Practical Ways to Gain Practical Experience in the Tech Industry

Mar 29, 2024 | Career Advice, Professional Development

Practical experience is where professionals are able to build expertise through closing the gaps between theoretical knowledge and real-world applications. For those who have minimal or no job related experience in an industry but have the knowledge and learned skills to possibly thrive, there are many ways to gain practical experience to showcase that you have the ability to succeed in the assigned tasks and responsibilities. It is important to note that in many industries, especially the tech industry, it can be tough to break into specialized sectors without first scoring that entry-level position. This blog post serves as a beginning point for those who want to be able to showcase their skills and knowledge in ways that will help them in breaking into the tech industry through entry-level positions and titles. It can also serve as a resource to those who are in entry-level positions and are looking for ways to revamp and add to their portfolios to advance their professional careers.

Working on personal side projects, contributing to open-source projects, securing internships, and earning tech certifications are all possible ways in gaining practical experience. Personal side projects can highlight your personal interests and ambition, showing what type of work you excel at and what type of businesses you would want to work with. Internships can be an avenue where people can immerse themselves in practical work environments, learn from industry mentors, and contribute to meaningful real-world projects. Finding open source projects through leveraging online platforms, such as open-source communities, coding forums, and project-based learning websites, can offer a wealth of resources for individuals to collaborate, contribute to real projects, and refine their technical skills in a supportive community setting. Certificate programs offer the opportunity to work on real-world projects under the guidance of seasoned industry experts, allowing participants to gain valuable insights and skills directly applicable to industry demands.

Practical Experience #1: Developing Personal Side Projects 

Personal side projects hold significant importance to the trajectory of a tech professional’s career.  Aligning side projects with personal interests, career goals, and areas of expertise showcase what kind of work an individual excels at, what type of contribution they want to make, and for what kind of business. Despite their informal nature, side projects provide a way to experiment with theoretical knowledge, allowing individuals to explore new technologies, methodologies, and creative ideas beyond the constraints of their day-to-day roles. also helps maintain motivation and engagement through the project’s process. Many individuals complete personal side projects as a way to showcase their ability to do tasks that are in many job applications and by having a solid digital portfolio, these projects can be a great leveraging tool in finding career opportunities and highlighting practical experience. 

Choosing and managing personal side projects while balancing other job commitments requires strategic planning and effective time management. Start small, time block your days, prioritize the projects that showcase the best of your skills, and embrace flexibility. Take a look at these forums for more: tips for managing a side-project with a full-time job and how do you balance your side projects with your main career goals? :r/SideProject.

    Examples of personal side projects

    • Creating a personal website or blog provides an opportunity to hone skills in web development, content creation, and digital marketing.
    • Developing mobile apps or software solutions fosters entrepreneurial mindset, product management skills, and business acumen.
    • Participating in hackathons or coding competitions promotes teamwork, problem-solving abilities, and rapid prototyping skills under tight deadlines.
    practical experience

    Practical Experience #2: Contributing to Open-Source Projects

    Open-source projects are collaborative software development initiatives where the source code is made freely available to the public. They play a pivotal role in the tech community by fostering collaboration, innovation, and transparency and are great ways to gain practical experience. Unlike proprietary software, open-source projects allow anyone to view, modify, and distribute the code, enabling tech professionals of all backgrounds to work together on solving complex problems and creating cutting-edge technologies. Open-source projects cultivate inclusive environments where individuals can come together to share knowledge, support each other, and build professional networks.

    Contributing to open-source projects is a way to gain practical experience because it provides invaluable opportunities for skill development and practical experience, allowing individuals to hone in on coding abilities and gain exposure to industry-standard tools and practices. Contributions to open-source projects can serve as tangible evidence of a person’s skills and commitment to continued learning, enhancing their portfolio and credibility when seeking job opportunities. Additionally, active involvement in open-source communities facilitates networking and mentorship opportunities, enabling career changers to connect with professionals in their desired field and access guidance and support. Moreover, contributing to open-source projects can lead to recognition, reputation building, and career advancement opportunities, such as job offers or freelancing gigs. Several resources and platforms exist to help those interested in gaining practical experience find open-source projects to contribute to. Some popular platforms include: GitHub, GitLab, SourceForge, and First Timers Only.

    Practical Experience #3: Internships

    Internships can play a crucial role in providing hands-on, practical experience for individuals wanting to break into the tech industry. Unlike a traditional education or self-paced learning, internships offer real-world exposure to industry practices, tools, and workflows. They allow interns to apply theoretical knowledge in practical settings, gain insights into the day-to-day operations of tech companies, and develop essential skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, and communication. Internships also provide opportunities for mentorship and networking, enabling individuals to learn from experienced professionals and build valuable connections.

    It’s essential to conduct thorough research when applying for internships. Networking is key, so attending industry events and joining professional groups can help uncover hidden opportunities for practical experience. Utilizing places like LinkedIn can also be helpful as many companies post when they are looking for certain applicants and connecting with professionals who work in the industry you’re interested in is relatively easy. Check out this guide: 20 steps to a better LinkedIn profile in 2024. When applying, tailor resumes and cover letters to highlight relevant skills and experiences, and don’t hesitate to showcase those personal projects or contributions to open-source initiatives. Prepare for interviews by practicing technical skills, demonstrating problem-solving abilities, and showcasing enthusiasm for the role and company. Finally, be proactive in following up on applications and seeking feedback, as persistence and determination can often lead to internship offers in the competitive tech industry landscape. 

    **It is important to note that internships can be either unpaid or paid and it is key to look out for these differences when applying; check out this helpful guide: Paid vs. Unpaid Internship: Key Differences Between Them |

    Practical Experience #4: Earning Tech Certifications

    Earning a tech certificate provides a practical way to gain experience due to its hands-on nature and focus on real-world skills. These programs often offer interactive learning environments where students engage with practical exercises, simulations, and projects that mirror industry scenarios. Through this, learners not only acquire theoretical knowledge but also develop essential problem-solving abilities and technical competencies directly applicable to their chosen field. Many tech certificates frequently integrate industry-relevant tools and technologies, enabling learners to familiarize themselves with current trends and practices in the tech sector. 

    As a vocational tech school, we provide our students with industry experts as their instructors who provide real-world experience and knowledge throughout the certificate. With our certificate programs being fully online, the flexibility of online learning allows our students to balance their studies with other commitments, fostering a conducive environment for skill acquisition and application. Check out the certificate programs we offer: DWC Certificate Programs  & check out what our alumni have said about their learning experience: Testimonials.

    Practical experience provides hands-on exposure to real-world challenges, technologies, and workflows, allowing individuals to apply theoretical knowledge in practical settings. These couple of ways to gain practical experience enables professionals to build a portfolio of projects, contributions, and accomplishments, which serves as tangible evidence of their skills and capabilities to potential employers. And since these ways often lead to networking opportunities, mentorship, and industry connections, doors can open to job opportunities, collaborations, and career advancement. Whether through internships, personal side projects, open-source contributions, or certifications, practical experience offers invaluable learning opportunities, skill development, and professional growth. Embracing these opportunities allows career changers and advancers to build relevant skills and demonstrate their abilities to prospective employers.