January 16, 2014, 5:35 PM —
Sometimes you come to a moment in your career when you feel stuck. You can’t move forward. Backward is no longer an option. You need some sort of power-up to get you to the next level. But that power-up is hard to unlock. Do you take on a challenging project? Beg someone to mentor you? Look for another job and hope for a bump in the process? Spend all your free time (which has recently become the best part of life) going to night classes to acquire a new skill set that will help you move forward? Do something crazy to get yourself fired so you have to figure out an entirely new life?
As tempting as that last one might seem sometimes – and I’m not saying it’s not the thing to do in the right circumstances – it is probably best to try one or two other options before you go right there, lest you get a reputation (along with your new life, hopefully not frying things at Taco Bell) for being an Alan Garner-style (Zach Galifianakis’s not-to-bright character) crazy person, which would probably not help your advancement opportunities.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was some way you could just sit in front of your computer, tap into some knowledge, meet some cool people, and come away with a certificate you can hand to your boss that says you have acquired skills that will serve you and your company? Wait! There is! And I’m not talking about some crank online school with a suspect reputation and usurious fees. As I mentioned last week, I met with Anant Agarwal, the president of edX.org at CES. That site -- which aims to make a high-quality education available to anyone who wants it; in a collaboration between Harvard and MIT to create the world's best MOOCs (massive open online courses) -- might be the very power up you are looking for.
These classes are taught by some of the best professors in the world, including those from the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Texas system, and MIT and Harvard. And they are completely free. You can enroll in a class and do the course work. (In which case you have to register and log in when you go to school.) Or you can simply audit a class for your own edification, without doing the homework and measuring your progress.
You can even enroll in a series of courses put together by edX.org to create a basic understanding of a complex subject. The first two of these being offered are Foundations of Computer Science and Supply Chain and Logistics Management. EdX is calling these "XSeries" sequences. These only launched recently and there are more of them coming in various subject areas. First your identity will be verified, then you take the series of classes in the MOOC. And when you have completed the series successfully, you will get a certificate. Present that to your boss, to show your awesomeness. Or include it in your application to college, if you decide further edification is in your path.
Because shouldn't a power-up be something you can locate while sitting in your favorite gaming chair and ordering pizza?