A More Informal Approach to IT Training

When we think of training, we typically think of formal training. But Mailtrust, a provider of business e-mail hosting, thinks outside the box. The company takes an unconventional approach to training through its Tech Talks, hour-long presentations in which the company shares information about its technologies with employees, college students and even other IT companies.

“It’s really to create the dialogue around all these interesting technologies,” said Bill Boebel, chief technology officer of Mailtrust. “I’ve seen things like this done in other cities, [and] I’ve just seen the community that [it] creates [as] people start [to know] each other. One of my goals is to bring some of that community around technology to our area.”

An organization might be hesitant to share this information with potential competitors, but that’s not a concern for Boebel. After all, what’s new today is old tomorrow. He’s more concerned with creating a collaborative community.

“Because [of] the speed at which technology [evolves], we can talk about something today, [and] in a year it may be mainstream. In two to three years, it’s obsolete,” he explained. “Internet technologies move very, very fast, and in our business a lot of what we do is already public knowledge.”

Mailtrust encourages its software developers to do the Tech Talks that typically involve a high-level overview of a specific technology.

“Most companies could implement something like this, but I wouldn’t have the IT trainer giving the talks,” Boebel said. “I would recommend that the IT trainers identify experts within their companies that are using a particular database, a programming language or just new technology concepts and have that expert give the talk. The trainer can almost become the facilitator.”

Because the audience most likely has a wide range of expertise, it’s important for the speaker not to dive into too much detail.

“I’d focus more on what the technology is, what applications it can be used for and maybe one or two examples of how it’s been used in the past,” Boebel said. “I’d avoid those low-level details and show the benefits of the technology.”

This forum also can be used within a single company to disperse knowledge about various technologies across departments. Rackspace, Mailtrust’s parent company, is using these talks to do just that.

“At Rackspace, there [are] lots of independent departments, and the employees in those departments don’t interact as often as I’d like to see,” Boebel said. “There’s probably a lot of people working on similar technologies and solving similar problems. The reason [we’re doing this is] to get all the people that might be working on similar technologies interacting, so they can share experiences and learn from one another.”

At the end of the day, companies that do this will develop a more efficient and knowledgeable staff.

“A lot of IT professionals, they’re focused on their day-to-day projects. And their day-to-day projects typically [are] a certain subset of technology,” Boebel said. “This type of forum gets those people exposed to technologies that they may have heard about, but just have no time to use. When they start hearing about these technologies, they might think of creative ways to solve some of their problems, or it can create the desire to learn new things.”

– Lindsay Edmonds Wickman, lwickman@certmag.com

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