python an ideal language to learn for anyone looking to work in new technologies. You can read an article on how you can become a Python Developer here.
- Bayesian statistics – This one gets a bit advanced, but Bayesian statistics is a central component of a lot of the work being done in machine learning and AI today. Adding a deep understanding of Bayesian methods to your software development skillset certainly couldn’t hurt in getting hired for any development position related to AI, machine learning, or other advanced logic applications.
- R – R is a programming language commonly used by statisticians and data scientists in data analysis, data mining, and other endeavors dealing with big data and analysis.
If getting a job is your goal, look for a high quality course and instructor
Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have opened up access to learning for people could previously not afford the time or the money to take a course. The nature of these courses, though, is that they are open and mass-distributed. This means that quality control is an issue.
There are high-quality MOOCs out there, and there are also not-so-high-quality MOOCs. It’s up to you as a student/customer to do your due diligence and find a course that provides accurate information, effective teaching, and sufficient interaction and testing so you can present your results to potential employers.
Do I get a diploma when I take a MOOC
Unless they’re offered by an accredited university, MOOCs don’t generally offer any official credential of graduation. There are online courses that lead to professional certification, or other industry-specific acknowledgements, but this varies from course to course and platform to platform. Unless it’s explicitly stated in the course description, don’t assume you will get any official recognition for completing a given MOOC.
Exams and progress reports
Whether or not the courses you take offer accredited recognition, you can still get great benefits from taking a well-designed course that tracks your progress. This is especially true if the course ends with a comprehensive exam to test you on what you’ve learned. The results from interactive exercises and exams in your course can be presented to employers as proof of your practical ability in whatever new skill your learning.
Teaching quality matters
Teaching quality varies from class to class. This is true in a brick and mortar classroom just as much as it is true online. The value you get from a MOOC will depend heavily on the instructor’s teaching style, competence, and commitment to the course. Before registering for a course, make sure you watch a few of the preview videos to see if the instructor’s teaching style works for you.
Many online courses are taught by experienced professionals with decades of experience in their field. Especially on Coursera, there are many courses offered by faculty from world class universities. If you plan to include a MOOC on your resume, seeking out instructors with impeccable credentials will help you make the case for its value.
Education is good, experience is better
Ultimately, the answer to the question “can online courses get you a job?” is no. Of course not. Only you can get yourself a job.
Taking a course, whether online or not is a great way to learn the technologies, skills, and underlying concepts that you need to succeed in a new career. But knowing the how of something is only on aspect of a successful career. To be a value part of a professional team, you need the experience to understand the what and why as well.
While experience takes time, there are ways to signal to a hiring manager that you have the patience, maturity, and self-motivation to gain that experience. One of the best ways to do this is to participate in personal and professional development activities related to your field.
MOOCs with exams, professional competitions, bootcamps… These are all great ways to show your dedication and passion for an industry, and your willingness to go beyond the basic skills. Hiring managers want people who will be more than just cogs in the machine, and participation is the key to giving more than the bare minimum.
So, can online courses get you a job? If you take the right ones and use them appropriately in your job search, then yes they can! Continuing to improve your skillset through taking online courses will be a major asset in your job search, and your career beyond.