At a recent networking event, I was asked that predictable question: "What do you do?" This was followed by: "How did you get into software training?"
My honest answer was "by accident"; but instead of asking "what" or "how", they should have asked me "why?".
Fourteen-year-old me would never have dreamt that training – a form of teaching – would be something I could or would want to do. My schooldays weren’t unhappy: I had a great group of friends; I enjoyed sports, making it on to many of the teams and winning trophies; and I was a prominent member of the music and drama departments, often to be found performing. However, I was far from academic.
While I have never been diagnosed with dyslexia, I struggled with spelling and reading throughout my school and college life. This had a huge impact on all other school subjects outside drama, music and PE. When the class were told to "read the text and answer the questions below" in a history lesson, I was very aware that I was the last to start the questions and I never finished them – not because I couldn’t but because my reading was so slow, and it took too long to understand the text before I ran out of time. This resulted in a grade ‘D’.
In this position, after a while a person begins to believe they aren’t any good at any subject. Chemistry and biology were equally challenging for me. Have you seen how some of those words are spelt? And forget French! Since I couldn't spell and read well in English, how on earth was I going to manage in another language? I actually did okay at Maths, as numbers were logical and came easily to me – although, after two years sitting next to one particular friend in lessons, you wouldn’t have known it from my results!
With the stage being my "happy place", when I left school I headed for a career singing and dancing. Sadly, my performing arts career was cut short through a vocal injury, and I ended up taking a temp job on a systems helpdesk... where I accidentally found "my thing"! I discovered that computer systems didn’t need me to spell well, read or understand grammar… they were logical, like maths, and I "got" how they worked. And then I discovered that I also had a knack for being able to explain and share this with others in a way that made sense to them.
I have seen the panic in the eyes of people faced with a computer system, and been able to relate it back to the panic I felt when our RE teacher said: "Christine, you will read the first two pages out loud to the class."
People walk into the training room, which is often set up like a classroom, and, if it's not panic I see, it's apprehension at returning to learning. I’ve also seen people become overwhelmed as they try to link workflows and manual processes they know well on a computer screen with multiple tabs, pages and areas.
It has been this understanding and feeling of empathy that has made me strive to ensure everyone who comes into a learning experience with me is given the time and space to forge their own learning journey.
If people learning with me don’t understand something I have explained, I see it as my responsibility to explain it in as many different ways as necessary, so they can learn. Why? Because they are experts in their own area. They are great travel agents, outstanding hotel sales teams or amazing administrative support staff. They are not experts in the software they are learning – I am!
So it's my job to help them learn in a safe and fun environment the tools they need to do their work more effectively. We all have different learning styles, so I plan courses to cover a variety of styles and formats, because there is no right or wrong way to learn – there is just your unique way as an individual.
There are no "stupid questions" – the only sign of being daft is not asking a question if you don’t understand something. From my experience, there are always a few others in the room who are pleased to hear the question asked!
Software solutions are implemented to make tasks easier or quicker. They should not be a cause of fear or frustration and I personally strive to remove all of that from my sessions. Many experts will call themselves trainers or teachers but that doesn’t guarantee that working with them will enable you to learn and apply new skills; so now, if I am asked what I do, instead of why I do it, I say "I bring a human element to facilitate learning in the world of software."
I do still find it strange that my frustrations during my schooldays inadvertently helped to shape the way I can support others on their learning journey today. They are why I do what I do...
Why do you do what you do?