10 Great places to learn new technical skills, free!

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I’m an independent consultant and have to pay for my own training. Are there places I can learn new technologies and gain new technical skills for free?

Thank you for your question and yes, there are a number of great places to expand your technical knowledge and in many cases get free legal copies of the software.

For technical professionals, a key component of maintaining and growing their marketability is to:

• Stay current on technological advances in their primary expertise
• Widening their technical knowledge in areas related to, but outside their core competencies.

Below are a few examples of great places where you can go to learn new skills and in some cases have access to free versions of the software to develop a hands-on working knowledge. Please note that I have no hidden agenda or connection to the technologies and websites I’m listing. They are simply places I have gone to or heard of that provide value.

1. www.wampserver.com has a bundled grouping of Apache, PHP and MySQL. Apache, PHP and MySQL which can also be downloaded individually or in a group from many other locations. A deep working knowledge of these products is extremely marketable. Free training on how to use this software can be found everywhere, from YouTube videos, to free software development websites, and a plethora of other locations.
2. www.openwonderland.org is a lesser known open source environment that allows you to create 3D virtual worlds. It can be freely downloaded and hosted on your server or desktop. The software is 100% Java open source. As the real world moves more toward virtual worlds, a deep understanding of this environment, as well as other virtual worlds such as Second Life and Open SIM can greatly enhance your profession marketability and is a professional in and of itself.
3. www.YouTube.com is an extraordinary teaching resource. Don’t underestimate the quality and quantity of solid technical training material offered free on YouTube. As an example, YouTube videos were of great value to me when trying to learn how to develop in Second Life, expand my knowledge of PHP, and other technologies.
4. Major universities, such as MIT, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania and others are offering large numbers of their classes free online. These are the actual classes that the students take; you just don’t get class credit or the other niceties related to attending these great institutions. The knowledge you can gain, however, is incredible.
5. www.ted.com provides an awesome assortment of world leaders, visionaries, entrepreneurs, technologies, and others topics ranging from global issues and events to science and technologies. Unlike the other resources I’ve listed, this site will not provide you with specific hard technical skills, but it can enhance your understanding of the world and what’s driving it.
6. www.hadoop.apache.org is the open source foundation that built Hadoop. As stated on the site “The Apache Hadoop software library is a framework that allows for the distributed processing of large data sets across clusters of computers using simple programming models.” In less technical talk, Hadoop is free to download and has effectively become the world’s standard for analyzing big data. A working knowledge of Hadoop related technologies is extremely marketable.
7. When trying to dig in and learn a new technology on your own, at least for me, you occasionally run into issues and are in need of technical help. Technical websites such as www.stackoverflow.com and www.slashdot.org have incredibly knowledgeable communities that actively answer technical questions posted on their discussion boards. In fact, the answers to your questions may already be there, having previously been asked by someone else.
8. Turning away from the online world, find a local Special Interest Group (SIG) related to the technology you would like to learn. The meetings are generally either free or very low cost. Not only do they generally have great speakers, but you can make some great contacts. Additionally, if you have a specific question related to the technology, there is no better place to ask your question then in a room filled with experts in that specific technology. Lastly, as your skills reach a professional level, the contacts you meet at the SIG may be able to help you find a job.
9. My next suggestion isn’t free, but it’s very low cost. www.Lynda.com, and sites like it, offer high quality technical eLearning-based training.
10. www.eclipse.org is an open source community that has created a very high quality and very popular software development platform. It can be used as the development platform to develop software in many programming languages. It is best known for developing software in Java, but it has plugins for many other programming languages including PHP.

Each of the items listed above have their own great value. That said, the combination of these items together, potentially kick started by an instructor led class funded by your employer, is a great way to quickly and efficiently catapult yourself into a new technology and enhance your professional marketability.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at
eric@ManagerMechanics.com
or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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