Non-IT Training for IT Staff – It Matters

IT Training (the norm)

I’ve worked in IT for more than 20 years, with most of that being in higher education at the University of Tennessee. We’re a state-funded university, and the training “budget” (when there even was one) in the various groups I’ve worked for has never been what I’d call large, and for many years I would have said it was non-existent.

Still, I’ve been sent to numerous IT training classes or conferences over the years – most funded by my group/unit, with a couple funded by a vendor. While working on the HelpDesk, I volunteered to attend, along with a few other people, evening classes over a six month period of time, to get my MCSE, way back in the Windows NT 4 days. Since then, I’ve attended Microsoft, Citrix, and VMware classes, and attended a handful of conferences, including MMS, Synergy, TechEd, Ignite, and Dell World.

I worked for various incarnations of the central IT organization for UT Knoxville for 17 years. During that time, I received the bulk of the IT training I refer to above, and I’m grateful for it. With the possible exception of a couple of Microsoft courses delivered by professional trainers in the early 2000’s whose primary skill seemed to be the ability to read the official courseware out loud, every class and conference I’ve ever attended has made me a better IT Administrator.

Non-IT or “Soft Skills” Training (not the norm)

I work at a university, so it wouldn’t be fair to say that I’ve never received any non-IT training until recently. But I believe choosing to work on a second BA in Creative Writing using my (then) university-granted fee waiver benefit was fundamentally different from what I’m about to write about.

Since 2013, I’ve worked for the UT Institute of Agriculture, and my boss, our CIO, places a high value on developing his employees not to be just better technologists, but better leaders. Given that, he asked me last year if I’d like to attend the Dale Carnegie Course. I knew he’d sent a couple of my coworkers through the course before I was hired, so I said sure.

I remember thinking in vague terms that this course, as many people do, was mostly about  helping people become better public speakers. I’ll write more specifically about the course someday, but let’s just say calling the Dale Carnegie Course a public speaking class would be like calling Walt Disney World a place with a few neat rides. Sure, it is, but it’s so much more than that.

The Dale Carnegie Course may not have taught me anything directly related to doing my IT job in a technical sense, but I can say without hesitation that it didn’t just help me become a better employee and a better member of my group – it’s helped me be a better person. After missing a session due to some work travel, I recently made up that last session and graduated from the course.

What’s so awesome about working for the Institute of Agriculture and UT Extension is that this sort of training and professional development is promoted throughout our organization. My boss paid for some of this course from our group’s budget, but he didn’t have to pay for the whole thing because I applied for and received the Lloyd and Nettie Downen Endowment Fund Leadership Enhancement Award. That $1,000 award covered about 60% of the cost of the course.  I continue to be impressed with how much of an investment the leadership at the Institute places in developing its employees.

My Advice

If you’re a manager of IT people, consider investigating non-IT training that may benefit your employees. If you’re an individual contributor, look for a course (I can highly recommend the Dale Carnegie Course) and see if your boss might be willing to fund it. We may all work in IT, but so much of what we accomplish in our jobs is impacted by and dependent on the relationships we have at work – with coworkers, partners, leadership, customers. Learning about new technologies can pay off well. Learning softer skills can pay off even more.





I’m actually more proud of this certificate than I am of either of the two diplomas I have for my degrees.



My coworker, Daniel Hinton, and I attended the Dale Carnegie Course together.


A [very late] Update on Carpal Tunnel

Last year I posted that I had to take an unplanned break from blogging. That break lasted longer than I expected on this blog, although I did manage to post periodically on my food blog, Geek Food Critic.

Well, I’m back with a short update on what happened, how I dealt with the continued issue of RSI/carpal tunnel syndrome, and word that I’m once again participating in the 30 day blog challenge #vDM30in30.

The Medical/Body Side of Things

As of last December, I was waiting to see a specialist. I managed to finally get an appointment with him in late December. I saw an orthopedic surgeon who had actually performed an operation on my wife’s elbow, and she liked him a lot. I did too, although I didn’t really enjoy the nearly two hour delay in being seen the day of my appointment. He was apologetic, however, and I could tell the delay was due to how much time he spends with each patient.

I described my pain, numbness, and tingling to him and he did several manipulations and tests of my hand and fingers. I ended up getting a cortisone (I think) shot that day, and let me tell you, that was both terrifying, as someone who isn’t fond of needles, and oddly pain-free, thanks to some sort of magic cold spray the nurse used on my wrist. After a day or two the shot kicked in and it was like magic. My hand and wrist felt better than it had in years. I kept using the various trackballs and even the Evoluent mouse my boss ordered for me, but figured I might be able to just go back to my usual Logitech mouse.

Wrong. The magic wore off three weeks to the day from getting the shot, and the pain was even worse than before.

So I went to see the doctor again, but first I saw another doctor to have some sort of strange electro-shock torture test done on my hands and arms. I believe this test measured the time it took electrical impulses to travel up and down my arms and hands and fingers, and would have been required by my insurance company (oh how I love my health insurance company) before any possible surgery to address the carpal tunnel syndrome.

Except it turned out that the test was fine, mostly anyway, and showed no serious nerve damage. I asked the doc if that meant I’d just caught this early enough that none had occurred yet and he said that was possible. He didn’t recommend surgery, which was fine with me because I don’t want to be cut open if it isn’t absolutely necessary. So I got another cortisone shot, with an explanation that he really only recommended 2-3 of those in a calendar year, so hopefully this one would last longer.

And it has – right up until this week. That familiar pain and tingling is starting to come back, so I would imagine I have another trip to the doc and at least one needle in my wrist in my near future.

The Tech Side of Things

So what have I been using or avoiding in trying to deal with this issue over the last year? I ended up trying multiple trackballs, a Logitech trackpad, the Evoluent wireless mouse, and what I settled on for regular use at home and at work for a while was the Logitech M570.



At home I adapted to using the M570 for gaming for a few months, but I noticed some discomfort after an hour or so, so I’ve mostly stopped gaming on the PC on a regular basis. That meant I used either my MacBook Pro or my iPad Pro at home, and over the last few months, I’ve used the iPad Pro almost exclusively. It’s easier on my hands and it’s plenty powerful enough to do what I need to do. I’ll be finishing this blogpost later tonight on the iPad, in fact.

At work, I use the M570 almost all the time when I’m using my MacBook Pro at my sit/stand desk. Recently, for at least 1-3 hours every day I have to work with a PC to work with networking and security equipment, and while doing that I use my old Logitech mouse, but I try to grip it lightly and take my hand off it and use the keyboard as much as possible. Typing that out makes me realize I need to just put in an order for another M570 for the PC – thankfully they’re cheap.

I use my MacBook Pro rarely in meetings at work – it’s a 15″ beast, after all. For most meetings I use my 9.7″ iPad Pro with the Logitech Create case.

Supplements I’m Taking

Something I hadn’t tried by last December but did start by the time I saw the ortho doc was taking a couple of supplements based on recommendations from friends who had dealt with carpal tunnel syndrome. I’ve taken Tumeric in capsule form twice daily for the last 11 months, as well as a B12 vitamin every day. I’m not sure if they’ve helped, but from what I’ve read they both help with inflammation.

So What Comes Next?

I don’t know, but I’m going to start using an M570 on my PC at work and hope that reduces the irritation of using a normal mouse as much as I’ve been doing lately. I’m also very close to going all iPad all the time at home, given my disappointment with Apple’s latest and very late new MacBook Pros.

If that helps, great. If it doesn’t, I’ll see my ortho doc again and see how another cortisone shot works. I’d like to think that surgery isn’t in my future, but the truth is I use my hands all day every day to make my living, and I’m not sure what else I can do to lessen the impact of all of the repetitive and stressful movements I make doing my job.