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How To Study Again After A Really Really Long Break

・8 min read

TLDR; Me and my friends decided to do a full-career-360 and level up to future-proof ourselves in this ever-demanding, rapidly-changing tech industry. This is a summary of what worked out for me.

Let’s say you’re a techie (or not) and you’ve been working way too long at your job. Been doing the same work for years. It’s going well for you, no doubt. But you wanna move out of your comfort zone now and it’s time for a change. Maybe you want to get certifications so you can add more value to your organization? Or you see your colleague interviewing for better jobs and you think that could’ve been you? How about a better paycheck? Or you’re not able to land interviews because the required job description/ skill-set is way too demanding for you.

The problem with us folks, who’ve been away from schools and colleges for far too long is that we are not able to study as efficiently and quickly like we used to. The reasons are many and valid. Married? Got kids? Staying with and looking after folks? Got pets? Overworked at your current job? Where is the time? Or just giving into the fear of change?

The focus of this article is to push you to learn something new in a relatively small amount of time to enhance your career paths for the long run. Although it was originally written for techies, these are just general guidelines and can hold true for others too.

Change Your Mindset To Always Embrace Change

  • Don’t sink into your comfort zone. It’s very easy to do. But it’s not very rewarding.
  • The tech industry always has and always will be changing at a rapid pace. This makes it crucial to level up every once in a while. Even if it’s not just to make it big, but even to survive.
  • All it takes is 2-3 months of focus and good planning to be proficient at something fun, something new.

Start With An Intent To Give Certifications

  • Certifications make you learn stuff that is most prevalent in the industry right now.
  • Yes, it looks good on the resume. But stay focused on your end-goal here. You want to get up to speed on the latest in tech and preparing for certifications is a good start.
  • Devops. Cloud. Machine Learning. Blockchain. Networking & Security. Database.

Make A Solid Plan Before You Even Start

  • This is tough, and can take days to decide.
  • If you’ve not levelled up for a while, you’ll know there’s a lot to choose from and it can get overwhelming.
  • Find an intersection between what your strengths and interests are and what is hot in the market right now. Still confused? See what your fellow colleagues are working on. See if that works for you too.
  • Pick something new. Choose Azure, GCP over AWS. Choose Python, Node over Java. Choose React/Vue over AngularJS. Why? Because there are already way too many engineers for that, with years and years of experience. You don’t want to compete with that.
  • If it’s not adding value to you in the immediate future, then don’t waste time on it (at least not yet). Look at job openings in your area to figure out what works. Look at trends.
  • Seek help from the online community. Keep an eye on what others are working/ excited about. Forums on Reddit is a good start.
  • Make a 1 year plan (short term) and a 3 year plan (long term) and start from there.

Prepare An Overview Of How You Want To Study A Topic

  • Remember that your end goal is learn new things to prep you for interviews and certifications in as little time possible.
  • You don’t want to waste too much time studying the subject.
  • Ready yourself between 1 month (studying a topic for the work you’re already doing) to maybe 3-4 months(if it’s a complete overhaul)?
  • Here’s a reference to how I prefer to do it. It just might work for you too.

Start With Video Tutorials

  • You always learn faster via videos rather than reading up documentation on it.
  • Video courses and playlists are more highly curated than documentation and that’s a good thing when you’re starting out.
  • It saves so much time when you’re starting out.
  • The idea is to get an overview, high-level understanding of the subject as quickly as possible.

Courses Are Free. You Only Have To Look For It

  • We like to believe all good things are never free. But with today’s ever growing community of awesome techies looking out for each other and more organizations jumping in with their own tutorials and free labs, this isn’t the case anymore.
  • Start with Reddit, GitHub. Join channels for what you’re working on and ask around.
  • Also,
    • YouTube - Good place to start. Pro tip: avoid those ads using Brave browser, or similar.
    • You can find various topics on MIT OCW. Then lookup these topics on YouTube or other sites.
    • FreeCodeCamp - Is free and super useful.
    • MS Architecture docs and MS Learn - Apart from Microsoft product and services documentations, it has good material on architecture that most companies use. MS Learn is good if you’re preparing for certifications.
    • Google Cloud docs is similar MS Learn. Has some really good content too.
    • System Design stuff on GitHub.
    • Architecture of Open Source Applications is a good place to study well known architectures.

Focus On Understanding The Subject And Its Practical Applications

  • Don’t mug up concepts and points. Nobody cares for that, even in interviews. It’s important for you to understand it.
  • Try to ‘visualise’ what you’re learning.
  • Always ask yourself how does this ‘concept’ help me solve a problem?
  • Correlate your new found knowledge to see if you can apply it to something you’re already working on.

You Don’t Have To Study Everything From A To Z

  • This is important as we tend to waste time trying to learn everything. See 80/20 rule to improve your productivity (Pareto Principle).
  • Do enough to get you curious, get you started, push you in the right direction.
  • Some topics are gonna be hard and not that widely used in the real, practical world.
  • If it's good-to-know only, feel free to skip till you can get back to it later.
  • I consider 70-80% completion of a subject as my benchmark.

Manage Your Time

  • I personally don’t study the same subject/ course for more than 2-3 days. Just so I don’t bore myself of the subject too soon.
  • I switch to an easier subject after 2-3 days, or go back to revising something else from before. I like to think of this as my cooldown period.
  • Even within the same subject, I study between a 45mins - 2hrs window. I force myself to take a break so I can come back for another run. This keeps my brain from hurting.

Watch That Break. Stay Focussed, Even On Your Break

  • Keep them short and only for as long as needed.
  • Even if you’re watching TV for a break, try to recollect what you learnt today. Consider this a way to revise.
  • Prepare a small mental plan of what you should study next.

Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself. Take It One Day (Or One Week) At A Time

  • It will be overwhelming. It will be difficult. Prepare yourself for that. Focus on the end-goal.
  • I push myself maybe 3-4 days a week, take it easy for the next 2 days (revise, easy subjects only). I keep my weekends free.
  • If you find yourself not able to focus at all, let it be. Don’t force yourself. You probably need to take a break.
  • Always look back after a couple weeks or months on what you’ve learnt so far. Do you see progress? Good job. Use this as a motivation.

Watch That Work Life Balance. Don’t Burnout

  • It’s easy to get disoriented if it gets too overwhelming. Always good to have a handle on the real things as well.
  • You’re working your ass off. You’re making progress. That’s cool. But your friends, family and pets probably want to spend time with you as well. Work it out.
  • Explain to them that you might be busy for a while.
  • Chill with your friends/ family when you’re taking a break. Turn up your good old 90s playlist and take that long drive. Get more clarity. It helps.

Don’t Have The Time?

  • You never will. Accept it. Now work around it.
  • Try waking up early 4am, 5am? Alright. How about 6.30am? Sleep late. Push it to 4am if you’re up for it. Push yourself like crazy.
  • Remind yourself you’re not doing this forever. Maybe a few weeks or a couple of months. You will go back to your old time table soon, when this is all over.
  • Cut down on Netflix. Pack up that gaming console. Delete apps on your smartphone. Bye bye 9Gag. There are settings or apps that help you monitor your time you spend on phones. Zen mode. YourHour. You’re welcome.
  • Nobody ever ‘has’ time. You only ‘make’ time when you have to (if that makes sense).

Re-evaluate Yourself Periodically

  • It’s like coming back a full circle, this step. Go to step 1.
  • Re-evaluate yourself every 2 years. Tech may change. Priorities may change. You might want to learn something different now from what you had originally planned.
  • You probably might have to go through the entire cycle all over again. But was it worth it for you the last time? Yes? Go for it. If not, see what didn’t work out for you.
  • If you’ve already been levelling up periodically/ monthly, this shouldn’t be too difficult. But let’s face it; not a lot of us really get the time to do this consistently. So it’s best to check back once every 2 years.

Alright. It’s Been A While. I’ve Successfully Done What I Wanted To Do. Can I Go Back To My Fifa and Cyberpunk?

  • Absolutely. You’ve come this far and accomplished what you had originally planned, you’re good to go.
  • Sleep in early, wake up late. Go do that trip. You’ve earned this.

Too Good To Be True. There’s A Catch, Right?

  • Yep. There always is.
  • With everything you’ve done here, you’ve only got off to a good start. That’s it. But hopefully, you’ve covered good ground in little time and that’s what this article is about.
  • Practice like crazy. Or it’s all going to waste. Make your own projects. GitHub all the way. Document it. Contribute to open source. Do this at your own pace.
  • Give those certifications you’ve already prepped for. Time to get those badges.
  • Update that resume. Give your interviews. You’ll see yourself doing better than you would've a few months ago.
  • Create a portfolio website. Show off your work and accomplishments.

Ok, Professor. Anything else?

  • Buy books. Read more. Videos are fun and quick. But you cannot replace the quality content and overall context that you get in books.
  • Hit the books once you’re ready to move into expert-mode.
  • Let go of the fear. Fail miserably once in a while. Make a fool of yourself in those interviews.

That’s it. I’m done. That’s a lot of text and paragraphs. But I’ve waited way too long to do this; to give back to this wonderful community. Hopefully, it can help out any one of you who’s been trying to figure this out for yourself lately.

Please reach out in comments. If you recommend anything better, I’d love to hear about it.

All the best. Go for it. You can do this. You will do this.

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