In college, you usually have a lot of free time to do extra stuff.
You can choose between many things – like pitting your wits against friends while playing an exciting network game, or spending hours on Facebook.
How about using that time to gain the edge over your peers in terms of technical skills?
Here’s what I've found useful:
vWorker used to be an excellent site to practise your skills and earn some bucks at the same time. As a student, I've picked up projects from vWorker.com related to my course content and benefited greatly.
vWorker has been acquired by Freelancer.com, which itself has had a decent reputation, though the rules are stricter.
Another similar site is oDesk.
I would advise you to avoid big risks on these sites – you don’t want to gain a bad reputation on there.
Online Course Sites
Use the MIT OpenCourseWare and IIT NPTEL to complement your ongoing classes. It works great if you study in advance yourself before content is taught in class – you come better prepared for newer lessons.
A revolutionary trend in online education today is the massive open online course (MOOC) where the learners and course content are spread across the globe. These courses can take you very close to the real deal of enrolling as regular students at the world's leading universities.
In the MOOC category, Coursera offers courses with assignments that need to be submitted before particular dates – this should be more effective if you need some help getting organized.
Another amazing option is edX, a collaboration between MIT, Harvard and UC Berkeley.
Yet another option called Udacity promises to bring world-class education at your fingertips.
If you're looking for courses and would like to choose from several universities at once, the Open Education Database's search feature will come in handy.
This is an excellent place for many things: teaching others, learning from others, bridging the gap between college and the industry, and vastly improving your written communication skills.
For full fledged online discussions, Usenet forums are the best. To access Usenet, get a newsreader like Thunderbird, and configure it to use the nntp.aioe.org news server. Next, subscribe to the newsgroups of your interest. Note that you can also access and make posts using Google Groups, but that’s usually not recommended, because of the amount of spam that originates from there.
Listed below are some of the more active newsgroups, along with links to their Google Groups online interfaces:
If it’s a technology that’s driven by a particular company, like ASP.NET by Microsoft, the official forums might be more active than Usenet.
Blog about what you learn. Blog your troubleshooting steps in solving a tough problem. Once you blog, you will learn how to express yourself better, and will improve your writing skills! Once you get a good following, you could try your luck with some advertising methods and make some money too!
Look out for programming contests
If you think you’re an excellent and fast programmer, you could definitely try your hand at contests such as Google’s Code Jam contest, among others. Alternatively, you could try some of the easier ones which are technology related but don’t really need hardcore (and fast!) programming skills.
Look for contests that actually utilize your skills – not those that only require you to share, like, +1, tweet and pin.
Here’s a quick summary of the options, with their pros and cons:
||Sometimes it can get a bit unethical – especially when you do someone’s homework in its entirety and get paid for it!|
|Self-paced Online Courses||You have access to the study material from the world’s best colleges.||Self-motivation can become a big problem|
|Instructor-paced Online Courses||
||Sticking to the routine may not be easy, and requires will power!|
|Usenet||You get to interact with some brilliant, purist programmers from around the world.||Sometimes, discussions erupt into angry flame wars.|
||Self-motivation is a problem if you don’t love writing :)|
|Programming Contests||Great way to win free stuff and get your name heard!||Can get tough if you’re not too fast, for contests that demand speed!|