The pace of technological change is rapid and inexorable. In the late 1980s, for example, the C programming language was popular, while object-oriented programming (OOP) using C++ was just getting off the ground. Ten years later, if you didn’t know OOP like the back of your hand, you couldn’t get a job as a programmer. Now, .NET and C# and PHP are the must-know programming languages. Similar types of changes have occurred in virtually every aspect of computer careers: operating system changes; new wireless communication protocols; faster, multicore processors — the list is endless.
To maintain their competitive edge, companies want their employees to have the latest skills. If computer professionals pursuing computer careers don’t keep up in their field, their skill sets are soon outdated, and they will find themselves bypassed for promotions or, worse yet, laid off and replaced by more up-to-date employees. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics consistently reports that computer professionals with degrees and continuing education have better job prospects than those without.
To keep current, computer professionals need to constantly educate themselves. Informal continuing education can include reading computer journals, participating in online communities, and attending conferences and symposiums sponsored by professional associations and computer firms. Sometimes it is enough simply to buy the latest software and learn to use it on your own time.
For more formal continuing education, you must take courses, webinars, or exams. Typically, credit for continuing education is measured in either hours or “continuing education units” (CEUs). Generally, one CEU is equivalent to ten hours of participation in an “organized continuing education experience,” according to the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).
Although you may think of continuing education as only technical, you can also boost your computer career by continuing your education in “soft skills.” These include team building, communications styles, motivating others, working with a multicultural workforce, and assertiveness training.
Certification is one way of continuing your computer education. Many certifications require you to perform a certain number of continuing education hours each year to keep your certification current. Other certifications have expiration dates; keeping them current provides ongoing education, as well.
Formal continuing education is offered both online (distance learning) and at “brick-and-mortar” schools. There are many schools, programs, and courses to choose from. Some are free, some are affordable, and some are more expensive. Some are quick, and some can take months. For computer professionals, the following links are good places to start for computer-related continuing education, but there are also many more.
- SysAdmin, Audit, Network, Security (SANS) Institute (www.sans.org)
- ECPI College of Technology (www.ecpi.edu)
- University of Phoenix (www.phoenix.edu)
You don’t necessarily have to bear the financial burden of continuing education all by yourself. Many times, your employer will pay for some or all of your continuing education, as long as it relates to your job. Also, tax credits are available:
- Lifetime Learning Credit: You can deduct up to 20 percent of your annual tuition and related fees. This tax credit is limited to $2,000 per year and is phased out based on adjusted gross income level.
- Tuition and fees deduction: You can deduct up to $4,000 per student for tuition and fees, depending on your adjusted gross income.
- Line-item deduction on Schedule A: You can deduct education-related expenses (including transportation and lodging) if the education is related to your job and either improves or maintains your skill set, or enables you to meet new job requirements. The deduction is not allowed if the education is for a new job or only allows you to meet minimum requirements for a job.