They say the best way to learn is by doing. Another universal truth is the best way to get a job is prove you can do the job.
In software development and technology fields, work on projects helps engineers to gain skills, and show how they’ve applied them. When it comes time to get a job, what may be considered side projects that outside of class or work can often be key points on a resume. It’s also a chance to discover the technologies that are the best fit.
For Gesna Aggarwal, it’s why there’s a step between formal education and the job that has the best fit.
“I’m going to spend a couple of years growing my skillset because when you’re right out of college versus when you start working, the skillsets required and the things you learn are very different,” Aggarwal, an upcoming 2021 grad of the University of Maryland College Park and 2020 Technical.ly DC RealLIST Engineers honoree, said at a recent Technical.ly stakeholders meeting that gathered engineers and technologists. “My approach is, I’ll build my skillset then look for a company that really aligns with what I’m personally passionate about.”
But that doesn’t mean those skills have to be built alone. Here are some organizations, events and courses that engineers say are places to add some practical knowledge, skills and, most importantly, projects to add to a resume.
Check out your local Code for America Brigade, a groups where community organizers and technologists are putting technology to work for the benefit of local communities. Whether it’s a chapter in Delaware, Baltimore, D.C. or Philly, don’t let the name fool you: Coding isn’t all they do, and is not a mandatory skill to be useful on the civic projects they work on.
“The name ‘code for’ is a mislabel,” said Jason Anton, tech lead for Code for Baltimore and a full-stack engineer with Bellese Technologies. “It’s a technology group that helps a city solve a problem with technology.”
Groups working at the intersection of tech and civic good don’t only fall under the Code for America umbrella. Locally in Baltimore, Hack Baltimore is also an organization of community-driven technologists where someone interested in tech, problem solving, social impact, or anything in-between can get involved.
Both kinds of groups emphasize that you don’t need to be a techie to be a civic hacker.
Hackathons are events to expand your knowledge on what a career in tech can be, with some practical applications of skills. You never know where your passions can take you in a weekend.
The days-long events bring together teams with members who have never worked together before, and often offer prize money. In between, it’s a chance to build skills and try putting new technologies into action.
While the events have traditionally prized bringing folks together and providing lots of coffee and free pizza, they’ve continued virtually in the pandemic. Bitcamp, a 36-hour hackathon sponsored by the University of Maryland, will be virtual this year. It’s running from April 9 through 11, and those interested can apply here.
Another event is Technica, a hackathon for women and non-binary participants, which is also hosted at the University of Maryland.
For those that want to break into the video game industry, game jams are a great place to start. These are essentially hackathons for game developers, where participants team to make video games.
In the virtual event space, the Ludum Dare game jam is an event where game designers create games in 72 hours. It’s open to everyone around the world. To get plugged in with gaming communities on the local level, check out meetup groups like Baltimore Indie Game Developers group, the Delaware Games Collective, International Game Developers Associaton DC, and Philly Game Mechanics.
Coding challenges and Twitch classes
And there’s the ever-popular challenge 100 days of code, where participants make a public declaration and commitment to work on the craft for 100 days. Those looking for a free courses to guide you through the 100 days can use Free Code Camp.
For those that don’t mind paying, there’s Udemy, an online course provider with plenty of topics in areas like programming and data science. Courses like 50 Projects in 50 Days can provide practical application know-how, and a project to show employers and prospective clients your skills.
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.-30-
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