5 Ways IT Professionals Can Keep Learning

Keeping up with hands-on professional development.

“I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings”

— Tom Petty

The last computer-programming course I took was in college. And while I’ve dabbled in CSS/HTML and basic WordPress sites, I’m a little lost when it comes to coding in Ruby on Rails, building scrapers and integrating APIs and XML feeds.

Many of you may be like me: As time elapses, you spend more time on the people, program and project management issues and less on hands-on technology implementation.

So when I heard about New York startup Codecademy last winter, I took advantage. The company raised more than $2.5 million to improve learning, and recently launched Code Year — free daily lessons to learn the basics of modern coding. Like me, more than 390,000 folks signed up. Another new form of learning is the Khan Academy, which materialized when Harvard MBA and hedge fund manager Salman Khan started teaching math to his niece over videos. The academy has transformed into a library of 2,800-plus videos, covering everything from physics to history with practice exercises. More than 120 million lessons have been delivered, and it’s raised more than $8 million.

Government is also thinking about new forms of learning. The U.S. General Services Administration recently launched a 12-week pilot on the practical and theoretical understanding of social media in government. I was a guest lecturer for the class, and it was fascinating to watch as they engaged in learning in all factors — it was one part college with a reading list of long books (yes, people still read books), but also one part social (live tweeting and discussion threads on GovLoop).

This got me thinking: In Gov2020, how will we train our state and local government employees?

Although budgets are tight, we must encourage staff to continue learning. The beauty is that there are so many options now, and the traditional approaches are still great for building capacity and learning.

Online courses, webinars and blended learning allow workers to connect across the globe, participate in one-on-one mentorship or ask questions.

So how do you ensure that you create an organizational culture of lifelong learning?  

There are several ways to make this happen:

1. Take a day — Encourage workers to attend online training or go to local events.

2. Culture of sharing —
If team members attend a training, make sure they write up their lessons and share them with the rest of the team.

3. Teach yourself — You most likely have experts in your organization. Have staff teach one another — start a work book club, hold internal brown bags, have a monthly lunch and learn.  

4. Look at licenses — There are many learning vendors (Lynda, SkillSoft, TreeHouse, etc.) that can offer your employees thousands of lessons and topics to learn. I like this approach because you have access to tons of different subject areas, and it lets employees learn at their own pace.

5. Implement learning —
Have you ever gone to an awesome training and nobody in the office wanted to hear about it? To truly be a learning organization, you must listen when staff members return with new ideas. If they come back and are excited about a new technology or methodology, listen and try to find ways to test it in your organization.

As the Bob Dylan line goes: “He not busy being born is busy dying.” This is even truer in technology, as the evolutions move so fast. So make sure that your tech team stays current and keeps learning.  

Now let me get back to my homework — I just got a new assignment from Code Year!


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.