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Are there any free online self-paced courses that will actually help me find work?
October 31, 2012 9:56 PM   Subscribe

Are there any free online self-paced courses that will actually help me find work? I want to hear about all possibilities. I was thinking of brushing up on my coding skillz, but I read varying reports on whether one can get a programming job without a CS degree. Opinions on this are welcome. Extra snowflake stuff inside.

About me, if it helps: I have a BSc in physics (with a few programming courses and a little work experience), an environmental protection technology diploma (with a little work experience), and a couple of years of administrative experience. I'm working as an admin while I'm looking for more enviro jobs.

I'd love to add to my current skills by putting in an hour or two of online coursework in the evenings - but only if it will actually make me more employable. If there isn't anything like that, I'd rather work on learning to sew!
posted by fullerenedream to Education (8 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are there any free online self-paced courses that will actually help me find work?
Courses, whether online or off, are not enough to get you a job. You need projects or internships. Fortunately, it has never been easier to get involved in projects.
but I read varying reports on whether one can get a programming job without a CS degree.
Yes, you can get a programming job without a CS degree. You can even get a programming job without a college degree. In either case, it is harder (much harder without the college degree) than if you do have a CS degree.
I have a BSc in physics
This is doubly good. You have a science degree. Better, you have a physics degree. Programmers generally have a lot of respect for people who can grok physics. Be prepared to geek out on a fun physics topic of your choice (bonus points if you can relate it to computer science!).
and a couple of years of administrative experience. I'm working as an admin while I'm looking for more enviro jobs.
This is sort of bad. Individual contributor software developers will have a hard time understanding why you spent time doing administrative stuff. It's not the kind of thing that developers normally do, because it doesn't seem fun to the kind of person who likes to bang out code. Managers may have more appreciation for this aspect of your experience, but they may not.

Long term, the admin experience will be good for your career. You just have to figure out a way to explain it that seems exciting to people who write code.
I'd love to add to my current skills by putting in an hour or two of online coursework in the evenings - but only if it will actually make me more employable.
I'd suggest 30 minutes of learning new stuff online - via forums, documentation and particularly StackOverflow. The remaining 1.5 hours should be spent working on projects. Find something small that you want to do, either alone or with others. Do it. Put it on GitHub. Find another thing, a little bigger this time. Repeat until recruiters are banging on the door.


Keep in mind that you will have an easier time landing a job at a startup or small company than a big one. Like the projects, you can lever your way up to bigger and better things.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:19 PM on October 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


If you don't have coding education or experience, show what you can do/have done by posting your own projects or fork others on github.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:43 PM on October 31, 2012


tl;dr version of my long post: approach coding like you would sewing. Do cool stuff. Use your desire to make things to help motivate you to learn how to do more and more sophisticated things with your code.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:50 PM on October 31, 2012


I work for a software company and we will, in theory, hire qualified applicants without a CS/CSE/CEng background. You'd need to somehow demonstrate the same level of programming ability and experience, though. There are a bunch of ways that you could do that, but (aside from previous employment) active involvement in an open source project would probably be good, or a really good hobby project that demonstrates serious technical chops. That would be the work of a few years at least, though, and assumes that you have a really significant natural ability to just pick it up on your own and by taking classes.

But having some level of software development experience would be helpful in landing even a non-developer position, like as a tester or business analyst.

On preview: b1tr0t gives good advice.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:16 PM on October 31, 2012


Hi! I had a philosophy degree, some postbacc Comp Lit classes and a couple of years of admin experience before I got my current job which is as a database manager for a biology lab. From what I've seen, there is a real need for people who know a bit about how science works, are able to communicate effectively with non-CS people, and also know how computers work. The people I work with view my lack of a conventional CS background as practically a bonus because the point of my job is that I straddle both worlds - I can't just be a CS person doing CS things, I need to understand what these people actually need in terms of IT support even when they can't articulate or imagine it themselves. I've had a lot of fun and learned a lot - I keep going on training courses and working out newer and better ways for us to do the things we're doing. I think I'm a lot more use to these people than I would have been to a standard software engineering shop.

I actually learned almost everything on the job - I started out with a basic knowledge of MS Access (!) and now run a SQL server of my own and do little side jobs in C#. You can actually learn an awful lot from those Microsoft self-paced learning books, they're expensive but they get the job done fairly reliably.
posted by Acheman at 1:22 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm a programmer at a medium-sized startup, help hire a lot, and don't have a degree (of any sort.)

If your sum total of programming experience is a few classes, there's a tremendous amount of things you could profitably learn. If you think that online courses are a motivating and effective way for you to do that, then go for it. If you think that working on practical projects is something you prefer, then do that instead.

It's pretty easy to demonstrate ability that you have; just put some code online, do some competitions, collaborate with other programmers on free software, write about your work. Within a hundred hours of that, you'll have an online profile that will make people eager to interview you. But it's hard to demonstrate ability that you don't have.

So you should probably spend most of your available time becoming stronger, in whatever way suits you.
posted by value of information at 1:30 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


The thing that's hardest to get from coursework - at least that's hardest to show on the resume - is experience with large programming projects. Developing a moderately complicated website for a local nonprofit or for a friend's part-time business could be a way to both get experience and demonstrate your abilities - your potential employers could see for themselves what you've done. I've seen candidates do this when they wanted, for example, to move from Windows device drivers to LAMP web programming. Many hiring managers equate the presence of open-source or personal project experience to having a passion for programming, and seeing things like this make it more likely they'll call you.

Once you've gotten the call, you'll have to demonstrate that you understand something about what you've been doing, and this is where the on-line coursework comes in. I'd also recommend picking up a book like Cracking the Coding Interview to prep for the follow-up technical questions (there are plenty of bad sources for tips on technical interviewing on-line; this book gives the best advice I've found in one place).
posted by mr vino at 5:27 AM on November 1, 2012


I agree that Cracking the Coding Interview is an enormous collection of practice problems. I'm working through the problems one by one right now just for fun, so I don't totally forget my C. That said, the way I would use this book if I were trying to prepare for an interview would be to view it as a big list of practice problems and Google query templates. It really isn't designed to teach you anything---in almost every case, Wikipedia will give you more complete and more accurate [1] information on the subject.

[1] If you get a copy, read the second-to-last paragraph on p.71. The author either doesn't know the difference between a balanced binary search tree and a hash table, or else has confusingly chosen to refer to any kind of map as a "hash table." Either of these will get you nailed to the wall in a technical interview.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:26 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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