The End of One Era and the Beginning of Another

Once again a friend knew of a very small training company who was looking for a PC instructor, so I went to interview with Aggie, whose husband worked for AT&T, and AT&T was one of Aggie’s clients. So I passed the test and she hired me. I was starting to get the picture. Small companies hired trainers and leased them to larger companies who provided clients, books, and classrooms. These larger companies also had their own trainers, but the small companies took care of the overflow work that the large companies couldn’t afford to keep on staff.

At one point Aggie referred me to a friend of hers with a larger company to interview for a training job for a two-week stint in Leesburg, Virginia. They were desperate to hire a trainer because this was Friday and the job started Monday. Needless to say, I got the job and walked out of there with almost a ton of books that I had to prep over the weekend.

The ultimate client was the US Department of Agriculture. As I recall, because honestly, it was a blur, it was two weeks of training tailored to get 30 USDA people up to speed in … something? After dinner in the cafeteria, we would meet every night until about 7 p.m. going over practical examples of the day’s training. Then, I would go back to my dorm room and prep until 2 in the morning for whatever the hell I was teaching the next day. All in all, it was a great experience and I survived with flying colors.

Welcome to the big leagues!

Shortly after I returned to work for Aggie, someone else from her friend’s company called me and offered me a job teaching for Shell Oil for the entire summer. The catch? It was in Nigeria. I could find it on a globe or a map, but that’s all I knew about it.

This new contact was named Rotimi and we became fast friends. He was a Nigerian national and had his own company where if there was a buck to be made, he would find a way. Nothing illegal, but in computing. He earned his Ph.D. through a free ride as a result of an enterprise application he wrote for the ambulance dispatch system while a student in London.

Jacquie, Rotimi and I were the three trainers. We each had our own classroom and had our students for one week, then we’d get another batch of students. And so it went.

There was also an interesting problem. In Nigeria, the milk is not pasteurized. And every day we would have lunch at the Shell Club, a kind of private banquet room for Shell employees. And every day I would finish off my lunch with ice cream.

Do you know what it’s like to have diarrhea for weeks on end? I do. It wasn’t until the last week when I had a couple of Dutch expats in my class who said to me, “What are you, a bloody fool, you’re eating the ice cream!”

I made a deal with my body: I stopped eating ice cream and diarrhea stopped killing me. This was the origin of my first big mantra: “Pay Attention.”

My second mantra just popped into my head one day and could be a bit of a corollary to the first: “Anything is easy — once you know how.”

For example, try to remember a time when you couldn’t tie your shoes, or write or use a fork. But now that you know how to do those things, easy right? Calculus, not so much. But then I never really learned how to do calculus, so that’s my excuse for why it’s not easy now.

Anyhow, learning many things about the larger world and making terrific friends, this eventually ended well also. When I got back to the USA, I found that Aggie had gone out of business and I was looking for work again, just like showbiz.

As luck would have it, I auditioned (interviewed and did a training demo), for a computer training role at AT&T. They have their own internal Training Division (the PDC, Professional Development Corporation) and that’s where I got my next job.

After spending a couple of years there, I left and started to focus on my company. I got a lead from a friend of a friend in California who was looking for trainers for a company that was a subsidiary of IBM.

My new company became the go-to guys as trainers for Catapult as they tried to establish a foothold on the East Coast anywhere from Boston to DC to Philadelphia and Albany and all points between. We were off to the races!

Early on, my Catapult contact, Lyla, asked if I’d ever heard of Lotus Notes. When I answered in the negative, she said, “You should look into it. I think it would really help you.”

So I did and it did. I spent the money to become a Lotus Business Partner, bought a new server and installed it, administered the server and developed a Lotus Notes system so that my instructors could get all the information they needed for all of their classes through Lotus Notes, instead of email or phone calls. I tracked book inventory, instructor availability, directions to sites, etc. What’s more, I was becoming enamored of Lotus Notes. I even got to apply my 2nd favorite showbiz talent, writing, to preparing User Guides and in-depth training manuals.

Eventually, another client offered to pay for my Microsoft training if I would become a Microsoft Certified Trainer for his company, so I did. (Who am I to question the wisdom of others?) At that point I started teaching Lotus Notes Development courses, Lotus Notes Administration courses and Microsoft networking courses all over the US, Canada, and the UK. This was a critical factor in my career development.

I managed to grow the company to 25 contract trainers because I hired dedicated, professional people and maintained that standard with “train the trainers” and vigorous support for their efforts. And remember Irene? She came onboard as one of my best word processing trainers!

But when most clients started asking us to dilute the quality of our training with questions like, “Can you teach an intro class in the morning and then an advanced class to the same people in the afternoon?” I decided that as a business, it wasn’t worth it anymore, so I closed the training company and opened a consulting company primarily for Lotus Notes but also Project Management, documentation, website development, documentation, analysis and more.