When you go into engineering, one thing you sign up for is lifelong learning. That ought to be the case regardless of profession, but even as college kids studying engineering that was basically drilled into our heads. For a while, keeping this up was a little more of a challenge than it probably should have been aside from self-learning. While self-learning and learning on the job is great, I think all of us know that learning via a course is still a very valuable way.

As I finished my undergraduate days, graduate school was less and less of a thought for me. I had considered it beforehand, but that ship had sailed by the time my junior year had ended and I didn’t seriously investigate school options enough to be ready to apply a few months later. I knew I didn’t want to do an advanced degree part-time at that point, and now that I have a family, that idea is even less appealing.

I knew then, and still know now, that I want to keep learning via courses, ideally ones in person but not restricted to that. After finishing undergraduate work, I had a great option right away in Northeastern’s old State of the Art program, where I took courses that helped firm up an area of strength (like an advanced C programming course) as well as to develop new skills (two Java courses and a C# course come to mind). Gradually, that went away, and with it some of the more attractive courses. In addition, I’m of the impression – and I may be wrong about this – that I have to get into a certificate or degree program, which I don’t want.

Later, I went to UMass-Lowell for a couple of good courses – operating systems (which I wanted to take as an undergraduate in the worst way but couldn’t get into) and one on programming languages. They had a compiler course as well, which I didn’t get to.

As the options largely dried up, I found my best options often being IEEE Boston courses, and I took several of those. The topics were a little varied, though Linux was part of several, and I enjoyed them and felt I gained a good deal from them, but the nature of them was such that there was not much depth to be able to go into there. One of them was a little different – Sales Skills for Engineers – and I got a lot out of them, even as someone with no intention of going into sales aside from when I am a job seeker (all job seekers work in sales, as it is so often said) or otherwise seeking business.

Nowadays, it’s a good thing we have good online options like Udemy, Udacity, CreativeLive and others. I looked at Northeastern again – graduate programs are out of the picture. In their College of Professional Studies, which is their continuing education program, there are three areas that might be of interest: Electrical Engineering Technology, Computer Engineering Technology and Information Technology. EET has basically nothing for me and CET has a compiler course that would be of interest. IT has a few courses that are of interest and may help advance me.

In other words, within three departments there are about a half dozen courses that would really help me at all – and that’s if I could just take them without having to get into a degree/certificate program. (It is entirely possible that I can do that, but nothing I have read suggests as much.) In stark contrast, I currently have a wish list on Udemy that is about three dozen courses long.

It’s at this point that I come to what got me thinking about this subject – a Forbes article by Startup Institute CEO Rich DiTieri that is well worth reading. It gets right to the heart of what I have been talking about here – traditional colleges and universities are simply not great options right now for people like me. I’m a college graduate in mid-career, not trying to change careers although I may change direction slightly, and graduate school is not desired nor a great option since I have a family.

Another place that is similarly giving professionals a great option to expand or strengthen their skills is General Assembly, whose active Boston location is basically right around the corner from the Startup Institute. GA is in some ways the next step up and then some from a place like the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, which I have long liked but haven’t taken many courses from for a variety of reasons, but GA is much more than that. If I lived closer to Boston, some of their part-time and/or full-time course offerings would be a great option for me. There is also Launch Academy right around the corner as well, and I’ve talked about them before.

For years, some have said the college education market is ripe for disruption. There are factors aiding them, such as accreditation, but if they keep losing continuing education business to the many other options that continue to spring up, at some point that is bound to hurt them more significantly. I and many other professionals want to expand our skills, without a care in the world for a certificate or degree. Thankfully, we’re getting more options for that all the time.

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