Developing Hard Skills with Online Courses

Before we get started, let me take three guesses as to why you’re here…Okay, maybe your program is heavily theory-based and you want some practical experience to complement your schoolwork? No? Maybe you have some of that sweet, sweet practical experience already and now you’re ready to specialize? Or maybe you’re not really interested in a particular niche and just looking to diversify your skillset? Wrong all three times? Well, I’m glad you clicked on this post, whatever your reasons may have been, because I’m about to give you the “one-stop shop” of all time. Seriously, I wish someone had put me on to these years ago…

I’m going to use most of my time here talking about developing technical skills, especially those involving programming languages and platforms for data analytics. BUT most of the resources I’m going to give you (notably MOOCs, Lynda, Udemy) have DEEP catalogues of topics as diverse as nuclear reactor physics to learning Mandarin in a lecture-style webinar. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.  

1. First, you should check out Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) through hosts links to free courses in “computer science, languages, engineering, psychology, writing, electronics, biology or marketing” and much, much more. If you are interested, many programs offer credentialing as well for a fee, but the courses are always free.

2. This one is going to seem obvious but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say YouTube is one of the most underrated resources for online coursework. Everyone knows you can find tutorials on YouTube. Not everyone knows you can find entire courses on there (not just individual lectures – the whole course). As I’m sure you’re aware, videos are generally free but there are always some subscription or “freemium” cost structures as well. One channel that I particularly recommend is StanfordOnline from Stanford University. Topics include (but are not limited to) AI, Machine Learning, Blockchain, and all sorts of other cutting-edge topics for the modern world.

3. Questrom UDC has curated a list resources for concentrations in Music/Entertainment, Accounting, Finance, Operations, Business Analytics, Marketing, Strategy & Innovation, and Information Systems. Although the business school did the heavy lifting here, the vast majority of the resources listed are available to ALL STUDENTS!! I can specifically vouch for the value of certain Lynda and Udemy courses so get in there and check it out.

Speaking of BU-curation, ask your professors about opportunities to learn outside of the classroom. My professor, Greg Page, was the one who introduced me to a number of resources that I recommend in this post. Ask your professors for ideas, too. Remember; you don’t ask, you don’t get!

4. We’re straying away from the freebies now, but I want to recommend Pluralsight: “courses on in-demand topics like cloud, data, security, software development, infrastructure and more.” Pluralsight has a subscription fee model ($29 – $45), which can be a welcome change from the pay-per model of sites like Udemy or Lynda (NOTE: you should be able to access some Lynda courses FREE with your Boston Public Library card) if you are heavily leveraged in time and underleveraged in cash.

5. Similary, DataCamp offers the opportunity to “learn the data skills you need online at your own pace—from non-coding essentials to data science and machine learning” and operates on a subscription model ($0 – $33).

6. Finally, I’m going to throw some tutorial sites at you rapid-fire that helped me when I was first learning to code/learning about spreadsheet models. You ready?


R (recommended IDE: RStudio)

Python (recommended IDE: Jupyter)

SQL (recommended DMS: SQL Server)

Learn about syntax, functions (basic up through complex), database management, and (perhaps most importantly of all) put your new skills into practice via an online emulator. This last is particularly nice if you want to get some hands-on practice without creating your own databases, downloading, and querying SQL Server:

Learn about relational databases and SQL:

For those of you with an advanced understanding of SQL:

Microsoft’s SQL documentation (i.e. SQL Server):

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