“Community is Everything”: Upskilling Journeys with Angela Andrews

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As a longtime fan of Compiler, Red Hat’s podcast covering topics relating to trends and perspectives in the technology space, I was ecstatic (and a little star-struck) to interview co-host Angela Andrews. In addition to podcasting, Andrews is a Solution Architect at Red Hat. But what made me want to interview Andrews on the Docs are In is her work with nontraditional students as a volunteer with groups like Girl Develop It and Python For All. As an AWS Certified Solutions Architect and a member of the 2019 Red Hat Accelerator’s program, Andrews has real world, lived experience with the challenges and opportunities afforded to those looking to upskill in tech.

Some highlights from our conversation include Andrews’s advice for upskilling, reskilling and cross-skilling (the various prefix + skills so important for the future of work):

There’s so many things that you come up against when you’re trying to set your prefix skill. Like it depends on the prefix, but when you’re trying to maybe change jobs or reskill or learn those skills, what we come up against is, you know, what are those skills that we need? So we usually take to Google or we take to YouTube. And I’m a fan of doing informational interviews, finding someone who does the job that you want to get into and talk to them and find out what, what skills they use and what skills they think are important. And you can kind of craft almost like a syllabus of how to take those little nuggets that you’ve gotten from someone and to build a curriculum.

Once you establish what new career path you are interested in pursuing Andrews recommends aiming for mastery, rather than dabbling widely. And finally, document your journey by learning in public:

I find that when you learn in public, when you talk about what you’re learning and how you’re learning, people tend to like that. And when they see the constant thread of your growth and how you’re learning this new skill or how you’re learning this new technology, this is also helping you build your brand and put yourself out there for your next great employer. Because they can see what you’ve done to gain these competencies and they can kind of travel along your journey with you by reading your blog and checking out your socials and things like that. So the hurdle is to get started and to get over the hurdle is to just start doing it and then writing about it and being public about it. I know that’s not easy for a lot of folks, but I see it time and time again and I do think it works.

One of the advantages of documenting your upskilling journey in this public manner is that learners can take advantage of the community that emerges:

Community is everything. This is how you reach like minded people. This is how you learn. This is how you glean more information. This is — your community is what builds you up. And it could be people that you’ve never met in person. You’re only talking to them because you’re in this particular community or you’re following a particular hashtag. And, you know, like minds tend to gravitate together. I’ve had so much success in online communities, meeting people, getting opportunities, learning new things. It’s been invaluable for me in my career. And that again, is why I think social media is really a great tool if it’s used properly to help you on your journey. I can’t say enough good things about it.

We also discuss certifications and bootcamps, and circle back to this idea of curating your online presence by blogging, creating a portfolio, and updating your socials in order to put your best foot forward. Becoming certified and graduating from a coding bootcamp are great first steps, but they are just the beginning. In order to successfully upskill in your current position or reskill into a new career in tech it is important to show prospective employers what you can do. Documents certifying qualifications (diplomas, certifications, badges) are not enough: skills need to be demonstrated.

The final subject we discussed concerns how educational providers can accommodate a range of learning experiences in their students, and specifically how Red Hat meets the needs of these learners.

I do a lot of mentoring in certification preparation here inside of Red Hat and outside of Red Hat, you have to figure out how people tick. And how do you do that? Well, you have to talk to them, right? You have to figure out what works for them. And I’m not always for a person having to out themselves and say, well, you know, maybe they’re neurodiverse or maybe they have a learning challenge. But it’s having conversations or allowing people to pick from different ways of learning said material. It is so helpful. Some people need different modalities. And if you’re serious about upskilling and training your folks and getting people enabled, then you need to be aware that people learn in different ways. And if you’re serious about helping people learn, then you’re going to make sure that those different ways are available.

So I think Red Hat does a pretty good job. You’d be surprised. I think a lot of people are understanding that this is a thing and people do learn in different ways. But we can’t forget that, we can’t push mandates and things on people without realizing that, well, maybe this is not how our populace learns. How do we make sure that we’re reaching everybody? So I try to be vocal about that. And because I would want someone to speak up for me. And I’ve seen it in my — doing tutoring or TA’ing in bootcamps and things like that where people learn differently and you have to sometimes pull people to the side and help with the one on one. And I know that can be a time sink, that, you know, time is money. But if you want people to grow and excel, I think it’s well worth it.

I learned a lot from this conversation, and suspect everyone who listens will benefit from adopting the sort of careful and compassionate approach to education that Andrews advocates.

You can watch the video of this conversation below or see the full transcript and related links.

Disclosure: The video discussed here was sponsored by Red Hat (but this post was not).

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