Give Your Career a Boost With One Skill

by Carlos Portocarrero on 26 October 2012 8 comments
Photo: dangoodwin

Let’s get real — the economy isn’t in great shape right now. The unemployment rate is hovering around 8%, and companies like DuPont and Kodak keep announcing more and more layoffs. Amidst the doom and gloom, however, there are some positive signs...if you know where to look. (See also: 25 Awesome Websites to Help You Get a Job)

In this case, the place to look is the tech industry.

Tech Is Hot

Turns out the unemployment rate for IT workers is 4% — half the national average! In fact, many employers complain they're having trouble finding candidates to fill tech roles. Software developer (some of you call them programmers) is one of the hottest jobs out there right now.

Does that mean you should abandon your current field and become a developer? If it were that easy, everybody would be doing it. In order to join the tech party, you need a basic understanding of the fundamentals of coding and how developers approach their work. Learning how to be a developer can take years. But there are skills you can learn now that make you immediately more hireable, lay the groundwork if you want to continue pursuing tech, and can apply to any field.

You need to learn the foundation of how websites are built. And that means learning HTML and CSS.

How Web Development Can Help Your Career

I don't expect you to become a web developer overnight (or at all), but I do believe there are some skills that will make you more valuable at your current job and to any future employer.

1. Learning to Think Like a Developer

Developer's brains work in a very specific way. They approach problems and projects in a linear, logical fashion. That means less chaos (in work and in life) and more organization. This type of thinking will help you get things done no matter what industry you're in.

2. Creativity

Most people think coding is like math — that there is only one right answer. Not true — developers need to be creative because there are a hundred different ways to solve the same problem. This approach is instrumental no matter what field you’re in.

3. A Possible New Career

Believe it or not, it can happen. People who decide to learn coding can wind up with a new career. It’s rare, and I wouldn’t bank on it, but some people are doing it.

4. Understand the Magic

Most people think creating sites and apps is magic. But once you know the basics, you’ll have a huge leg up on everyone else...and you’ll be in a better position if you decide you have a great app you want to create.

5. Stand Out

If you aren’t in a technical field but you have some tech skills, that can take you a long way. I was a writer who had SEO and analytics skills before they were mainstream, and that impressed a lot of people at former jobs because the two fields (writing and tech) felt so different to them. People took chances on me knowing I had the ability to learn new things quickly.

What About Mobile Apps?

Some of you might be thinking that web development is a waste of time, asking "Aren’t apps the hot trend right now? Shouldn’t we all be learning to create iOS and Android apps? Aren’t people using their phones and tablets more than their computers?"

Yes, mobile is very hot right now, and if you’re a developer you should absolutely be learning how to develop apps. But if you're reading this, you probably aren’t a developer. And learning to code isn’t as easy as you might think.

That’s why HTML and CSS are such great places to start — they are relatively easy to understand, and you interact with them every single day. 

If you pick them up really quickly and decide you want to go even deeper down the rabbit hole, then by all means take the next step and learn how to develop mobile apps.  

But for most people, learning HTML and CSS is a better introduction to the world of programming. It’s simpler, and there are so many tools out there to help you see how websites you use every day actually work (Firefox’s Firebug and Chrome’s Inspect Element come to mind).

The Best Places to Learn

Ready to get your learn on? I have great news — there are some fantastic learning tools out there for you.

Code Academy

If you’re a “learn by doing” type of person, then you’re gonna love Code Academy. They’ve broken down HTML and CSS into bite-sized modules that you complete by actually typing in code and checking your results. I recommend this free course to everyone — it’s easy, it’s engaging, and it’s fun.

Udemy

Udemy is blowing up — it seems like they’re adding more and more courses every day. Most of these aren’t free, but if you’re into learning by watching videos, this might be a good fit. How to Become a Web Developer From Scratch ($199) is a great course that covers HTML/CSS and also goes into some additional languages for those of you that want to go a bit further.

W3Schools

If you’re more into traditional reading-and-then-doing type of learning, then W3Schools is a good place to do it — and it’s free. W3Schools.com is a reference used by thousands of web developers, but it’s also a great place to learn. Not only that, you can get a certificate (for $95) if you want to be a show off about it.

Coursera and iTunes U also have tons of resources devoted to computer science if you still haven't found something that works for you. But if you're having trouble deciding where to start, I really recommend going through Code Academy; it's a fantastic, free place to learn.

Go Forth and Code!

I hope I've made a good case as to why the basics of web development are worth learning. It's a great portal into the world of programming, and who knows — maybe you'll find yourself getting more and more into it and eventually learning more complex skills.

If you already have some coding skills but aren't a developer, please let everyone know in the comments how it's helped you in your career.

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Matt Bell's picture

Great advice, Carlos. It's also a good idea to raise our kids knowing this stuff. Our 6- and 8-year olds already have their own blog, and your article is a reminder to make sure they learn about CSS and HTML. Another good source of inexpensive online courses on these topics is Lynda.com.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

Yeah it's amazing how quickly kids pick this stuff up. Lynda is great as long as you actually take advantage of that monthly payment you're making.

Guest's picture

This is pretty interesting. I know a lot of people who majored in areas like this and got jobs right out of college. My brain simply doesn't work like that so I don't know if I could ever understand it, but anyone even mildly interested in building technologies should definitely consider these fields.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

Yeah if you are any good at this stuff, you won't have trouble getting a job. That's been my experience tracking these kinds of roles. And like I said, you don't have to become a pro, but even a high level understanding can go a long way.

Guest's picture

Carlos, some good reminders on the importance of personal development - and to keep learning as technology changes. Code Academy sounds like a great place to start.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

Code Academy is my personal favorite, but here's one I recently discovered that takes more of a "game-y" approach and still manages to get the job done: http://www.codeschool.com/

Guest's picture
Jason

Learning to program (A student) and actually developing applications for my employer(s), on top of my regular duties as clerks of various sorts got me a few raises and some recognition. BUT ultimately because I grew up poor and got married/children and full time (60hrs a week doing both clerk/computer guy work) BEFORE I could get a degree, these skills (including Hardware/Active directory/Security/Administration both Microsoft from DOS-Windows 7 and Unix) that I tought myself and took college courses, HURT me and my career. By one employer I was told "buy your degree, steel your degree" because we will not bring you on without it as you may embaress those that have the degrees and don't know as much as you. And throughout the last 20 years of working extra hard to prove I could do it, I have run into nothing but resistance and smearing and picking me apart for anything fault they could find. Some critisisms were valid but most, I came to find out were just covert manipulators setting up an honest hard worker. I exposed some of them after previous experiences and I proved myself over and over but because I could not afford the degree either dollar or time wise I was befriended long enough to learn what I know but then then thrown away several times. Now I have a huge history of successes technically but was targeted by narcisists and users and now am unemployed through a layoff and feel defeated/burn out and so many of my efforts were a complete waste of time and I have lost so much knowledge because of not using it. Frustrating. You can get a degree in ART and have a better chance and succeeding in development than if your and expert and aren't "allowed" to use it. So if you don't have a degree in something, don't bother unless you are a super connected or know how to manipulate the feelings of those in power and have the personality type that works with theirs. I am an ISTJ personality type that supposedly can be a good boss but I have never had the opportunity to even try being one. Just another loser I guess. Now I'm 53 and don't have anywhere to utilize all this history of technical experience. I wrote 3 major software programs for 3 employers and ultimatley was run in the ground/burnt out and when asked to turn one of these apps into a web program, I simply said I would need some additional training to port the programs and instead of helping me, they made me give my intellectual knowledge to someone else who later told me I was only missing a very small bit of knowledge and I would have done fine. Frustrated.

Guest's picture

I can attest to the tech sector being hot. My girlfriend works for a recruiting firm and she says they get get enough people to fill the positions.

I think that creativity will carry you in many fields. The ability to think outside the box and come up with unique ways to solve problems and improve processes is a key thing that will separate you from your peers.