Can You Learn Everything From Work?

About three months ago I had a career change from do-it-all-marketing to focused-driven-analytics. While trying to immerse myself in the new agency culture, I also find myself at the crossroad of defining my skillset for advancing my career and providing more valuable service to future clients.

“You should be able to learn everything from work” is the feedback I received when I listed out all the programming tools and asked for direction.

So here is a question to all of you: can we learn everything we need from work?

I have my own answer to the question. I feel that the industry right now constantly demands well-rounded professionals, whether in programming or statistics, engineering or social science. Being in a position that focuses on specific areas might not evolve as fast as the changes businesses have been going through for the past few years. Take social media for example (I know, here we go again), 2 years ago there were a lot of attention on Facebook advertisement, social engagement rate, and community management. I am not saying these fields have gone away, but in my opinion they transformed into something more tangible with business operations and ultimate goals. The same thing applies to web analytics. In the early 2000, companies might have been looking at page views and bounce rates on their websites. Now, according to Avinash Kaushik, the focus is on multi-channel attribution (http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/multi-channel-attribution-definitions-models/). In a sense, those who are in the analytics industry not only have to grasp on fundamentals such as reporting and dashboards but also have to learn how digital and traditional media channels fall into the holistic picture of businesses.

Aside from industry-related knowledge, which can be gained over few years of experience, professionals like you and I find the tools are evolving too. While Excel and PowerPoint are still crucial to how businesses analyze and deliver big data and insights, proprietary tools like Omniture and SPSS are in high demands nowadays. If you are in analytics industry, do you have access to those tools?

In a nutshell, I do believe professional individuals have to branch out for new learning opportunities beyond their work. But where to find the relevant resources? It is another thing you and I need to learn.

Personally I am a fan of open courses. Universities like Stanford, Yale, MIT, Harvard and Berkeley all offer courses free of charge online. Lately I found two other resources: Udacity (http://www.udacity.com/) and Coursera (https://www.coursera.org/). The founders of these sites came from top-notch institutions like Google or NASA, and they strive to offer everyone access to the world-class education. Even though I am only taking one course at the moment, I am excited about the whole borderless education and want to share with all of you.

How do YOU learn different skills outside of work?
PS. There will be a Udacity Global Meetup on Saturday, September 15th and I’d like to organize a meet & greet event in Ann Arbor (http://udacityannarbor.eventbrite.com/). If you are interested in attending, please contact me before Friday, September 7th. Hope to see you then!

6 Responses to “Can You Learn Everything From Work?”

  1. Nikki Little
    2012/08/23 at 2:04 AM #

    I’m a huge proponent of self-education and finding ways to expand your learning and skills outside of work. Of course the best way to learn is to put that knowledge into action, but we have to find ways to educate ourselves outside of our day-to-day work to continuously bring unique and fresh ideas to our companies and clients.

    I have never done any open courses, so thanks for the suggestion. My method is I read a ton and soak up info like a sponge. I always think of ways I can apply what I’m reading/learning to my work, and I’m constantly sharing interesting ideas with my team.

    • evelynchou
      2012/08/23 at 2:23 AM #

      I like your approach, Nikki. Reading a ton is definitely a must for continuous learning.
      One of the challenges I think most people face is to stay focus. Few weeks ago I was trying to learn javascript and now I want to learn something totally different. Open course seem to be an immediate solution to that problem (because every course seems to last at least few weeks).

      But like you said in your latest blog post, “our life should be thought in a sense of expanded possibilities.” So hopefully our thirst of learning will lead us to where we want to be in the future. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Subu
    2012/08/23 at 1:42 PM #

    Nice post Evelyn, absolutely agree that one needs to branch out from day to day work (which provides depth of expertise) to keep abreast of new developments, technologies and skill sets in order to gain breadth of knowledge.

    • evelynchou
      2012/08/24 at 2:15 AM #

      Thanks Subu! I am flattered that you came across and actually read my post.
      I have another idea about the next post, and would love to pick your brain about the topic!
      Have a great weekend!

  3. Aaaron
    2012/08/24 at 12:52 PM #

    Great post! I also agree that you need to go outside the work environment, the day-to-day.These days, with technology, your in lifelong learning mode. Always having to learn new programming languages, third-party tools, new business approaches and whatever the latest fads are, introducing what your learning into your business or using for personal gain. Open courses hmmmm. Thanks for sharing the links, will have to look into those :)

    • evelynchou
      2012/08/24 at 3:21 PM #

      Aaron, you brought up a very good point: learning programs and third-party tools.
      That is one thing I am struggling with right now. How do you even get to apply it to your project or practice using it?
      Most of the proprietary tools are extremely expensive too.

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