May 6, 2024
min read

Why Upskilling And Reskilling is Important For Developers

Luis Minvielle

The narrative of a global tech talent shortage is starting to crack. Some areas, like cybersecurity, are still very competitive, but there are many applicants for entry-level and front-end positions. Massive layoffs, the lowering of the entry barrier, outsourcing practices, and the advancement of AI are just some reasons to take matters into your own hands.

To remain relevant in a hyper-competitive environment, developers need to invest actively in new specialisations. Upskilling involves building up one's skill set, elaborating outside of the already familiar areas of expertise. For instance, a developer who is proficient in the MERN stack may venture into TypeScript, Python, SQL, or even explore management practices and soft skills. On the other hand, reskilling involves studying an entirely different ability from your current skill set.

This article will go through the best ways to upskilling and reskilling—and how to make the effort count.

Why upskilling and reskilling is important

The software engineer job market is experiencing a worrying oversaturation (especially in the junior career stage). Developers on Reddit have already expressed their concern about it.

These market conditions are significantly intensifying the need for tech workers to upskill and reskill. Let's have a closer look at the reasons that have led to this current situation:

  • Increased global interest and education: More people worldwide are pursuing careers in software development, creating a larger talent pool, particularly for starter roles. A recent report revealed that the coding bootcamp market has been growing at a rate of over 19% per year since 2017, and it's expected to become a $22.6-billion industry by 2027. That’s telling of how popular they are.
  • Mass layoffs and changing economic conditions: Recent economic downturns have led to tech company layoffs, pushing experienced developers back into the job market and increasing competition. Over 660,000 tech jobs were lost from 2022 to 2024.
  • The rise of remote work and outsourcing: With the rise of remote work and with payroll platforms making it easy to hire abroad, outsourcing and offshoring software engineers have become commonplace. Remote work allows companies to access a global talent pool, which makes competition for entry-level and senior positions even tougher.
  • Advancement of AI: AI automation is taking over repetitive coding tasks, potentially impacting some entry-level roles. While AI won't eliminate the need for developers, it will certainly reshape the tech job market.

When presented with these unusual circumstances, by continuously learning and acquiring new skills, you can:

  • Stay ahead of the curve and strengthen core skills: Stay up-to-date with industry trends while still prioritising adaptability and essential skills. But avoid simply chasing trends. You should also focus on improving your problem-solving abilities, getting the hang of fundamentals, and refining communication skills. This method is flexible enough to handle changes in software development and economic disruptions.
  • Increase marketability: If you want to increase your salary by job-hopping, having new or novel skills will make you more sought-after in the market. Or it will make it easier for you to get that pay bump. We’ll get onto that later.
  • Future-proof your career: With layoffs so widespread, having the edge over another engineer can be the difference between who stays and who leaves.

Upskilling for the same job, reskilling for a different one

For a developer, upskilling means adding the skills that would make you fit for a new job title down the line. Learning a new version or variant of a tool counts as upskilling. Even picking up a similar framework to one you've mastered can boost your job prospects. For instance, if you're a frontend developer, and you add Ruby on Rails (for data handling) to your skill set, that's definitely upskilling, because you’re now a full stack developer. It increases your capabilities and job market value. 

If you’ve been using the typical MERN stack, and now you can also work with TypeScript, Python, SQL, and Ruby on Rails, you’ve upskilled, and you’ve become more marketable. But it’s not just about tech. Taking a manager course is also upskilling because it relates to your core job.

Reskilling, on the other side, means picking up fresh abilities that the market craves, even if they're completely different from your current skill set. Picture a frontend expert learning about cybersecurity or penetration testing. It’s about going beyond your supposed know-how. Reskilling involves skills for a different job.

In any company, efficiency is extremely important, but there’s more to becoming a core worker than finishing tasks 15 minutes earlier than expected. A worker who wants to have the upper hand ahead of their colleagues should also align with the tools and technologies valued by the organisation. A very valuable employee will understand the entire product pipeline. 

If you can contribute across various aspects of the product rather than just a small part, you're increasing your value, which is a significant way to upskill. Learning new things could help you win in unexpected situations. For example, when at a product launch, the software presents a critical error in an area outside your area of responsibility, but you can still solve it or chime in with a solution, you’re becoming a core member by saving the day. They’ll think twice before letting you leave.

Find Java Developer Jobs →

A focused approach to upskilling and reskilling

You’re probably upskilling or reskilling to earn more money as a developer, because you’ve been laid off and need a new job, or because you want to future-proof your career. The quickest advice would be to encourage developers to do both—upskill and reskill—simultaneously because it would open more career paths. But that’s too unrealistic. To pick a course of action, you must understand whether you want a new job or whether you want to boost your chances of succeeding at your current job.

This factor will change a lot how your new skills itinerary will take shape. If it's for your current position, you might want to upskill. Upskilling involves acquiring skills that can be useful for your daily tasks, such as learning new tools or frameworks that align with your role. For instance, if you're a frontend developer, working with Angular or Vue.js could bring functionalities that your current technology, which could be React, can’t offer.

If you’re trying to get a new job in a different sector, reskilling could yield better results because you’re opening a new career path for you as a Project Manager or as a cybersecurity architect.

You must be sure why you’re upskilling. Don’t do it just because. If you find a tangible outcome from learning new skills, do it. Otherwise, it’ll be a time-sink.

Upskill and reskill with tangible, hands-on practice

If you’re upskilling, consider doing it with hands-on projects that will help you learn and look well on your CV.  Checking the best open source projects for developers to contribute can be a good start. If your company has a repo of their own, head there, because in any case, you’ve been contributing to their codebase, which sounds worthy of praise.

Browse Junior Developer Jobs →

How to create time to upskill as a developer

It can be difficult to find time to learn new things, especially when you have a busy job. No one in their right mind would choose to study after work over hanging out with friends or doing a bit of exercise. Some developers are convinced the only way is to bleakly say goodbye to things more important than work.

This is far from true. Overemployers have realised it years ago—you can find moments to do something else than your work, at work.

Try to upskill at work hours

Considering you’ve already figured out you must upskill, then this is probably the most important advice. You must try to upskill and reskill at work hours. It’s different if you’re trying to learn skills that don’t pertain to your job—it will look questionable if you’re a UX designer working your way into a MongoDB deployment, so you should be very careful in that case. Considering you’re upskilling for your current company, you must make everything so that it’s a company-sponsored activity.

  • Explore company resources: Some companies offer training programs, conferences, or learning stipends. In any case, you’re booking a time for a program that you can use on something else.
  • Negotiate learning time: If possible, discuss incorporating dedicated upskilling time into your work schedule with your manager. If you add a good front page to it, i.e. a course from a hip university, your manager could be as far as delighted you want to learn “because the company deserves a level-up.” But don’t waste your time on a course that won’t improve your position.

In case you can’t do that—or that you can, but you need to streamline it—developers usually mention these tips as part of a winning strategy to find the time to upskill.

Identify your learning window

  • Early birds: Set about learning in the quiet hours of the morning when your mind is still fresh. You can wake up a few hours before work to study. This frees up your evenings for relaxation or social activities.
  • Night owls: Use the post-work hours for focused learning, but prioritise sleep to avoid burnout. Consider having a nap and then studying.

Check learning methods and efficiency hacks:

  • Microlearning: Take advantage of short commutes or breaks for quick learning bursts through podcasts, audiobooks, or short online tutorials.
  • Project-based learning: Apply your new skills immediately by building a personal project. This reinforces retention and creates a practical portfolio piece.
  • Find a learning buddy: Partner with another dev for accountability and motivation. Discuss concepts, troubleshoot problems, and share resources.

Be flexible with yourself:

  • Variety is key: Mix up your learning methods (reading, videos, coding challenges, specific courses) to keep things interesting and prevent burnout.
  • Celebrate small wins: Notice your progress, no matter how small. This keeps you motivated in the upskilling process.

Extra tips:

Many developers recommend incorporating small, daily doses of learning into your routine.  The key is consistency.  Even 20–30 minutes a day focused on your chosen skill will yield significant progress over time. You can always double time on weekends too.

Learning on your own can be helpful, but some developers prefer having someone else to guide them and hold them accountable. Think about taking a course with live coaching or deadlines. This gives you a specific time in your schedule and helps you stay on track.

Consider upskilling your soft skills

If you’re upskilling to earn more money, then you should see what is the most profitable competency to upskill.

“Upskilling” has a hard feel to it. It seems to point out to improving technically and winning hard skills, like adding TypeScript to your toolkit.

Now, almost 90% of hiring failures stem from shortfalls in soft skills. Considering this, developers, who’re stereotypically so bad at interacting, should seriously ask themselves if the most important skill to upskill is something like clearing interviews or having promotion conversations.

This is because the outcomes for these upskilling slots are almost direct: They’ll earn you more money. Job hopping is a proven way to increase your pay. When the story of the job-hopper Alex Nguyen hit the headlines, users flocked to explain they bought into his method because clearing interviews is one of the easiest ways to earn more money as a software engineer. 

If you haven’t upskilled your interview game, you’re missing out on a bigger pay cheque. This engineer jumped between three companies in three years and had a 20% pay bump moving from Amazon to Microsoft for the same role and job responsibilities. If your current upskilling agenda doesn’t have such a clear outcome, you might want to consider a new direction.

If you were upskilling at your company because you want a promotion, then you should also consider strategies to get the promotion talks going so that you don’t end up empty-handed.

Reskilling: what to learn for developers

Alright—let’s say that you’ve asked all the questions we brought up, and your answer is a “I’m not sure.” But you’re still sure that layoffs are a cause for concern, salaries are going down, oversaturation for certain roles exists, and you still want to do something about it.

In that case, this is a good list to understand where to start upskilling and reskilling. The key is looking at the demand: What are companies looking for or looking at, and what jobs balance good pay with being future-proofed. Here's a targeted approach to reskilling for sustainable software careers, with a focus on high-growth and in-demand areas:

  • Cybersecurity specialists: With cyber threats persistently making headlines, the global cybersecurity market is projected to surge 12–15% annually through 2025. If you reskill and add some cybersecurity credentials with some open-source GitHub contributions, you’ll build a strong case. Also, if you add pen testing—a cybersecurity service—to your toolkit, you won’t be just a “frontend developer” anymore, and you could easily label yourself as a “cybersecurity-centred developer.”
  • Cloud security architects: Cloud platforms are everywhere, and securing applications within them still makes banks and healthcare companies shiver in unease. Developing expertise in designing, building, and securing applications in cloud environments (AWS, Azure, and smaller players as well) is a smart move
  • IT administrators: We’re only featuring this one because, from anecdotal evidence, it seems like a good second step in programming for people who only know frontend stuff. These specialists are the backbone of IT infrastructure, managing networks, user accounts, and system security. They don’t “develop” but they know their way with programming languages. You can start here if you need a stepping stone.
  • Machine learning engineers (MLEs): The demand for AI and ML specialists is expanding steadily, with a projected growth of 40% from 2023 to 2027. Superb place to get to if you want a pay raise.
  • Backend developers (complex frameworks): While basic web development might be oversaturated, backend devs skilled in multi-layered frameworks like Spring Boot remain in high demand. Being a frontend dev who can also work with these frameworks will help you become “full stack” all at once. This is how you upskill.
  • Embedded software developers: The highest-paying programming language of 2023 was Zig, a language usually used for embedded software development. Learning Zig is an excellent upskilling step, but you should first look for job ads that require it. Don’t learn it just because.
  • Industry-Specific API developers or integrators: Consider specialising in a particular industry and its APIs. If you’re trying to arrange a meeting with a C-level from a fintech company, she’ll probably have heard about the APIs her business runs on, even if she doesn’t know how to program in Python. Even if you’re already an employee of that company and you’re only doing the frontend, learning how the APIs work will help you understand the full product pipeline.

Find a job on specialised platforms

When you upskill or reskill, do it based on job ads and the market demand. For developers, one shortcut to that is to rely on specialised job boards. One of those platforms is WeAreDevelopers, a developer community that connects the best talent in Europe with companies in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and other European countries.

Check out our job board to find jobs at European companies that match your skills and preferences. Good luck!

Why Upskilling And Reskilling is Important For Developers

May 6, 2024
min read

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