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22 January 2024 - 6 minutes

Transitioning from Self-Taught to Professional: Navigating the Learning Curve

Teaching yourself a new tech skill is definitely an option.

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For a long time, tech roles were strictly for those who invested lots of time and money into their career, attending four-year university programs and possibly getting a graduate degree after that. But this path to joining the tech sector was limiting and prevented many qualified candidates from getting their start in tech, due to the fact that many did not have the resources needed to get going. 

In addition, there was a long-held belief that the only people qualified to work in tech were those who had this lengthy schooling, because of the well-rounded and thorough education they received. However, as tech has advanced rapidly, the need for professionals who are aware of the latest trends and updates and ready to enter the workforce has skyrocketed; in addition, thanks to the incredibly digital nature of our world, this new generation of techies is more experienced with tech in general, having incorporated it into their daily lives for years. 

And because the financial and time demands of formal degree programs are so limiting, self-learning and alternative education programs have become increasingly popular–by students and hiring managers alike. 

In this article, we’ll explore self-learning in tech, what to expect if you are planning on teaching yourself what you need to know to get into tech, and some alternative learning methods to help you set yourself up for success in the tech world. 

Let’s dive right in.

What Exactly is Self-Learning? 

Like most things, self-learning can have lots of different definitions, depending on who you’re talking to, their field, their career goals, and other important factors. Because we’re specifically talking about tech here, we’re going to focus on one specific area of self-learners: those who take it upon themselves to teach themselves, without help from other people, their chosen subject. Seems quite broad, right? It is–it can encapsulate practically any learning method, such as memorization, reading, or repetition and is gaining popularity because: 

  • It allows people to learn at their own pace: teaching yourself a new skill or topic means that you’re setting your own pace and rhythm, moving through the material as you see fit. For those that struggle in traditional educational settings, this can be a huge relief and allow them to truly understand the material before moving on.

  • It brings learning to everyone: you can learn through apps, videos, books, or websites; there are no longer barriers to education that prevent people from accessing important information if they aren’t in a classroom. 

  • It lets people test out a subject: no matter where you are in your career, making the decision to learn a new skill is a big one and you’ll want to make sure you’re confident in your decision before making an investment, be it of your time or money. Getting your feet wet through teaching yourself a bit of the material is a great way to see if it’s something in which you’re truly interested. 

Advantages of self-learning 

We understand that everyone learns differently and some people simply may not be able to receive a formal education to get into tech; we embrace this and encourage self-learning in all its forms. Why? Because:

  • Individual learning helps students get more out of their studies: in addition to the challenges of finding teaching methods that work for all students in a classroom, some students may simply require special adjustments that promote learning and advancement that are nearly impossible to meet in traditional learning environments. When learning on their own, however, students are able to make the necessary changes to ensure they’re learning as best they can. 

  • Self-learning promotes independence and discipline: teaching yourself a new skill to the point where you can land a job requires immense commitment and discipline. Students who successfully master a new skill on their own show that they are independent and have fantastic time management capabilities. 

  • Self-learning is for everyone: without expensive tuition requirements or lengthy in-person classes, more and more people are given the opportunity to learn a specific skill.

Now that you’re clear on what self-learning is and what it can do for you, let’s dive right into our best tips and tricks for self-learning in tech. 

How to Teach Yourself Tech

Many aspiring techies and those already in the industry have begun to teach themselves new skills, thanks to the sheer amount of information out there. From videos to textbooks to free practice online, there are a myriad of ways you can learn the foundational knowledge and practical experience needed to land a job in tech. 

Before we get into our selected tips and tricks, however, it’s important to remember that many roles still require some form of formal education to begin a job with their company, especially if you’re moving into tech for the first time. They will want to not only see that you’ve learned from a reputable institution, but also that you can successfully put what you’ve learned into practice. 

So while we fully support those who choose to learn on their own, we recommend receiving a certificate or degree if your dream is to pursue a career in the tech industry. That’s not to say, however, that you can’t teach yourself incredibly valuable skills on your own that will complement your tech knowledge and make you an incredible candidate for your dream role. 

As you begin your self-learning journey in tech, follow these guidelines. 

Research your chosen topic fully

This might seem a little too obvious, but we know it can be exciting to jump right into a new programming language or design tool without really thinking it through. Fully researching the area you’ll be teaching yourself is an essential part of reaching success in the world of self-teaching. Make sure you find answers to the following questions: 

  • What use will this tool have in my professional life? 

  • Are there ample resources available to you to help you teach yourself the topic?

  • Of the available resources, are they conducive to how you learn (videos, articles, practice exercises, etc.?)

  • Have you read about how difficult the subject is to teach to yourself? 

  • Do jobs require a certification in the skill you’re trying to learn? 

Although it may seem tedious, ensuring that you have answers to all these questions will help set yourself up for success before you get started. 

Reflect on your personal abilities 

Some skills may require previous knowledge in a specific area or an incredibly high level of dedication throughout your learning process; reflecting on your current knowledge and how you learn can help you reach a realistic conclusion of if this is the right choice for you. Answering ‘yes’ to these questions helps see that you are ready for the self-learning challenge and a ‘no’ might mean that it’s not the right path for you at this moment: 

  • Are you willing and able to dedicate a certain amount of time to your studies? 

  • Are you self-motivated and able to stick to a schedule? 

  • Do you have any previous knowledge needed to master this new skill? 

  • Can you afford any resources you may need (textbooks, online help, workbooks)?

  • Do you have a person/resource to go to if you get stuck? 

  • Are you in a place in your life where you can maintain a regular study schedule that won’t be disrupted? 

If some of these questions aren’t quite a ‘yes’ just yet, don’t worry: take this extra time to research and set yourself for success; starting the self-learning journey once you’re fully ready is the best choice. 

Be kind to yourself

Teaching yourself a new skill is an incredible challenge and one that will definitely have its ups and downs; make sure you’re kind to yourself, taking time to enjoy the adventure without putting unnecessary pressure on yourself or having too high expectations. 

To help with this self kindness, make sure you are realistic with your goals: don’t expect to land a new role after just a few weeks of watching coding videos and be open to other ways of complementing your education, such as bootcamps or certificates. 

Transitioning into a Tech Professional 

Your self-learning probably had one goal: using what you’ve learned to either advance your existing tech career or start it. And while that is an incredible dream to chase, it’s likely that you’ll need to supplement everything you’ve learned with some sort of recognized certificate or degree that verifies your knowledge. 

This may seem frustrating after successfully teaching yourself a new skill, but taking a test to gain a certification or completing an online course or bootcamp can help not only cement your confidence in your newfound skill, but also give you valuable help when it comes to landing a new job in tech. 

Companies want to be sure about you and what you can do and there’s no better way to bring that confidence to them than through a bootcamp where you can use what you’ve taught yourself and the supplemental knowledge you get in the course to make yourself a well-rounded candidate that’s a perfect fit for your dream role. 

If you’re looking to take your tech knowledge to the next step and make yourself job-ready, there’s no better place than at Ironhack. Discover our Career Services and move one step closer to that tech dream. 

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