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A little too comfortable in your job? Here’s how to keep your engineering skills sharp.

by Jen Zhang on Jan 10, 2017

When you’ve been at your job for a while, it’s common to settle into a comfortable routine with your daily work life. But in engineering, being curious about new developments and committing to continuous learning are key to success. If you’re an engineer who’s looking for ways to continually challenge yourself, here are a few suggestions for how you can keep those skills up to date with today’s rapidly changing tech industry.

Sign up for hackathons!

By their very nature, hackathons keep you sharp: they’re all about innovation and collaborating intensively with like-minded engineers to create usable software. Hackathons stimulate creativity, fresh perspectives, and problem solving among developers where you can receive fresh feedback from your peers, and as my colleague Thomas So has pointed out, they also keep you on your toes in terms of staying adaptable. There’s always room for suggestions to improve, so why not boost your skills while building a strong network in your engineering community by signing up for your next local hackathon?

When it comes to picking the right hackathon, don’t stress if it’s your first one or you’re a beginner. You don’t have to be a coding master to take part, since you’ll be surrounded by experienced coders who are willing to help you out. As long as you’re interested in developing and designing, you will get to learn, work with new engineers, and make an impression. There are many different types of hackathons, all with different purposes and themes. Some are intended for a certain demographic group, like college students or women, and others are focused on a particular platform, such as mobile apps, web development or video game development. Before attending a hackathon, make sure you’re aligned with its objective and understand what the nature of it is going to be so you can prepare in advance.

Take certification courses

Certification courses for engineers are another way to gain valuable new skills and keep up with the latest and greatest. The Oracle Java Certification is just one example of how you can take your programming skills to the next level. (And as a technical recruiter, I highly recommend getting specialized Networking accreditation in the Professional Certifications or Expert Certifications level offered by Cisco if you’re an Ops Engineer — having that on your resume when you’re looking for a position looks especially good for Ops roles.)

A huge benefit of this training is that it offers flexible format options that match your learning style, such as self-study where you can take the courses at any time to fit your schedule. The certification and training experience helps you develop new skills that can expand your product knowledge and give you an edge in the tech industry.

Enroll in bootcamps

Coding bootcamps can add a lot to your C.S. degree when it comes to self-investment and becoming more specialized in a field, such as mobile development. Hack Reactor, CodePath, App Academy, and Hackbright Academy, make the list of reputable programming bootcamps in the Bay Area. Unlike traditional colleges, these professional programs change about every six months, so the curriculum always addresses the changing needs of the marketplace. In doing so, these bootcamps teach up-to-date versions of the most recent open-source framework and reflect industry trends.

If you’re already a good developer, but your skills might be a bit out of date or you don’t have enough relevant work samples to get the role you want, a coding bootcamp might be just the ticket. Keep in mind that the majority of these bootcamps are full-time, immersive programs, so they are a good option to consider if you decide to take a break in between jobs. While a coding camp can’t replace or replicate a four-year education from a college, it can help strengthen your technical skills and provide relevant knowledge for engineering roles.

When you’re an engineer, success relies on curiosity and a self-starting spirit. Fortunately there are plenty of programs out there in addition to the few I mentioned, and you might consider asking a mentor for their suggestions, or you can read newsletters for big tech announcements that will alert you to what you should be learning. And never forget that when you’re applying for new jobs, listing hackathons, certifications, and bootcamps on your resume only make your C.S. degree and current engineering work experience look even better. Either way, professional development opportunities distinguish you from other developers and specialize your skill set for future success.

Jen Zhang is a technical sourcer at AppLovin.

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