May 19, 2024

Innovation & Tech Today

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Online Learning Platforms Transform Tech Career Readiness

In the current job market, the demand for skilled STEM professionals remains high. To shed light on this crucial intersection of education and career readiness, we turn to Dr. Quentin McAndrew, an academic strategist affiliated with the esteemed online learning platform Coursera. Dr. Quentin McAndrew not only brings insights into the current job landscape but also offers valuable tips on skill development and education accessibility. Below are her remarks. 

There’s been a growing demand for technical talent for years, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that computer and IT jobs will grow faster than other occupations in the next ten years. For example, they predict we’ll need 25% more software developers. 

In Colorado, there have been nearly 150,000 job postings for computer scientists and data scientists just in the last year, according to Lighthouse data. Those jobs have a median salary of about $110,000. These technical jobs are plentiful, flexible, and lucrative. All of those are aspects of a good job, but what makes them even more attractive is they’re also vital to our society. As our world becomes increasingly digital, computer scientists, data scientists, and AI specialists will shape our future. 

High Demand Skills and Qualifications

As the demand for digital jobs grows, so does the need for digital skills. In Colorado, computer science, agile methodology, Python, and SQL were the most sought-after skills

The real magic is combining these hard skills with critical human skills. The World Economic Forum ranks analytic thinking, creative thinking, resilience, flexibility, and agility as its top skills. As generative AI transforms jobs, human skills may be the most future-proof. 

I am incredibly passionate about creating more pathways into high-demand fields that offer economic transformation to learners from all walks of life, including unlocking opportunities in computer science, IT, and data science. That’s a big reason I joined Coursera.

While many computer and IT jobs require a bachelor’s degree, that’s just one way to break in. Industry micro-credentials, like the Google IT Certificate, teach you everything you need to succeed in an entry-level job. If you want to advance your career and learn more, you can get credit for that certificate in the University of London’s BSc Computer Science degree. Earning potential increases with education, so the more you learn, the more you earn! For instance, if you have a master’s in computer science, you’ll make about 15% more. It’s all about delivering the right level of education for every stage of a person’s career so that learners can continue to grow and our communities can continue to thrive.

Benefits of Coursera

Open online courses on Coursera are the perfect way to explore an interest and discover what topic you’re most passionate about. There are thousands of courses — many that teach tech skills — from the world’s best universities and companies, like IBM, AWS, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania -– and of course, the University of Colorado! You can even audit many of these courses for free. 

Once you’ve found the path you want to pursue, consider whether a degree or a certificate is the best path forward. Entry-level Professional Certificates on Coursera only take a few months to complete and help you prepare for an entry-level job, which makes them a great way to see a return on your investment quickly.

If you want to take your career to the next level, a master’s degree is likely the way to go. The University of Colorado, Boulder (CU Boulder) has made technical master’s degrees more accessible. They offer performance-based admissions for their online computer science, data science, engineering, and engineering management degrees–which is like an MBA for people interested in technical fields. The curriculum is fully accredited and taught by Boulder’s world-class faculty. 

There’s no difference between the campus and online degree outcomes. Most innovative of all: there’s no application, ever. Students who prove they can do the work by earning a B average or better in three online courses are automatically admitted to the degree. That also means no transcript, no letters of recommendation, GRE scores, or application fees to get in your way. Plus, all the degrees are about $20,000 or less. 

Advice for Job Seekers

My biggest piece of advice is not to wait. There will never be a better moment to start than right now, and the barrier to entry has never been easier. You don’t need to quit your job or uproot your life. Start by setting aside 30 minutes a day. That’s it! Set a timer if it helps you get started. First, focus on finding what path you want to pursue. A career development plan is a great place to start. Then, set your goals, give it everything you have, and tell your community! They’ll be the ones there to cheer you on, keep you motivated, and ensure you hit your goals. 

New Tech To Consider While Job Hunting 

The world is changing faster than ever, and generative AI has the potential to transform every type of job, not just tech jobs. It’s already drastically changed how I work, and the University of Pennsylvania predicts up to 49% of workers could have half or more of their tasks affected by AI. 

Start by leveraging generative AI to boost your productivity. Prompt Engineering for ChatGPT from Vanderbilt University can help with that. Then, especially if you’re in tech, learn as much about AI as possible. Stanford’s 2023 AI Index found the number of AI-related job postings has increased across every sector, and AI and Machine Learning Specialists top the list of WEF’s fastest-growing jobs

The Importance of Continuous Learning

Lifelong learning is no longer optional. Learning new skills is imperative to stay competitive and relevant in the labor market. One of the top skills businesses look for now in employees is curiosity and lifelong learning. Change is the new constant, especially in high-tech industries, and employees must keep pace.

Our 2023 Learner Outcomes Report found online learning has a real-world impact. 77% of learners who completed a course or program on Coursera said what they learned helped their careers, and one in four Entry-Level Professional Certificate completers got a job.

To me, this starts with the fact that you’re learning from the best universities and companies on Coursera. You gain the durable knowledge needed to solve complex problems and practical insights on leveraging the latest tech tools. For example, CU Boulder’s Master of Data Science program integrates the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate into the curriculum. 

Plus, while online learning began as passive (mostly watching videos), it’s now interactive, thanks to technological advances. Students can immerse themselves in real-world scenarios with XR/VR to practice giving or receiving feedback or improving public speaking. Then, with chatbots like Coursera Coach, it’s like every student has an AI teaching assistant available 24/7 to help them learn. The assistant can provide just-in-time contextual reminders to help them get unstuck or explain a concept differently.  These tools ensure students gain job-relevant knowledge and know how to apply it in the real world.

To directly connect learners on Coursera who are looking for a job with leading employers, we recently launched a beta version of Coursera Hiring Solutions. I’m excited to see how this skills-based recruitment service can match industry-trained, job-ready talent with companies filling entry-level digital roles. 

Closing Advice


Your career path does not have to be linear! Mine certainly wasn’t. I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, worked in publishing, and then became a stay-at-home mom. I returned to school and enrolled at CU Boulder, where I earned my Ph.D. and studied 19th-century American literature, copyright law, and the history of the book.

While teaching at CU Boulder, I followed my curiosity when I heard about MOOCs — massive open online courses — which led to me teaching a Business Writing course on Coursera. Everything stemmed from that decision. Now, I work for Coursera while still residing in Colorado! If, like me, you live in Arvada and love it here, the tech jobs of the future will not be location-bound, and neither will your career.

My final piece of advice is to remember when you’re changing careers, you’re not starting from scratch. You bring all your previous jobs’ experiences, skills, and knowledge. Be sure to showcase that when seeking your first job in your field. And, finally, believe in yourself! Get started today on achieving your dreams.

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By I&T Today

Innovation & Tech Today features a wide variety of writers on tech, science, business, sustainability, and culture. Have an idea? Send it to submit@innotechtoday.com

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