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How Do You Learn?

An Interview with Michael Colella, Information Technology Manager at Maher & Maher

As Chief Learning Officer at Maher, I like to connect with team members on how they view professional development and how they develop themselves.

Michael Colella joined Maher in March of this year as our Information Technology (IT) Manager. I wanted to get his perspective on development as a systems and technology expert.  He was ready and willing to let me pick his brain—thank you Mike!

Question: “Why do you think professional development is so important today?”

In our age of technology and connectivity the business landscape has become extremely competitive. Successful businesses aim to acquire the most talented individuals to drive innovation. Companies often expand their talent pool search by offering employees the ability to work remotely.  With an expanded talent pool for employers to choose from, it also means that job seekers need to up their game. The rapid evolution of the workplace, much of it fueled by technological advancements, also means employees need to continuously develop their skills to perform in their current roles as well as advance their careers.

Question: “Is there anything unique to IT personnel in the way they learn?”

I don't think so. I think individuals have their own preferences for learning (some are more visual learners, some prefer reading/studying, some like to just jump in and do stuff, etc.). This is more due to the individual/personality. IT folks can be pretty diverse. I think there used to be the perception that we are all introverts and like to keep to ourselves; but in my experience, I wouldn’t say that. I haven't come across anything that I could point out as unique regarding how we as an IT community learn. 

Question: “Who do you feel should be accountable for development?”

Without any question, I would say yourself first. Individuals need to take ownership of their own career paths and development. I think it’s in a company’s best interest to encourage employee development and provide opportunities for it. However, I’d compare development to motivation. A leader can and should create an environment that is conducive to motivation and use engagement strategies, but a leader can’t force someone to be motivated. I believe the only true form of motivation is self-motivation. Similarly, a leader can provide guidance, opportunities, tools, and encouragement for employee development. However, the individual has to realize the importance of development, embrace those opportunities, and take accountability.

Question: “How do you develop yourself professionally? How do you advance your knowledge base and skills?”

Attending seminars and conferences, self-study and certification, and leveraging my professional peer network are all avenues for my professional development and expanding my industry knowledge.

For example, I attended the AWS (Amazon Web Services) Summit on July 11, 2019 at the Javits Center in NYC. This event provided the opportunity to network with the cloud computing community and meet with other technology providers. Technical sessions and workshops were held, and I had the opportunity to talk directly with AWS experts.

Some of the technology VARs (Value-added resellers) I partner with (for example, Red8 and CDW) often host free events that may cover a specific product or service or introduce you to a multitude of technology vendors. I try to attend these events if the topics are relevant. In addition, because technology resellers can often be biased towards a particular product or service, I’ll reach out to peers in my professional network to hear about their personal experience with a product or to just get their opinion on something. Typically, these are people I’ve worked closely with in the past and trust.

I also completed a video-based MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) produced by www.acloud.guru to prepare for taking an AWS certification test. After watching the training videos, studying using a flash card app I installed on my iPhone, and taking many free practice tests, I successfully passed the AWS Solutions Architect - Associate certification exam.

I’ve talked a lot about technology. That doesn’t mean I don’t think soft skills (time management, communication, etc.) and leadership skills are very important too. They are. You need these to be an effective individual and team contributor regardless of role in your organization.

I think it is important to continuously develop new skills especially in the field of technology where things change at about the speed of light. In my position, I am a go-to for most things IT. Being aware of the latest industry trends and leveraging modern technology can better help me partner with my colleagues to provide a strategic advantage to our firm and those we serve.

Maher & Maher is a specialized change management and talent development consulting firm based in Neptune, NJ and in Washington, D.C. The Firm’s Private Sector Practice specializes in customized learning design and delivery for the Deathcare, Financial Services, Life Sciences, and Media & Communications industries, and partners with our peers to do the same for government clientele. For more information about our services, visit us at http://www.mahernet.com or call us at 1-888-90-MAHER.

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