Those who know me know I’m a proud nerd. Growing up, I loved school for learning, I loved reading, at university I felt at home in my work, when I was taking on a new concept or challenge. However, I didn’t like the pressure, exams or – if I’m really honest – trying to “fit in”. To academia, to social groups, or particular schools of thought.
Last year, when I made the decision to switch careers that same feeling of excitement for learning but anxiety around fitting in came flooding back. I’d been on-and-off engaging with the tech community for years but hadn’t really got stuck in. I wasn’t really engaging. I wasn’t sure if I’d be accepted or what I had to contribute to the space. There’s literally millions of us.
But, in 2020, I made an active choice to learn openly. I started replying to people I admire, asking open questions on my socials (at the beginning to no response), posting cool articles I’d read, videos I’d watched, threads of tips and tricks and eventually writing on this site. I realised I could contribute by helping people see that learning isn’t that scary after all. That it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the answers (or even questions) yet. And that you fit in by being the truest version of yourself you can be.
So here I am, five months into my full-time job in tech, a year into deciding to switch careers and many many years of learning later to share the tips and tools for self-learning you might not have thought of – including some great people who’ve helped me in my journey so far:
I can’t stress this enough. I ask a lot of questions and it improves my understanding immeasurably. Whether it’s my colleagues, my followers, my friends or on forums – I ask questions throughout the day, everyday. This doesn’t mean you don’t do your research first. There’s nothing more annoying than someone asking you a question you know they could’ve found the answer to on Google in minutes. But, if you want to understand a choice being made so you can understand how to make these choices in the future, or you want to make sure you’ve carried out a task correctly, or even understood your task, ask!
For example, when I joined my company I asked our CTO why we use certain cloud platforms and services over others. I’d read the conversations, listened to many a debate, dug into my research, but I wanted to know why these choices were best suited to our product and services.
Most people are really happy to answer your questions if you’re respectful and can show them you’ve done a bit of work first. There are no stupid questions. Ask!
Be honest about where you’re at
My golden rule: don’t bullshit.
If you’re not an expert in a topic that’s OK. You’re not expected to be unless you tell people (or yourself) that you are. When deciding on self-learning courses, which books to read, asking for help, it can feel like a never-ending treadmill of resources and ideas to sift through, racing to get to your end goal but ending up in the same place. Instead, pace yourself and be honest about your abilities. This will help you improve far quicker, pick the courses and topics that are the right fit for you, and make people helping you better able to position their advice.
Organise all your resources
To help with the endless list of resources – set up folders in your drive, bookmarks, laptop (but please not in never-ending tabs) to organise your learning. I do this by topic. On my browser I have bookmarks for blogs with sub-folders by theme (coding, cloud, open source, food, mental health, music…), courses and online bootcamps, further reading (again organised by sub-themes) and cool code, hints and tips (thank you, StackOverflow Gods). It helps me stay focussed in my learning and prioritise what I need to look at in that moment and what I can “save for later” without ending up overwhelmed or losing great material.
And because people always ask me, some great online resources, courses and bootcamps:
- A Cloud Guru for all your cloud learning needs incl. hands-on labs in AWS, Azure, Google Cloud
- freeCodeCamp for thousands of courses, articles and videos and ten 300h certified bootcamps
- Codecademy for coding classes and courses in 12 different programming languages and across all disciplines
- De-Coding the Technical Interview Process a great online book by Emma Bostian whether you’re looking for a job right now or not
- w3schools an educational coding website with lots of free learning
- Khan Academy for learning in maths, science, coding aimed at supporting teens and university-level students
- Microsoft Learn is a free, interactive, hands-on training platform that trains you in technical skills related to Microsoft products
- MIT OpenCourseWare an initiative from MIT to publish all of educational materials from its undergraduate- and graduate-level courses online, freely and openly available to anyone, anywhere
- Udemy is one of the largest e-learning platform with thousands of courses and millions of students worldwide
Follow and engage with people you admire
Despite being an extrovert and engaging with people online for years, when I made the switch into tech, I was so nervous to engage with tech people I admired online. I thought they might find it annoying, especially if they had 100s of notifications everyday, and wondered if I was just speaking into the void. However, I quickly realised it wasn’t just about liking what they were sharing and learning by myself, but about engaging with the ideas they were putting out and building a community by sharing this learning with my network. Most of us learn better when we learn from each other, and my online community has taught me loads.
So, if someone writes something you find inspiring or has taught you something, share it. If you love the message someone is putting out, tell them. If someone has helped you – even if indirectly – thank them. Those of us who create content online put a lot of hours into this (e.g. I’m currently writing this piece in bed at midnight on a holiday weekend). Respect their space and don’t spam – nobody likes a random DM from a stranger saying “hi” or a message expecting you to read a CV with no intro or – worse – fix their computer problem because we work in tech. But, when you honestly engage with content you will learn a lot and build a true community where you will quickly stop worrying and realise you fit right in.
A few Twitter accounts – and I really stress only a few – of the wonderful people who’ve inspired me with their content over the last year:
Believe in yourself and take a leap of faith
Finally, and most importantly, find inspiration in yourself. Remind yourself why you set out on this learning journey. Reflect on your wins and how much you’ve achieved towards your goals (see my post on goal-setting here).
Learning is difficult. Stepping out of your comfort zone is scary. But it’s also incredibly exciting, rewarding and fun. I won’t labour this point, but trust me on this one. Celebrate yourself and go for it.
If you’re interested to hear more about my learning head to my What I Learned series where I reflect on various learning topics as I go.
I’m also launching a Twitter Spaces series on demystifying tech and debunking industry myths with some special guests, and sharing my learning as I work through #60DaysOfCloud. Make sure to follow ⬇️ so you don’t miss out!