When IT managers take time out to do a training course, the benefits aren’t only in the skills learned from the teacher and course material but also what they learn from their peers.
“Networking” with other IT professionals is a major benefit of training. And many IT managers find they don’t even have to do courses to reap networking gains; they say informal education is just as important — meeting peers at conferences, subscribing to online new services, newsgroups, talking to business unit managers within their own company and to vendors.
Natural Gas technical architect Bernie Goedhart says it’s important to be involved with your peers because that’s where you get a lot of your knowledge from.
“If I’ve had trouble putting in a system, which you’re going to put in, you’d think twice about doing it. So the higher up you get your focus changes from going to varsities and getting courses rammed down your throat to finding out what other people are doing, how they’re doing it, what works, what doesn’t work. And then trying to apply that knowledge back into your organisation.”
Goedhart and Natural Gas CIO Brett Bennett regularly attend IDC functions with other CIOs and technical architects.
“We can sit down next to, for example, people from Contact, and because we’re in a similar industry we can share experiences,” says Bennett.
“A lot of the presentations there are done from someone who’s installed this new system and they tell us how they did it. We may have done the same thing, but it’s always good to hear other people’s experience and problems they’ve struck.”
Goedhart says many vendors provide free seminars on new equipment.
“You don’t have to pay for everything you learn. You go in with your eyes open, knowing it’s a sales pitch.”
Keeping in touch with those in your own company is also important, Goedhart and Bennett say.
“Yesterday, for example, Bernie and I were both up in New Plymouth. In Taranaki we’ve got three sites … so we visited each of those. That’s part of a regular thing we do — talk to our business peers,” says Bennett. “We want to know what they’re thinking about doing and how IT can assist them or problems they’re having with IT ... They’re quite willing to talk to us about the issues they’re having and where we can assist.”
It’s something Gerard McQuilkin, infrastructure manager with Gough, Gough & Hamer in Christchurch, agrees with.
“If you’re not out there talking to those people you lose site of the goal.”
Ian Bell, IT manager with Richmond, is keen on other informal methods of learning.
His department subscribes to a number of listservs, which provide a lot of useful informal information and technical data from other organisations using the same software and running the same environments.
“The web technologies make that vastly easier than it ever used to be.”
He isn’t so keen about the networking side of more formal training.
“I guess it depends on the individual personalities of people. My natural personality is an introvert so I don’t network particularly well. I’m quite happy to do quiet research of my own and come to my own conclusions.”
Associate Professor Lech Janczewski, from the Management Science and Information Systems at the University of Auckland, says people doing its Diploma in Business and MBA in particular “are the breeding ground for networking”.
“Usually people are very shy to say openly that ‘This is the reason why I like coming’ … [but] that definitely is one of those strong drivers.”
Jim Buchan, programme leader for Auckland University of Technology’s Masters of Information Technology, says students seem to enjoy meeting people with different backgrounds and ideas, and even helping each other outside of the course. “You might have one person who’s good at one thing in their work and someone else uses that skill at their work, and so you get those kind of synergies happening.’
He says once people have met face-to-face their relationships continue in online sessions.
“People are very busy so we often have people doing the online stuff late at night or very early the morning. And because of most of it is asynchronous it doesn’t really matter. You still get the interaction happening.”
Victoria University’s Master of Information Management programme director Tony Hooper says networking is essential.
“In the class situation, using mature students who have a lot of experience, the sum total of that experience — just among the students — is far more than any single lecturer can have had.”