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5 Devs on Upskilling: What They’re Learning About & How They Make Time

09/05/2023
6 minutes

In tech, every day is a school day. Part of the challenge (and joy) of working in an industry that shifts and grows constantly is that you never stop being a student. Upskilling isn’t just important when you’re vying for a promotion or looking for new opportunities — learning and developing helps you add more value in your current role and makes work more interesting. 

Not sure where to start? With a Codecademy Plus membership, you get unlimited access to over 300 courses on topics from AI to game development and more. This plan is great for people who want to learn a specialized skill or build their own roadmap. 

Ahead, professional devs from Codecademy and beyond share their tips for making time for upskilling, choosing the technologies to learn next, and staying ahead of emerging tech trends.

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How to make time for upskilling at work

Most companies explicitly support continuous development, whether that’s through access to online courses, peer-led learning sessions, or allocating some percentage of your working hours to side projects (such as Google’s famous “20% Time”). 

“I encourage my reports to continually invest in their ‘knowledge portfolio’ so that they will continue to have relevant skills,” says Judah Anthony, Director of Product Engineering at Codecademy. That said, some engineers still find it difficult to make space for upskilling during the busy work week. Here are some smart ways engineers are carving out time to learn.

Seek your team leader’s support

“I recently started working with my manager to set up one learning goal per month. I’m hoping that having that accountability will help me with setting aside that time.” – Sylvana Santos, Senior Software Engineer, Codecademy

“We’re encouraged to write up a personal development plan every quarter, which we go through with our managers on a fortnightly basis to check what progress we have made.” – Jennifer Chan, Software Engineer, OVO

Nothing beats the kind of growth that comes with working on a team with other seasoned developers.

John Rood
Codecademy Senior Software Engineer

Try pair programming  

“Nothing beats the kind of growth that comes with working on a team with other seasoned developers. When I joined Codecademy, I had already started the Learn Go course. It gave me a good foundation for Go, but it was spending a few weeks pairing with another seasoned Go developer that really started to make me feel fluent in writing Go code.” – John Rood, Senior Software Engineer, Codecademy

Get involved in open source 

“I recently joined as an open source maintainer on a library that we use extensively at my work. I’ve been learning a lot about its internals, writing documentation, reviewing pull requests, and discussing advanced use cases with the community. I’ve learned a ton from it and it’s really valuable to my company since we use it so heavily — making it easy to justify the time spent.” – Tyler Williams, Lead Software Engineer, WalterPicks


What should you learn about?

With the entire internet at your disposal and new technologies launching all the time, it can be overwhelming to narrow down what to spend your time on. There are two tracks you can take: fill in gaps you encounter in your work, or follow your interests. 

Explore your company’s stack

“​​We have meetings where engineers can share in-flight projects and learnings. If an engineer talks about a technology, language, or concept that I haven’t worked with (for example, GraphQL federation), I’ll jot it down as a potential learning topic for myself. I’ll spend some time learning the basics of that topic and then connect with the team working on the project to learn even more. Sometimes we can get so caught up in meeting deadlines and shipping quickly, it can be hard to slow down and really take the time to understand the technologies that we work with, so I like to revisit topics every once in a while and dive deeper.” – Sylvana

Go where your hobbies lead you

“I recently started building a web app for budgeting. It’s been a chance for me to try using banking APIs like Plaid and Teller, authorization technologies like the Twilio Verify API and the Web Crypto API, and new frontend frameworks like Deno Fresh and SolidJS. While I’m doing yard work I’ll often listen to podcasts like JavaScript Jabber or just the audio from YouTube channels like Theo – t3․gg, to get new perspectives on the web development industry and inspiration about which tools I want to try in both hobby and work projects.” – John


What devs are learning about right now

Still looking for inspiration? We asked some engineers at all levels about what they’re learning about right now.

Monitoring and analytics

“My team’s goal is to maximize and retain our customer base. I’m currently learning more about Datadog, which my company uses for monitoring our cloud infrastructure to help them understand how our app is performing (for example, by monitoring failed requests, completed actions by users, and so on). I’m working on building a dashboard for our customer account management area, and adding further queries, metrics, and widgets which will inform us on how the app is performing and highlight any potential areas where it can improve.” – Jennifer

AI, language models, and machine learning

Apart from using AI to learn a new programming language or round out your skill set in general, it’s worth exploring AI, language models, and machine learning technology. It’s no surprise that professional devs are keeping an eye on developments here and figuring out how to integrate AI tools into their work. This is a particular area of focus for those in leadership roles, even if it’s not immediately clear what role these technologies will play in their work. In fact, a recent LinkedIn report found that 44% of US executives plan to increase their organization’s use of AI in the next year.

“Early on I explored things like attribution models, recommendation engines, and behavior analysis/prediction. Of late, content generation and semantic analysis with plain-text feedback seem very promising. OpenAI is super interesting, but even things like translations can have huge potential.” – Judah

Frameworks: React and Next.js

“One technology that I’ve been learning about recently — related to both work and hobbies — is React Server Components. It’s a major paradigm shift, not just about reducing code that we send to the browser, but also about how we load and cache data. JavaScript Jabber has a great interview with Dan Abramov and Joe Savona that really helped that concept click for me.” – John

“I’m doing a deeper dive into data fetching in Next.js and exploring more advanced Next.js concepts. We started moving our pages to Next.js a while ago and I did a little bit of learning on the subject back then, but I recently stumbled upon a pull request that used incremental static generation (ISR) and it felt so foreign to me. So I decided that I want to revisit the framework and understand what else is possible with it.” – Sylvana

Cybersecurity

“I’ve studied application security, especially the OWASP Top 10, so I can keep an eye out for common application vulnerabilities. I’ve also studied various topics in cryptography, so I can better understand how to apply them, and what the various guarantees are. For example, I did a code review on some code that was trying to pass some sensitive user state in the query string. They thought they were safe because they were encrypting the data with AES-CBC, but I was able to demonstrate that that mode offers privacy but not integrity, so if someone knew the content of the plain text, they could alter the cipher text to unencrypt to whatever value they want (i.e. swapping role:"user" with role:"admin"). I recommended using a mode that includes a signature.” – Judah

These are just a few examples of areas you can explore. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, getting advice about what to focus on from a more senior engineer can help, or check out our free course, Choosing a Programming Language.

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