How to Pursue Continuing Education for a Career in Web Development

By Kathleen Taylor, Bud E. Smith

Continuing education is an odd part of the education industry, but something that could be useful if you are considering a career in web development. (If you think of it as an industry, you’ll do a better job of making smart decisions about consuming what it offers.)

From your point of view, as the consumer, continuing education can be a time and money sink, taking a lot from you without giving you much in return. On the other hand, it can be a very powerful force in opening up new pathways for your future.

It takes a lot of forethought, creativity, and hard work to make continuing education pay off for you. But it can pay off very well indeed, whether in new knowledge, professional achievement, personal satisfaction, or a combination of those.

Here is the home page for a web design certificate program offered in North Carolina. It’s a fairly complete 13-course program, with the technical side represented by a JavaScript course called JavaScript for the Non-Programmer.

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The strange case of Stanford Continuing Studies

Stanford’s Continuing Studies department is a great example of the pressures faced by major university continuing education programs — and of the rewards possible for students, despite the pressures.

If you look at the website for Continuing Studies at Stanford, you won’t find a single computer science (CS) course. CS is the crown jewel of Stanford’s curriculum, both in terms of its academic reputation and its revenue base; Stanford isn’t going to let people get the rewards of CS courses by, as it were, coming in the side door.

Here, you see the website for Continuing Studies at Stanford.

Especially note the online courses, which you can take from anywhere in the world. Then check out the offerings at colleges and universities in your area, as well as ones you’ve attended previously.

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But look through the listings carefully, and you find hidden gems. On Stanford’s site under Online Professional and Personal Development, you’ll find Tame Data to Drive Big Insight: An Online Course. If you click through to the description, you’ll find that this is a course in the area of big data, which is one of the hottest areas in technology, and directly relevant to web development.

In that same heading is another course, Beginning Programming (PHP): An Online Course. PHP is a very popular language for web development, and it also has a big data aspect to it.

Finally, under Technology is a treasure trove of web development-related courses, including website design, WordPress, and JavaScript.

When you take courses as a regular Stanford student, a lot of nice things suddenly appear on your resume. But you can get a lot of cool technology names, plus the Stanford name, on that resume really quickly and easily through continuing studies courses.

Tips for continuing education

Entrance requirements for continuing education programs, as well as for graduate school, are often surprisingly low, and can often be negotiated. They want to take your money! So consider yourself empowered to get into, or talk your way into, any program you’re interested in.

Here are a few tips, though, that will help many people in many different situations:

  • Choose big-name schools: Where possible, use continuing education to get the name of an impressive school onto your resume. If you can take a single course at Harvard to add luster to your community college–heavy education, do it.

  • Consider taking certificate programs first: Getting a certificate, or some other recognition of completing a program of some sort, can be similar in its impact to a degree. A certificate program can also serve as the first part of a full Master’s degree program.

  • Go small or go big: For resume purposes, either take one or two courses to add a bit of luster to your resume, or complete a program of some sort. Four or more random courses don’t help your resume much more than one or two do.

  • Pick big-name technologies: Take a course in the latest hot technology and put that course, and perhaps one other, on your resume.

  • Build toward a degree: Some continuing education courses can be used toward an advanced degree. Others can’t be counted directly, but are about as good as the regular course.

  • Mind your connections: Taking classes toward a certificate is a fantastic networking exercise, one that can easily lead to new jobs. Do well in your courses, speak up in class at least a bit, and make a point of getting to know your fellow students.

  • Quality over quantity: Spread your courses out over time and do well in each one. This is not so much important for your academic record as it is for networking and for effectively being able to use your new knowledge in your career.

  • Watch out for executive education: High-priced courses and programs, often called “executive education” or something similar, are designed to be paid for by your company — not by you directly. You can drain your checking account in a big hurry if you pay for such courses yourself.

  • Remember that continuing education is not magic: If you don’t get along well with colleagues, are having trouble completing assignments on time, and so on, adding continuing education courses won’t fix it.

You’re perfectly free to take many continuing education courses as you’d like for your own growth and development. But you’ll only want to put one or two courses, or one or two certificates, on your resume. Beyond that, additional courses won’t build your credentials much.