Staying Competitive Through Self-Learning

An engineer’s education never stops. Even if you kept up to date on everything you learned in school, the boundaries of your chosen field expand and give you vital new information to learn. In competitive tech fields, staying informed and developing the intellectual flexibility to work with new ideas is key to your success. Learning doesn’t have to mean going back to school, although formal coursework is also important to engineers. Think of these alternate routes to learning as supplementary information to what you gain in formal classes.

Online Learning for Free

Some online universities cost money and offer certification or degree programs, but you don’t need the proof of a piece of paper to expand your education. Organizations such as Khan Academy are meant for self-paced learning yet have a wealth of information for engineers who want to improve their understanding of everything from fluid dynamics to business administration. Because you learn on your own time, you can fit additional education around your current work schedule and any formal training you’re taking.

Other online sources for education include message boards and industry forums. However, be careful of crowd-sourced information; while most of it is accurate, not everyone on a programming or software forum knows the subject thoroughly enough to give advice. When learning through others, double-check information through other sources.

Refresher Courses and Seminars

Getting out of the office can give you valuable perspective, especially when you attend a seminar or condensed class for a weekend. Refresher courses keep you sharp and build on the knowledge you already have, so they’re an important investment for anyone in a STEM field. Depending on your employer’s resources, you may also be able to attend regional conferences for reduced fees or even free. Other companies offer matching funds for attending trade shows and conferences. When you avail yourself of your employer’s generosity and bring back a new set of job skills, everyone wins. If your company doesn’t currently offer a matching-funds program or financial help, talk with your HR department; you might provide the impetus for a new employee program.

Team Learning

Few engineers work in isolation. Chances are good you work in a team, which means everything you learn is a force multiplier because it affects the knowledge base of everyone around you. By the same token, your fellow engineers have plenty of valuable information to impart, not all of which is directly related to engineering. Teamwork requires another tool-box of skills that your college classes may not have instilled in you – a skill set that includes flexibility, creativity and cooperation. Problem-solving with others is a key skill no matter where your future career decisions take you, so look for opportunities to hone your teamwork skills.

Learning Through Doing

Do you have a pet project that absorbs your spare time? That app you’ve created, blog you’ve written or game you’ve developed has probably taught you valuable lessons that fall far outside the scope of formal learning but teach you volumes about your endeavor. If you revisit the skills you’ve gained while working on your own sideline ventures, you’ll see how much of what you learn translates directly or indirectly into better performance on the job. If you don’t currently have a project in the works, maybe it’s time to invest a few hours into building something you’ve always wanted to do. The mental muscle you build pays off when you’re on the clock too.

Becoming an Expert

Your expertise could be the subject of a blog post or even a feature article in an industry journal. The process of creating an outline, detailing your process and extrapolating that knowledge into new ideas can help you understand your subject matter more thoroughly. “Publish or perish” isn’t the rule outside of academia, but it has tremendous value for heightening your industry authority and organizing your thoughts. Teaching a course or writing a feature article is an excellent way of sharpening your subject knowledge.

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