How to Expand Your Engineering Skill Set Without Quitting Your Day Job

    Merilyn Chesler
    Merilyn Chesler

    The world is moving at a fast pace with innovations in technology every year to tackle all kinds of challenges. Companies are regularly updating and improving their products to meet these challenges and are looking to recruit new talent. Are you looking to participate in newer projects within your company? Are you looking to switch employers or careers? Do your skills match the job description? If they don’t, but you’re keen to explore new possibilities, read on.

    Benefits of Updating Your Engineering Skills

    To keep up with rapid technology changes, you have to be current with your skills. With newer skills, you’ll have greater success in looking for a new career or being recruited to other projects. A new career often comes with the side benefit of a higher salary.

    With more skills under your belt, you’re more likely to be noticed and recruited for more projects within your organization. If you’re certified in a particular discipline, you’re more likely to be trusted and hired for specific expertise.

    Company-sponsored Initiatives

    Tuition Assistance

    Many companies offer tuition reimbursement as part of the employee benefits package. According to Glassdoor’s 2020 report, some companies offer partial to full tuition assistance, with either the employee or the employer choosing an educational institution. The amount ranges from $500 to $10,000 per year, and may extend to both full-time and part-time employees. T-Mobile, for instance, offers to cover the full tuition bill for full-time workers at designated online universities and partial tuition assistance for both full-time and part-time employees at other institutions.

    Negotiation and Commitment

    As the requirements for financial assistance vary among employers, talk to your boss about your career goals and obtain permission and sponsorship to acquire your next set of skills. As pursuing education may interfere with your work schedule, offer to take these courses in the evenings or weekends if available.

    Prepare a list of convincing arguments why your employer should invest in your education and how you will benefit your employer in the long run. Be grateful and commit to remaining with your employer after you finish your program. Some companies may require you to sign a contract to solidify your commitment.

    Job Certification and Legality

    Some jobs may require you to be certified to perform your tasks. In this case, you can earn while you learn because, as a non-exempt employee, you should be remunerated for your learning and preparation time toward certification.

    Check out some legal requirements to ensure that your training is necessary, your learning and training are conducted during working hours, and productive work is being performed.

    Internal Training

    The range of skills you’re looking to acquire may be obtained within the company or outside. Amazon, for example, offers training and certification programs in cloud computing for internal employees as well as customers and partners. Tech giants such as Google have been known to support peer-to-peer employee learning programs or mentoring to foster camaraderie and build employee growth. AT&T boasts of its internal AT&T University to encourage employee learning while on the job to boost their skill sets.

    External Training

    Companies like AT&T invest in employee-retraining programs through collaboration with partners such as Udacity, Coursera, University of Notre Dame, and Georgia Tech, to offer advanced degree and certification programs in the latest technologies.

    By participating in company-sponsored employee learning programs, you can align your skills to your company’s goals and objectives. Your organization may be teaming up with other companies to sponsor or lead conferences relevant to your industry. Be on the lookout for these avenues, as they’ll help you network with others and pick up additional skills.

    Online Developer Communities

    As a software engineer, part of your role is to research before you design a solution. When you’re researching and planning, you encounter novel ideas and learn new wisdom along the way. Though unofficial, this is an accepted method of acquiring a new skill set while you’re on the job. While working on your project, you may encounter stumbling blocks. You may be able to find answers within your cohort.

    Otherwise, you can always explore the question-and-answer repository on Stack Overflow. Chances are, you may be able to pick up some beautiful gems and knowledge from others’ experiences. You’re learning and getting paid for this research while working.

    Self-sponsored Initiatives

    Free Learning Resources

    If you’re a freelancer and ineligible for your current employer’s benefits, you can still expand your engineering skill set. You can learn from free developer teaching websites, such as w3schools and freeCodeCamp. These resources will allow you to gain extra knowledge on your own time.

    In addition to free courses, freeCodeCamp offers free certifications on full-stack web development with JavaScript, including responsive design, front-end libraries, data structures and algorithms, data visualization, API and microservices, and quality assurance, as well as Python certifications in scientific computing, data analysis, information security, and machine learning.

    Technology Certification

    If you’re interested in cloud computing, take a look at the many offerings from Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Amazon offers professional certifications for AWS as a cloud practitioner, solutions architect, developer, SysOps administrator, DevOps engineer, and other specialties. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science have dominated much of the technology spheres.

    You can obtain certifications for these popular fields at Google, Microsoft, Udacity, and DataCamp. If you’re an experienced relational database designer looking to explore NoSQL alternatives, investigate the various offerings and certifications available at MongoDB University.

    Language Certification

    Sometimes you’re looking to learn a new language, but without having professional development experience in this language, you might be at a disadvantage.

    Consider getting certified after learning the new language. The Python Institute in conjunction with the Cisco Networking Academy and Pearson VUE offers free courses in the Python programming language that lead to professional certifications in the language. The C++ Institute offers a similar program for certifications in the C++ programming language. The Oracle University offers free learning programs for the Java programming language, that lead to professional certifications. The Ruby Association offers professional certification in the Ruby language. The OpenJS Foundation offers certifications to demonstrate competence in building RESTFul Node.js servers, services, and applications.

    Besides boosting your confidence in a newly acquired skill, being professionally certified demonstrates your diligence and seriousness in professional development to potential recruiters and employers and is an asset for you. If you don’t have the focus or time commitment to pursue a rigorous learning and certification track, you might consider participating in professional webinars that offer relevant topics in your areas of work.

    Skills Assessment

    If you’re active on LinkedIn, you can participate in LinkedIn’s Learning Programs. When you add skills to your LinkedIn profile, you may be prompted to take a corresponding assessment. It’s a good idea to challenge yourself to one of these tests to gauge where you are. These tests are short and timed and may be retaken to improve your score.

    If you score above a certain percentile, you’ll earn a badge that’s showcased in your profile. Although these assessments are not as comprehensive as a professional certification, they can boost your chance of being noticed by top-notch recruiters.

    Special-interest Networking

    Sometimes the technology you’re embarking upon is relatively new and there’s no formal support infrastructure for it. You can try to attend or spearhead local meetups as a special interest group to discuss the latest developments in this particular technology and network with other like-minded technologists.

    You can organize groups on social media such as Slack, Discord, and LinkedIn, or create your own web forum and mailing list. When the popularity of the technology catches up, you may be distinguished as one of the founders or veterans and start mentoring newcomers. Listing this achievement on your resume adds to your leadership skills.

    Developer Blogs

    Many software developers and engineers are educators at heart and want to help others through their writings. Study the writings of these professional bloggers to gain new insights. More often than not, these tech writers aren’t writing for profit, and they often want to document a solution to an uncommon problem or provide a more succinct resolution than what’s available.

    Pay attention to those writers whose tutorials are informative, lucid, and well-illustrated with solid, working code samples. You can usually find these writers on Medium, a professional platform that supports quality contributions from a community of dedicated developers.

    Boot Camps

    If you’re a hands-on engineer who learns well by doing instead of textbook learning and exam-taking, you might consider enrolling in a technical boot camp. These short-term programs are often rigorous and require a time commitment.

    The number of coding boot camps has risen tremendously over the years and you’ll have to shop around to find the program that meets your needs and budget. Some of these boot camps offer an installment plan and a deferred payment plan that takes a percentage of your income when you land a job in the field.

    Thinkful offers a tuition refund guarantee if a graduate doesn’t land a qualified position within 180 days of graduation. Thinkful also offers a monthly financial stipend to qualified applicants who sign its ISA contract.

    A typical boot camp offers lessons taught either live or recorded, several short-term coding assignments, and a final project. Some programs also offer one-on-one support from mentors, an online forum to network with your classmates, and career services such as resume review and interview preparation.

    Udacity is a well-established learning platform that partners with AT&T, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, to sponsor merit-based scholarships. Udacity specializes in nanodegree programs in the fields of artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, data science, cloud computing, cybersecurity, full-stack development, to name a few.

    For a less-expensive alternative, explore Udemy, which offers an extensive catalog of software development courses.

    Open-source Projects

    Once you’ve learned a new skill and are ready to gain some development experience with it while waiting for the next job opportunity, consider contributing to your choice of open-source projects hosted on GitHub. If you’re not familiar with GitHub, go through the tutorials to learn how to clone a repository, manage a branch of the local codebase, initiate a pull request, and merge your approved changes to the master version of the repository.

    You’ll learn a lot by collaborating with other fellow developers who may be more experienced than you. Having a busy GitHub profile allows hiring managers and technical interviewers to study your coding habits, evaluate the quality of your work and assess your communication skills with other collaborators and repository owners.

    If you’re adventurous, you may wish to create your own repository with an application you create. You can invite others to collaborate with you and build a portfolio to showcase your work. You can also create static web pages with GitHub Pages to document your work.

    If you’re developing a full-stack application, consider deploying it on the cloud such as Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and Heroku. The skills you gain from this experience are marketable.

    Professional Publications

    Lastly, there are quality professional publications on the latest technologies that you can subscribe to and study. These technical works are written by experienced subject-matter experts who carve out a chunk of their life to share their talents and experiences with others in the field or newcomers eager to learn. Check out Newline and for quality digital and print publications covering full-stack web development in JavaScript and Python. Inspect their customer testimonials, download and evaluate sample chapters to measure their writing quality, and decide for yourself if they measure up to your expectations.


    There are many avenues and resources that you can access to broaden your horizons while you’re still employed.

    If you work for a company that values employee growth and offers financial assistance, you can apply for the available learning sponsored programs.

    If you’re an independent contractor and don’t qualify for any of your host company’s benefits, you can still advance your engineering skills while working.

    Whether you’re looking to secure the next project or position, investing time and effort in any of the approaches outlined above will help you towards your goal.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Expanding Your Engineering Skill Set

    What are some practical ways to expand my engineering skills while still working full-time?

    There are several ways to expand your engineering skills without quitting your day job. One of the most effective ways is through online courses. Websites like Coursera, Udemy, and Khan Academy offer a wide range of engineering courses that you can take at your own pace. Another way is by attending workshops and seminars. These events provide an opportunity to learn new skills and network with other professionals. Reading industry-related books and articles can also help you stay updated with the latest trends and technologies in engineering.

    How can I improve my problem-solving skills as an engineer?

    Problem-solving is a crucial skill for engineers. You can improve this skill by practicing it regularly. Start by identifying a problem in your current project or work environment and try to come up with a solution. You can also improve your problem-solving skills by learning from others. Participate in group discussions and brainstorming sessions. Reading case studies and real-life problem-solving scenarios can also be beneficial.

    What are some essential soft skills for engineers?

    While technical skills are crucial for engineers, soft skills are equally important. Some of the essential soft skills for engineers include communication, teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving. Communication is important as engineers often need to explain complex concepts to non-engineers. Teamwork is crucial as most engineering projects require collaboration. Leadership skills can help you manage projects and teams more effectively. Problem-solving, as mentioned earlier, is a key skill for engineers.

    How can I stay updated with the latest trends and technologies in engineering?

    Staying updated with the latest trends and technologies in engineering is crucial for career growth. You can do this by reading industry-related books, articles, and blogs. Attending workshops, seminars, and conferences can also help you stay updated. Subscribing to industry-related newsletters and joining professional engineering associations can also be beneficial.

    How can I improve my project management skills as an engineer?

    Project management is a crucial skill for engineers. You can improve this skill by taking project management courses. These courses can help you understand the basics of project management, including planning, scheduling, budgeting, and risk management. You can also improve your project management skills by taking on more responsibilities at work. Start by managing small projects and gradually take on larger ones.

    How can I improve my communication skills as an engineer?

    Communication is a crucial skill for engineers. You can improve this skill by practicing it regularly. Start by actively participating in meetings and presentations. You can also improve your communication skills by taking communication courses or joining a public speaking club. Reading books and articles on communication can also be beneficial.

    How can I develop leadership skills as an engineer?

    Developing leadership skills can help you manage projects and teams more effectively. You can develop these skills by taking leadership courses or reading leadership books. You can also develop leadership skills by taking on more responsibilities at work. Start by leading small teams and gradually take on larger ones.

    How can I improve my technical skills as an engineer?

    Improving your technical skills is crucial for career growth. You can do this by taking online courses or attending workshops and seminars. Practicing your skills regularly can also help you improve. You can also improve your technical skills by working on projects that challenge you.

    How can I develop a growth mindset as an engineer?

    Developing a growth mindset is crucial for career growth. You can develop this mindset by embracing challenges, persisting in the face of setbacks, and understanding that effort is the path to mastery. You can also develop a growth mindset by seeking criticism and learning from it.

    How can I balance my work and learning as an engineer?

    Balancing work and learning can be challenging. However, it’s crucial for career growth. You can balance work and learning by setting clear goals and priorities. You can also balance work and learning by managing your time effectively. Taking online courses can also help you balance work and learning as you can learn at your own pace.