Training: Educating the Technology Workforce

Part of that growth comes from the nature of IT jobs: IT professionals keep getting new technologies thrown at them, which they must master. Then there’s the issue of retaining their jobs, or someday finding a new one. Finally, there is the fact technology professionals themselves – or at least a sizable chunk of them – see training and certifications as important ways to make sure they stay current with the demands of their current jobs and are marketable for future roles.

From a corporate perspective, training remains popular as a way to make the existing workforce more productive. Says IDC: "Certification sponsors are beginning to market certifications as helping enterprises maximize the value of IT investments. Teams with a higher percentage of certified members outperform teams with fewer certified members."

Finally, technology executives see training, even in a downturn, as a way to help make their company stand out. "When the times get tough, a lot of companies look for things to differentiate themselves, for example through their security, healthcare informatics, networking, or programming," says CompTIA’s Erdle. "So people will often jump in and look at certifying themselves with pertinent IT certifications."

Roles and Career Paths

To become a trainer, you might work for a large technology vendor with its own training organization or certification program (IBM, Microsoft or Sun), for a third-party training firm (such as Global Knowledge, Learning Tree or New Horizons), or for product-independent organizations (such as the SANS Institute). Typically, you’ll teach course modules developed by others, though some positions involve developing the core materials, which may then be passed to third-party training firms. If you’re a full-time employee of a training organization, expect to travel a lot.

Many training professionals prefer to work as self-employed instructors. They may develop and teach their own modules, and perhaps teach other trainers to deliver them. That’s because when a new product comes to market, a high technology company (at least a smaller one) will usually want a large number of training courses to happen simultaneously, so they can quickly build customer loyalty.

Whether working for yourself or others, one of the virtues of training is that you can do it part-time, combining it with a day job. "I did this, and took the time off as annual leave, or leave without pay," says information security expert Fredrick Avolio, who is based in Woodbine, Md. "You need to do the math, of course, and make sure it’s worth it. Depending on the subject matter, it’s usually is a good value proposition."

Some IT professionals purposefully combine training and consulting, finding that one helps reinforce the other. For example, Joel Snyder, senior partner at consulting firm Opus One in Tucson, Ariz., has worked with a number of information security startups  – or startup groups within larger organizations –  to develop training modules and then teach them to trainers. "Once you become really expert in a product, that begins to open up consulting opportunities with the vendors as well, either because you¿re so good that they begin to recommend you for consulting projects, or they bring you in-house to get your insights for future products."

You can become a trainer fresh out of college, especially if you have college experience in a relevant IT discipline, such as the help desk, networking or information security. But to become a self-employed trainer, lots of experience helps. Avolio, for example, says he began by giving one-hour talks at events hosted by his then employer, Digital, and slowly establishing himself "as a credible subject matter expert and a good instructor." Once he has done that, he proposed and taught half-day and full-day courses outside the company.

Mixing training with an IT day job or consulting career also helps keeps you abreast of technology changes. "When I (became self-employed) full-time, I found a mix of consulting, teaching, and writing kept me fresh," says Avolio.

Beyond continuing to master the relevant subject matter, you will also need to hone your ability to teach sometimes difficult and dense material to a paying audience. To learn the basics of teaching, Snyder recommends a master’s-level course in pedagogy, as well as continually seeking out great instructors and practicing your delivery skills and techniques.

Skills and Qualities

  • Passion for a particular technology area
  • Skilled at helping people learn
  • Dynamic in-person persona
  • Excel at communicating essential details to others
  • Effective classroom management (crowd control)
  • Patience