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I am an Canadian/American (dual citizen) software engineer who got a promotion last week to level 2 at my company. Along with that comes $2500 in professional development. My problem is that at my company, it resets at the end of February and it is a use it or lose it benefit.

I have always been very self sufficient when it comes to learning, so Udemy and books have always been sufficient for my needs. While I suppose I could expense those, that would still leave a lot of money left over.

I doubt that I can find a part of a Masters degree which I can buy, so I am wondering what other kinds of credential or development I might spend it on. Learning has never been difficult for me, but proving it on a resume has long been a challenge. I am mostly looking for something which provides a recognized credential in one form or another (that also makes it far easier to get approved).

My background. I am a software engineer one year out of my undergraduate degree. My current company uses React and Django along with Postgres, AWS, Jenkins, etc.I don't really know what I want as professional development beyond hackathons was not on my mind until a week ago. Now I have $2500 to use in three weeks. If the program is worth it, I would be willing to put additional money in as well.

How should I use the money or figure out opportunities to use the money?

Thanks

  • What is your question? – PagMax Jan 11 at 2:46
  • @PagMax what should I do to figure out what to do with it? – devdollars Jan 11 at 3:00
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    Did you ask your manager? – Khalil Khalaf Jan 11 at 3:41
  • Have you considered so many course options from Udemy, Courera, Edx. Lot of great certifications will fit well for you in terms of skills and price. – PagMax Jan 11 at 4:20
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    Is there a technical conference you can sign up for? The conference doesn't need to be now, but I'm sure a conference, airline, and hotel, could take your payments now. The only tricky thing with conferences is getting the time off. Also, could you use a public speaking course, a voice coach, an accent coach, or a writing class? Improving your communication skills may count too. – Stephan Branczyk Jan 11 at 4:51
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So your budget resets in three weeks. What you're looking for then, is things that can be paid in advance. That should be doable; most companies, including educators, are happy to take money early.

So what are good kinds of professional development to spend it on? I would look at:

  • Technical training
  • Certification
  • Soft skills
  • University degrees
  • Technical conferences (idea courtesy of Stephan Branczyk)

Technical training

There might be something you've always wanted to learn, and instead of taking a canned online course, you could spend the money on a course with more direct interaction with the teacher. Or take a particular course that always seemed interesting but wildly expensive.

Technical training ties in to certification; if you identify a particular certification as desirable, then take the training for the certificate.

Certification

Certification on the company's dime is awesome. Certification tends to be quite pricey. But it's a benefit to you and to your company.

For you, because it gives you more standing and prospects inside your company, but also value if after a few years you want to leave. (So pay attention to how fast you would need to re-certify.)

For your company, getting you certified helps them sell things to customers. "We can make product X for you because we have Y certified people."

To get an idea of what kind of certification might be relevant, go browse LinkedIn for jobs with your title or a step up on the ladder and look for specific certificates they call for. Also, look for key skills that get called for a lot and then google what the main certifications for that are.

Aside from certification in main platforms with which you build, look for certifications about "process": Scrum or ITIL, certification perhaps, or something related to security, or to testing methodology.

Soft skills

Hard technical skills are only part of professional development. To thrive in a company, you also need soft skills. Leadership, presentation, networking - all of these help your own career, but they also help your company because they make you do better work for the company. So it's legit to spend budget on it.

And don't think "well I'm a generally pleasant person so I already have soft skills". Because the scale goes up, up, up. No matter how good you are, there are people who are significantly better. Giving a presentation in a class in university is not the same as defending a multi-million budget in front of higher management. Those people are jaded, have seen thousands of presentations, and to blow them away you need to up your game.

University degrees

If you inquire, I suspect a lot of part-time programs will allow you to pay in advance.

In the long run, higher degrees will help you if you want to get into the more innovative branches of your company.

Technical conferences

I think these get more interesting if you pursue the MSc++ angle. For an innovative company, it can be good to keep ties with the academic world. If you have contacts with professors it gives you a possible lead on the really good interns, openings to uni/industry collaboration and an idea about upcoming new technologies. Also, recruiting people who are done with their CS Masters/PhD and looking to go into industry. Conferences are a lot about networking, building and maintaining relations.

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    Spent it on some master level courses at a university where I want to earn a Masters degree (they are willing to transfer the courses to the entire degree later) and accepted me paying a semester early. Thanks for the idea. – devdollars Jan 24 at 8:02
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A frame challenge

Don't spend the money just for the sake of it, just because it exists in the budget (just as you wouldn't in your personal life, I expect, if you happened to get an unexpected windfall! You wouldn't say "I received this $200 from an unexpected contractual penalty (or whatever) so now I need to spend it" would you?) I get the feeling that it is 'burning a hole in your pocket' right now.

You don't have $2500 in professional development to use in six weeks or else it will self-combust - as such. Well, technically you could use it, but if you don't have any actual learning needs at the moment... that seems like just a forced spending of money "because you had it".

The bigger picture

... I would suggest you consider that ultimately that $2500 still comes out of the company's finances, so if you are just looking for "something to spend it on" -- it might be a better look for you to save the company money and not just spend the money because you happen to have received an 'entitlement' as part of a technicality with job levels and so on.

I think if you are hoping to be promoted again in the future you should be looking beyond "how can I spend this immediate portion of the budget I may have access to right now to my own advantage" and more to the bigger picture of the company's interests, of e.g. "well, I have access to this but there's nothing I need right now in this business year so I'll decide to let it roll over" (and communicate that decision to your bosses -- where are they in all this?) and in a more generic sense "how can I responsibly use the company's money in the course of my job?"

Conclusion

Treat the company's money as if it were your own. Don't just seek out opportunities to spend it for the sake of it when you didn't previously have any idea of things you would spend it on. Budgetary amounts don't just disappear into the ether of "accounts payable", they are part of the whole system of the company's finances. And of course the smaller the company, the bigger the impact of any individual spending decision. They haven't just "written off" that $2500. They have budgeted for it with the inbuilt assumption that only X% of it (across all employees) will be used in that year.

(I'm curious what you think happens to the money if it doesn't get spent!)

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    You got the budget for professional development, which is supposed to make you a better employee. You're not really helping the company by not using the money to do that. – ObscureOwl Jan 12 at 11:44
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I don't know about you, but I find hard copy books much easier to read than online copies (which sucks as they go out of date quickly).

You could buy several books from O'Reilly.

I also recommend buying The Phoenix Project it's a fictional account of dev ops. An easy and silly read, but good to start a conversation around cultural improvement.

You could donate money to open source projects via OpenCollective - but ask your manager if that's appropriate first.

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