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.


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