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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother | Tag Archive | computer training
Tag Archive - computer training

Don’t Settle for the Horse and Buggy

“When cars began to be sold, my grandmother refused to learn to drive. She said a horse and buggy was ‘good enough,'” a retired lady in a recent Facebook for beginners class told me.

“Cars helped people reach new places faster. Now Facebook helps people do the same. I am going to learn to use it and won’t be like my grandmother,” she continued.

As I teach/coach people to make better use of PC’s and software, I meet many people who have resisted technology and clung to the horse and buggy.

  • It could be someone who distrusts those Excel formulas and relies upon her adding machine tape instead.
  • Sometimes it’s someone who still uses a word processor like a glorified typewriter and doesn’t realize documents could be prepared in half the time and look twice as good with a few word processing basics. 
  • Maybe it’s a salesperson who hasn’t made the leap into social media and sees no value in building stronger relationships with clients and networks via social media.

Once upon a time, that horse and buggy was just fine to venture from one place to another. It still is if you’re Amish or Mennonite.

For the rest of us, choosing the old horse and buggy because it’s “good enough” is going to have one end result:

You’ll be left behind.

  • While you’re taking a few hours to reach the next town, I’m going to be skyping with a friend on the other side of the planet in less than 60 seconds.
  • The hours you spend manually calculating those books because you don’t have time to learn new technology are hours I’m going to spend enjoying time with my family.
  • While you scramble to stay current in your industry, I keep up with the latest changes with strategic targetting of industry thought leaders on Twitter in less than half the time. And I’m probably talking with them too, developing relationships that raise my bar of performance.

Personally, I prefer not to settle for yesterday’s “good enough” but choose to aspire towards tomorrow’s “what can we do better and how do we get there?”

Adapting new solutions to old problems is the real final frontier – where we venture where no one has gone before.

That frontier is open to all with an open heart and mind to learn new methods.

Why don’t we go together on this brave new adventure?

Use the Tools You Have

Generic or name brand?

This is a blog about cooking, but it applies to computers. 

My 2 babysitters growing up were old lady cooks. One made divinity to die for. She insisted on the most expensive brand name products when she cooked and would accept nothing less. 

The other took whatever she had and made a feast of it. If you gave her a can of corn, a dead possum, flour, and an open fire, she would have made a feast fit for a king. She used what she had. 

I help cater for 4-H fundraisers and sometimes cook on the go in church kitchens. We bring in our own cooking utensils and make good food with whatever their kitchen holds. It could be a state of the art oven or an old one that takes 45 minutes to bring to temp. Whatever they have, we make it work. 

The same applies to business technology. Businesses cannot always afford the flavor of the month latest available tool. Their employees work with what they have. It’s like science fiction movies where the mechanic makes the old junker spaceship work. 

Whatever the field – be it food preparation or computer technology – equipment and ingredients are the tools. A talented mechanic takes the tools at hand and makes a great product. 

As a computer instructor, I’ve walked onsite into unusual setups. Once a client had me give a class onsite. I didn’t know till I got there that their training “lab” had machines running Office 95, 97, and 2000.  Yet I was expected  to train 10 employees on Word, Excel, and Access, with students on all 3 systems at the same time. The employees were each running different versions and desperately needed my help. 

We made it work. It was not easy. Every step of every exercise often meant 3 separate sets of instructions as the software had different sequences. 

It would be wonderful if we all had the latest and greatest. I would love to one day cook in a dream kitchen too. 

Untalented cooks can make dinner in a dream kitchen with perfect ingredients and still create a disaster. Ditto for people with computers. 

It’s training, talent, and experience that often make the difference between a flop and a banquet. 

Go for the best you can afford. Update when possible. Look for free alternatives. Make the most of what you have. 

Don’t apologize for your tools.

Training Investments

Instant gratification is my favorite part of teaching computer classes to companies. I love moments, when someone gets a new concept and realizes its potential.

Then there’s the groan reaction. When I hear an “Oohhhhhhhh” of dismay, I grow concerned. But generally, that means I’ve shown an advanced feature to someone who just realized how much faster and easier their job could have been. Examples from Excel classes:

  • A human resource manager had set up spreadsheets without keeping the cells on layered sheets in the same place. Three-D formulas would not work. “I would have saved myself hours of time if I had known this six months ago. If I tried to fix my work now, it would take 60 to 80 hours I don’t have.”
  • An analyst grew more upset as I explained advanced sorts, filters, and customizing criteria.  Then he said, “If I had known 10 years ago what you just showed me in the last 2 hours, I would have cut 500 hours off my workload. Every year.”
  • When I showed how the Get Data feature made it easy for Excel to retrieve information from websites to place into a spreadsheet, a whole room started to groan/laugh and look at their quality control expert who had struggled countless hours trying to get a cut and paste of website info into a spreadsheet.
  • An accountant said she could redo all her reports much faster after discovering how to create pivot tables and pivot charts.

Now here’s the kicker: imagine the quality control guy tells me what he’s tried to research online. Instead of a traditional resource, I go to Twitter and show him the leading expert in our area, with whom he can converse and make sure he has the best, most accurate information.

Imagine the company that trains its employees on Excel, Twitter, and the latest tech advances.

Well-trained employees find new ways for computers to make and save the company money.

Smart companies know their information investment doesn’t stop with hardware and software.

Good training on computer systems is not an expense. It’s an investment which reaps long-term benefits for you and your company.

Embrace the Change

In 1989, jobs were hard to find in a lousy economy. I landed a job for a physics department that would let me continue taking classes. Problem: I knew nothing about computers, and the job required it. I was a fast typist, and they decided to risk hiring me. My first day on the job, the dept. head gave me a handwritten syllabus. I typed and printed it, no problem. He looked at the file setup and refused it, telling me, “You used a word processor as a glorified typewriter. Here’s a book. Figure out what you did wrong and make it right.”

It took me 3 days to create a 3 page syllabus he would accept. When he finally accepted my work, I was so furious I was ready to quit. He then told me, “I know you’re angry. I know you’ve just spent 3 days wandering blind alleys figuring out how to do this. But each blind alley you went down taught you things you will need to know. It will get easier.”

And so began my trial by fire computer training. Part of my job involved clerical work on a NASA research project. It was old Internet days, with manual dial up handshake commands that had to be typed in a line at a time. I was supposed to load files to a CRAY supercomputer, download the results, and then convert those results to graphs.

On my first day on the job, not a single command worked when I tried to log onto the CRAY.  Exasperated, I called NASA, thinking I had to be the dumbest computer user on the planet. Response?

“You’re following yesterday’s instructions. Everything changed today.”

“When will I get today’s instructions.”

“Most  likely in 6 months. But I’ll tell you the steps to follow.” He walked me through the new handshake procedures.

And so began my year of learning to use a computer, on the job, with deadlines, when things changed every single day, before I had a chance to learn how to use them beforehand.

I had no idea when I started that job that it would change my life. Computer software eventually made sense. Within 6 years, I was a computer network administrator for a network of 50 computers for a law firm.  For the past 15 years, I’ve worked as a corporate computer trainer and have trained at least 3,000 people in how to use computers on their jobs.  In recent years, that has also branched into training them on social media. My experiences learning on the fly help me be a more empathetic teacher.

With social media, things change daily. Buttons move, features have different words, and more. It reminds me of my first day using a computer, 21 years ago. Yesterday’s instructions don’t quite work, and we figure out today’s procedures by the seat of our pants. It’s frustrating.

My lesson from years ago: embrace the change.

The blind alleys you stumble in, as you seek today’s instructions, are preparing you to handle tomorrow’s bigger computer challenges.