8 Things Computer Engineers Can Do to Stay on Top of Their Game

A big one on the list? Lifelong learning.
8 Things Computer Engineers Can Do to Stay on Top of Their Game
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Even as a strong economy has improved the job outlook for college graduates and professionals alike, some fields are more competitive than ever. Computer engineering is one of them.

Related: Why You Should Strive to Be a Lifelong Learner

Despite a large number of openings in the field, candidates are dealing with stiff competition for every position, often finding that they're interviewing alongside highly skilled professionals from across the globe.

Engineers who want to gain an edge over that competition need to find ways to stand out, including packing their resumes with impressive skills and certifications.

The key here is lifelong learning: Lukas Biewald, chairman and founder of Crowdflower, told me, for instance: "When I'm hiring engineers, I always look for someone who shows a dedication to lifelong learning. Whether it's side projects, contributing to open-source communities or taking online classes, I love to see candidates that have a commitment to making themselves better."

Here are a few ways engineers can ensure they're the top choice when it comes to hiring and promotions in their field.

1. Participate in online communities.

One of the best ways to hone your skills as an engineer is to work alongside others. Even if your job currently offers that environment, an online community goes beyond what you're doing at work. Communities like Reddit allow engineers to post questions and help other members, in addition to keeping members up with the latest job postings.

You can also look to open-source communities like GitHub to build software or review code with the support of millions of other developers who use the platform.

2. Workshops and trainings

Engineers don't have to go back to college to keep their skills up to date. Specialized sessions at conferences can give professionals the opportunity to learn the latest information about their industry without having to go back to school.

Options like Engineered Education provide this education on an ongoing basis, giving professionals the opportunity to participate in in-depth coursework on topics like machine learning and artificial intelligence. Courses are held in San Francisco, or businesses can sign up for the corporate-training option, which brings trainers to their individual locations.

Related: What Needs to Happen for More Women, Minorities to Get Into Computer Science

3. Write a book.

Putting your expertise into book form can help you easily bolster your position in your field, especially if you leverage your expertise to share advice in a specific area. When you put the extra effort into researching a topic in depth, then share that information with others in your field, you also gain their appreciation.

A book can also help you gain entry into conferences, where you'll be asked to lead workshops on the topics your book covered.

4. Take online courses.

Continuing education is a great way for professionals to keep their skills updated, but time can be limited. Online options make it easy for engineers to take courses on their own time. Online learning sites like Coursera or Udacity connect professionals with industry-specific courses, giving them credits they can put toward advancement in their careers.

5. Attend meetup groups.

In most major cities, groups of professionals get together to share tips, network and learn. In addition to helping you stay informed, these gatherings help you learn about job opportunities and assist with long-term career planning.

Search Meetup.com for engineering groups near you and you'll likely find one that fits your niche. In San Francisco, for instance, the meetup Consciousness Hacking is geared specifically toward exploring technology as a catalyst for personal growth.

6. Fail often and try again.

While it's important to "sharpen your saw" with books, classes and theory, it's equally important to develop a parallel practice of rolling up your sleeves, embracing uncertainty and taking action.

"I was a 'wantrapreneur' for years. I spent my time reading books and magazines and imagining possibilities, but didn't actually take steps to turn my ideas into reality," 10x Management technical cofounder Altay Guvench told me.

"Finally, I took the leap and started my first company. It failed. My second company failed, too. But my third company was a success. In hindsight, the failures were actually necessary iterations in my path to startup success."

Most people are so afraid of failure that they never even bother to try. The key is to reframe "failure" as a "learning opportunity." This mindset will help you master any new skill -- whether that's learning a new programming language, starting a company, or learning an instrument.

7. Broaden your horizons.

Beth Altringer researches innovation processes and creative teamwork as the head of Harvard's Desirability Lab, and also applies this knowledge as chief of design research at Piaggio Fast Forward, Vespa's future-of-transportation spinoff company. She told me this about the traits observed in key players on high-performing teams:

"I look for people who can create and execute well, are at ease working with diverse others and who can maintain their own high levels of motivation during the inevitable setbacks of truly innovative projects.

"It's a bonus,"Altringer continued, "if the person moves fluidly between defining problems as nuanced human needs -- which requires humility and curiosity about others' experiences -- making sure solutions actually meet the needs, and taking pride in getting the small details right."

8. Choose top companies and startups.

The right employer can make all the difference in an engineer's career trajectory. Top companies invest in their workers' success, offering ongoing seminars and other training opportunities as part of their perks. Consider this during your job search just as you'd look at medical and vacation benefits. Sites like Monster, Angellist and Glassdoor regularly put out lists of the best companies, but you can also use Glassdoor to research a company before pursuing career opportunities there.

You might also approach your own company's leadership team with an offer to organize a company training program for the betterment of everyone (if one is not already offered and you want to stay in your current position).

Related: The Robots Are Coming. Is Your Job Safe?

Engineers have always enjoyed a strong career outlook with plenty of demand, especially for those in specialized fields. However, with so many skilled professionals entering the industry, it's important that engineers keep their skills and education up to date to remain competitive. Fortunately, there is plenty of support in place to help you do that.

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