Recently, I’ve been getting a number of e-mails from folks who want to become trainers and don’t know how to get started. Their questions have run the gamut from “What courses should I take?” to “Should I go to college?” I am always hesitant to give career advice for two reasons:

  • Choosing a career is one of the two or three most important decisions you’ll make in your life and should be based on more than a column from some guy you don’t know.
  • My own path into my various careers has been, shall we say, unorthodox. I fell into computer training through the grace of God, found out I liked it, and have continued to do it through a number of life changes. I know now that teaching is just part of who I am; but when I first got into it, I was just looking for a job that would pay the bills, which is actually one of the worst reasons to get into training.

All that having been said, there may be some insights I can share that will help you in your own decision about whether to choose technical training as a career.
This week’s column lays out some questions for you to consider before you make up your mind to become a technical trainer. Next week, I’ll give you some advice on moving forward once you have actually decided to go into training.
Know thyself
It sounds like such a cliché, but before you decide on training (or anything else) as a career, you’ve got to take a good hard look at yourself. What do you enjoy? What drives you crazy? Can you put up with the basic realities of the job, or will you decide after some period of time that you can’t stand it anymore?

Here’s my top ten list of self-exam questions for anyone thinking of going into training. Rate yourself 1 to 10 on each, with 10 being the “teaching is your destiny” end of the scale.

  1. How much teaching or coaching have you done in the past? The question here is experience: Do you have enough to judge your response to typical training situations? I include the word “coaching” because teaching comes in lots of shapes and sizes. Lecturing a class, private lessons, helping a co-worker with a computer issue—all of these are forms of teaching. Obviously, formal teaching experience is wonderful to have; but some great trainers had never led a class until they got into technical training.
  2. Do you like people? Let’s be blunt: Some folks get into technology because they would rather work with a machine than with people. Nothing wrong with that—it’s just the way some people are. But, it can be a major drawback for a teacher.
  3. Do you enjoy helping others? This isn’t the same as the previous question. Do you get a kick out of assisting someone else with a problem, or does it seem like an inconvenience, an interruption? I know many folks who enjoy being with other people, but who really don’t like helping others. They do it, but they don’t get any fulfillment out of it.
  4. Do others tell you that your explanations are clear and easy to understand? In other words, do you have a knack for getting across tech info without jargon? Can you explain networking, for example, without using words such as “protocol”?
  5. Are you patient with people who know less than you do? The rubber meets the road here. Most of your students are intelligent but ignorant; they don’t lack for brains, just knowledge. That’s why they’re in class. If you treat these folks as if they‘re stupid, you’ll fail as a teacher.
  6. Are you patient with stupid people? I said before that most of your students aren’t stupid, just ignorant. Unfortunately, you’ll get a few stupid ones as well. You will explain something, and every student but one will get it and nod, but that one person won’t get it, no matter what you say or do. You’ve got to be able to deal with these folks . If you can’t stand stupid people, stay away from teaching.
  7. Can you teach the same material over and over and still make it interesting and vital? You will be asked to teach a given course, and if you do it well, you will be asked to teach that same course over and over. Even though it’s the 20th time for you, it’s only the first for the students. Can your teaching match their expectations?
  8. Do you like to travel? You may wind up teaching at one facility all the time (lucky you!), but if you are like many of us, you will travel quite a bit. If you are young and have no family, lots of travel may be great. For some of us, missing yet another soccer game or birthday party can be frustrating.
  9. Do you enjoy learning new technology? My first experience with computers was as a hobby, and I still have much of the hobbyist’s passion about technology. I enjoy installing and learning new products; I actually like to read the manuals. If you don’t, you’ll have a hard time dealing with the ongoing need to keep up.
  10. Why are you doing this? I’ve said this before, but if your only reason for going into training is the money, then please, for the good of the students and for the reputation of the field, stay the heck out of it. Become a day trader, open a restaurant, win the lottery—just don’t go into teaching. I graduated from college with fellow education majors who hated kids, hated learning, and hated teaching, yet they still became teachers because it was “easy money” and they “couldn’t think of anything else to do.”
    If you don’t get a kick out of helping people learn; if you don’t live for the moment when that light goes on in a student’s eyes as he or she “gets it” for the first time; if you aren’t excited about technology and helping people use it intelligently—then stay out of teaching.

The answer is…
Those were just ten good starter questions. I could go on, but ten is a nice round number. If your ratings total 50 or less, I’d say you’d better look into that day trading thing. If they’re between 50 and 75, you’re probably a good candidate for the classroom, but you might want to find a way to do a “dry run” first. Team-teach with someone, or ask if you can lead one module of a class. If you gave yourself over 75, you’re either fooling yourself or you are excellent trainer material. You should consider it a possible career choice.

One other thing: The proof is in the pudding. The mark of a good teacher is that people learn, period. If you’ve never taught and have no feedback to go on, try to find some opportunities without quitting your day job. Trust me: You and your students will know pretty quickly whether or not you should be up in front of the class.

Next week: You’ve decided to get into technical training. Now what? Check back with us to find out.

Bruce Maples is a trainer, writer, and consultant living in Louisville. His latest project is a virtual reality classroom filled with the stars from Dumb and Dumber. If you’d like to comment on this article, please click on the link below.