Whether you’re a tried and true writer or an outside-the-box artist, it’s safe to say that some of us have just never been in the market for a computer science degree. But if you’re under the impression that anything remotely techy will be boring and/or difficult to learn, I have some great news.
There are tons of free resources online specifically made to teach basic tech skills to complete beginners. Better yet, a lot of these resources are personal and interactive, so you won’t feel like the slacker in the back of the science lecture – these courses and tools are actually engaging, I promise!
Learning new tech skills will be a fun personal challenge, but it’ll also make you more well-rounded on paper. Potential employers love to see someone who takes initiative, and gaining new digital skills shows a willingness to adapt to increasingly digital workplaces. So without further ado, let’s get into it!
Code is the inescapable structure of our lives on the internet. If you’re anything like me, you may be recoiling in fear at the thought of trying to learn how to do it yourself. But, like me, you’ll soon see that there’s no reason to panic, and every reason to get involved – no one expects you to become a computer science expert, and simply getting familiar with code will be extremely useful!
Why You Should Do It
First things first: learning the basics of code is a lot easier than most of us tend to think. There are tons of free, high-quality resources out there that can help you get acquainted with many popular coding languages, and you get to choose your level of commitment. Whether you just want to dip your toes in the water or dive straight in, there’s a free course available that will match your goals.
In addition, learning to code will give you more freedom to customize your own website or portfolio, and you’ll be able to help other tech novices in a similar situation.
How You Can Do It
Codecademy – A free resource offering classes in 12 different programming languages (including HTML, which is one of the simpler languages and plays a big part in creating web pages). Codecademy is a welcoming place for beginners, because it doesn’t assume prior knowledge about how coding works. The best part of Codecademy is that it’s interactive, meaning you won’t just be staring at a screen – you’ll actually be reinforcing your new knowledge with practice!
The Odin Project – Also free, the Odin Project is a perfect example of getting to choose your level of commitment. This platform’s mission is to help anyone in the world “learn from a curriculum with the best curated online tutorials, blogs, and courses.” You can also study at whatever pace suits you best, since courses are broken down into straightforward modules. If you want to use coding to become more employable in the tech field, the Odin Project will also allow you to build up your portfolio through free projects.
Udemy – Udemy is an online learning platform that covers all kinds of topics, including how to start coding. Udemy’s free video coding tutorials (like this one) are super informative, but I’d recommend using it as more of a supplementary resource, since its more interactive learning content is often not free (and the free videos are great standalone resources, anyway!).
Remember, no one’s asking you to earn a computer science degree overnight. The point is, learning about code isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds, and it’s never been easier. And what's more, coding knowledge – yes, even basic coding knowledge – has never been more appreciated!
These days, “design” alludes to all kinds of visual content – from website landing pages, to printed marketing materials, to even just the layout of your resume. In short, it helps to know a thing or two about good visuals and presentation – in fact, creativity is the most in-demand soft skill of 2020.
We’ve all heard of the likes of Photoshop and InDesign, but the opportunities for self-education in design are actually way more inclusive than that! There are tons of free (and fun) tools around the internet that you can take advantage of.
Why You Should Do It
As I was saying, a lot of elements fall under the umbrella of design, from website color schemes to font choices. This means that basic design knowledge will inevitably come in handy regardless of the industry you wind up in, and knowing a thing or two about graphics, aesthetics, or anything else will help you stand out in your own field.
The wide range of design topics also mean that there’s plenty of room to find an area you’re interested in. Whether you want to make colorful infographics or sleek website layouts, there’s something for every learner in the DIY design world.
How You Can Do It
Coursera – This free platform offers online courses in different areas, including many different types of design. These include graphic, user interface (UI), user experience (UX), and even fashion. The courses are sourced from institutions all over the world, and many cater to complete beginners. Some eye-catching titles include Fundamentals of Graphic Design from California Institute of the Arts, and Design Thinking for Innovation from the University of Virginia.
MIT OpenCourseWare – If you knew I’d be talking about Massachusetts Institute of Technology somewhere in this article, you might’ve guessed it’d be in the coding section. But MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative offers a free database of courses on all kinds of subjects, including design. These courses place emphasis on practical application, which means you’ll get to learn by doing, and they’re curated by experts in the field. Most of the design-focused courses are elements of larger course modules, like this graphic design exercise that forms part of a module on UI design. This means you can go the extra mile and branch out into the rest of the course if you like – or simply focus on your chosen niche!
American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) – AIGA is a design organization whose members practice everything from graphic design to branding and typography. Aside from being a professional membership organization, it’s also a great source of inspiration for the rest of us. This curated list of 16 free e-books for designers is particularly impressive. If you’re looking for a topical break from the likes of MIT and Coursera, then check out one of these books from top designers (or all of them – it’s not like we’re paying!). Aside from being nice to look at, these books also offer a wealth of firsthand knowledge on everything from good logo creation to Photoshop best practices.
In addition to the more academic resources above, there is also a world of untapped potential in free graphic design creation platforms like Canva and Visme. These are easy-to-use, beginner-oriented websites where you can make anything from social media banners to detailed graphs and charts, with custom color schemes, fonts, and layouts. Most of these platforms allow you to create unwatermarked designs for free, making them a virtual playground for learning and experimentation!
It might seem strange to think of social media as a tech skill, but it’s become such a huge part of our everyday lives that businesses and creative entrepreneurs alike have had to embrace social media as a ubiquitous marketing tool.
Why You Should Do It
Knowing how to use social platforms for marketing and promotion is actually one of the keys to becoming an employable candidate in most industries these days – in fact, 77% of small businesses use social media to drive sales, marketing, and promotion.
If you’re more interested in the self-employed route, then social media is just as, if not more important for creating your own brand and spreading the word about it. We all like to laugh at ridiculous tweets and keep up with friends and family on Instagram, but there’s also a subtle science to social media that you can learn online for free – which will prepare you to take on all kinds of marketing and branding projects when you need to.
How You Can Do It
HubSpot’s Social Media Certification – This is a free, nine-lesson crash course that takes under five hours to complete, and will teach you how to use social media to build brand loyalty. If you’re interested in a career in marketing, this certification will also discuss how to attract customers and expand your audience. Basically, it’s an overarching introduction to using social media as a promotional tool. You’ll even learn how to measure the success and impact of your social brand.
Alison’s Social Media Strategy course – Strategy is a really important focus in social media marketing, and this free course is a rich resource on strategic thinking. You’ll learn how to conduct market analysis, how to set targeted goals, and how to create a social media policy that integrates marketing strategies. It’s especially helpful for students, since it introduces the career path of a social media strategist and explains the rise of social media in recent years.
Distilled’s guide to Finding Your Brand’s Tone of Voice – One oft-forgotten element of social media is the writing that comes with it. Tweets, captions, links, you name it – snappy, engaging copy is an unsung hero of social media marketing. Writing great copy consistently across every social channel means having a consistent tone of voice, and this free guide from Distilled will teach you how to develop one that’s unique and engaging.
It’s easy to assume that social media is a self-taught skill, since we’re all constantly liking and posting. But in order to make social media a resume-worthy skill, these additional resources are super valuable. And it can be surprisingly fun to build on our prior knowledge of apps like Instagram and Twitter to make them even more useful communication tools.
Tech Skills to Learn From Home: The Wrap-Up
In short, it’s never been easier or cheaper to learn new digital skills from home. Regardless of whether you choose to focus on basic coding, design, social media, or all three, acquiring a new digital skill is a fun way to spruce up your resume and set a personal goal!