Sunday, 11 January 2015

Don’t you Usually Have to Pay for an Education?

Dreams

I have always wanted to be a software developer.  Well, at least from the first time I saw a computer and learned that I could tell it what to do and it would do it (most of the time).  As soon as I knew that, I thought about what I needed to learn.  First on the list was learn.  If you are lucky, you figured it out in high school or even elementary school.   The opportunities to learn are enormous.  Every year schools even have the opportunity to have volunteers come in an teach an Hour of Code.  If you want to learn more about what you can do to help, check out my previous blog.  So back to education.  I followed the traditional path for quite a while.  I learned in high school.  Went to college.  Studied traditional big shop big metal data processing with “classic” languages like RPGII, COBOL, and others.  I don’t regret that for one moment.  My grounding in structured programming pays off constantly.  But, my point here is that all along the way I paid for that education with little reward (at the time) to show other than personal satisfaction, good grades and a hearty pat on the pack for a job well done.  The feedback came better with a career, but in a world of instant gratification it was hard sometimes.  For a student at the time, it was pretty good.  Learning that structured methodology was great and as I have said before, a proper education knows no substitute.  However, that’s not where I’m going today.  You want to be a developer, great!  You can learn and be rewarded for learning on top of any formal education you may acquire.  If somebody wants to reward you for learning, why on earth would you decline?

Knowledge

If you should choose, as I did, to go down the path of writing for the largest single platform in the world, Windows, you have options available.  As I have mentioned before, there is more information publicly available for you than ever before in history.  While I have been writing this, a bunch of stuff has been added to the collected knowledge.  So, on the theme of paying for education, lets start with the pay part.  Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA) continues to grow in content and breadth of coverage.  No matter what your interest in software is, there is something there for you.  Many people don’t realize that computers are now part of almost every aspect of our lives and have a basic understanding of them should almost be required learning.  Code.org figures that by 2020 there will 1.4 million coding positions with only about 400K students available to fill those positions.  With MVA you can learn how to write mobile apps, or Excel scripts or TransactSQL just plain old Windows applications along with many other topics.  The training even goes to areas of design and “how to” for end users.  Whatever you want, it’s there.  MVA even operates a bit like an educational institution in many ways.  As you take courses (did I mention they don’t charge for courses?) it keeps track of your progress so you can learn at your own pace.  Start a course, go back to it later, it doesn’t matter, they remember.  As you pass courses you collect points.  Those points allow you to gage your progress in learning.

Rewards

So we have established that much of the training you would like to do is available free.  That education can stand on it’s own or supplement traditional educational options.  But wait, there is more, if you order now, you will receive, absolutely free, stuff.  Stuff that includes electronics, gift cards, software, promotional opportunities, consultations and much more.  Everything starts at the Windows Dev Center where there is a rewards program available regardless of where you live in the world (rewards are by country, your mileage may vary).  Dev Center Benefits is a recent innovation from the Dev Center.  There are multiple levels of participation and each level provides unique rewards to you as you grow your knowledge and abilities in Windows Platform Development.  Even at the introductory “Explorer” level you can get free membership in the Dev Center, Gift Cards, design and architectural guidance along with discounts for services like localization.  By the time you work your way up to the top level of “Master” you will have assistance with marketing, early access to Windows SDKs and many other rewards. 
For those of you who have been around for a while, you probably know about DVLUP.  Well, now DVLUP is directly connected to Dev Center Benefits.  So when you go to Dev Center Benefits you can see your DVLUP status along with offers from your Dev Center status.  If you haven’t been to DVLUP in a while, it’s time to revisit it.  Challenges have been updated, new ones are being introduced and your opportunity for points is constantly evolving.  Challenges and Rewards vary by country but look for new stuff in both categories as the programs continue to be updated.
Lastly, we in Canada are spoiled rotten with the Developer Movement.  You can find rewards like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 or Phone Devices or even Monitors and XBoxes.  Basically you get rewarded for learning.  The challenges are geared towards progressive learning.  You can collect points just for learning how to develop software for the Windows Phone and Windows stores.  Moreover, the way the challenges are structured to introduce you to a concept and then it layers on additional features to gain additional points.  Those points are then exchanged for great rewards.  Just another way that self-education is not only free but it pays!

It Pays to Learn

So basically what it comes down to is that it not only is free to learn but it pays to learn.  Of course, the big gain is your ability to build a career that can carry you through life doing something you love. A career that is interesting, exciting and is not going to be replace by computers.  If you are looking to develop for Microsoft Platforms, start at the Microsoft Virtual Academy, then once you have a handle on things, float over to the Dev Center where you can get all the tools you need to practice your new skills (again for free).