Professional development activities are a great way to improve at your current job and to uncover new ideas that might help your clients and advance your own work. Consider professional development a way to add dimension to your career, skill set, and network without changing jobs. Let’s not forget another big reason for professional development: trying new stuff is fun. In this post, I’ve outlined a few ideas to get you thinking about professional development; my list is a little skewed toward Chicago since it’s the city I know best.
Attend or Speak at a Conference
If you don’t like speaking, consider attending a conference—it’s a great way to stay current and connect with peers. If you don’t mind being the person behind the podium, consider submitting a proposal for a speaking opportunity. Lanyrd is a great resource for identifying conferences connected to different areas of interest and industries. As a creative person who works in the web I recommend An Event Apart and SXSW. Keep in mind that if you don’t have a history of speaking, your submissions aren’t likely to be accepted at very exclusive conferences—you may have to start with submissions to smaller and more regional or niche-interest conferences.
Try Out a Coworking Space
A coworking space is a great way to meet people and discover new ideas. Chicago offers the well-reputed and design-oriented Coop and 1871, a space focused on startups. Some cities have coworking groups for nomadic workers to discuss different spaces and interests. Most offer day passes so you can use a coworking space as a once-in-a-while getaway from your routine setup.
Attend a Local Event or Meet Up
Local chapters of organizations such as the AIGA offer quality events to designers, and you don’t have to be a member to attend most of them. If you’re a developer living in a city, it’s not hard to find local groups like Chicago’s Drupal Meet Up Group to support your development interests. For a more casual approach, look for local meetups or start you own. If you live in a city, it’s not hard to find sponsored social events for creative professionals, such as the Chicago Interactive Social Club.
Take a Class or a Free Course
Coursera, edX and Yale all offer free online courses. Consider creative offerings that might be related to your field like Gamification, or branch off into interests that aren’t directly related to your field. If you’re looking for certification or credit courses, you’ll have to narrow your search; most universities now offer online courses. If you want an in-class experience, you can also consider private organizations like Chicago’s Digital Bootcamp.
Hire a Professional Coach
If you’re a creative person with management responsibilities, hiring a career coach is a great way to polish your skills and make sure you recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. You have quite a few options in this category—I recommend looking for a person who has experience with your profession. Most professional or career coaches do the first meeting free so you can discuss the coaching methodology and see if it is a good fit for you.
Dedicated Daily Time with Your Favorite Feeds
One cost-effective way to stay aware of what’s happening in the industry is to set aside a few minutes every day to peruse your favorite news sources. It’s not hard to set up Google Reader or Netvibes to aggregate news sources about your professional interest—the difficult part is following the discipline of keeping up with the sources daily. I set aside 15 minutes at the beginning of my day before I start work to check out my own news collection, glance at the headlines, and bookmark anything worth revisiting as time permits through the day and the rest of the week.
Participate on Social Networks
Chances are you have already have a Twitter account—but how do you use it? Most of the most intelligent and informed people I know in the industry are religious about tweeting and commenting on the blogs of others, or about posting work on platforms; Dribbble, Github, and Forrst are a few examples. Regular participation on blogs or social portfolio sites is a great way to meet new peers. There are also a number of special interest social hubs on the web—mStoner’s own edUniverse is a notable example—designed to facilitate connections with creatives of similar interests.
Volunteer or Pro-bono Work
One way to get professional exposure that differs from your current job is to volunteer your time worthy cause or business. Chicago-based EPIC pairs creative professionals with worthy causes in need of creative services.