Author: Stephanie Smith, ATD Greater Atlanta - VP of Technology
When I graduated high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to do – I was going to be a high school math teacher. I know, big nerd, right? This was greatly influenced by my high school Calculus teacher, who I really admired at the time. Little did I know, my career aspirations would take me down a much different path.
As I was figuring out my degree, I decided to dual major in both Math Education and Math.... "Just in case" I needed a backup for my education degree. What I learned was that if you feel like you need a backup plan, your original plan probably isn't the right one for you.
I graduated and landed a part time teaching job. The economy wasn't great, so I was lucky I found anything at the time. I quickly learned that teaching wasn't exactly for me, and I gained a whole new respect for all public educators. Thank you to all the teachers out there!
After that year, my position got eliminated so they could replace it with a coach. I went on a hunt for another teaching job, but because the economy was bad, I wasn't able to find anything. I ended up in the corporate world as an account manager at an insurance broker.
As I was there, I knew I wanted to go back to school to do something else (let's face it - everyone hates insurance). I decided to get my graduate degree in Instructional Design and Technology from the University of Georgia. It was a night program that I could complete while I still worked full time.
A lot of people wonder if you have to have a degree to become an Instructional Designer. Although I don’t think it is 100% necessary, I do believe it played a significant role in my transition. I learned about adult learning theories, the instructional design process, and development tools. I also learned how to give and receive feedback on the projects we all created, and how to work clients. All very valuable experiences.
Outside of getting my degree, I decided to do anything I could to “beef up” my resume and portfolio. One of the recommendations from my program was to join a local organization. That is when I first joined my local ATD chapter.
ATD opened up a ton of opportunities for me. I met a man named Robb Bingham who was speaking at a local event who also came and spoke to my class. I ended up connecting with him and doing some project-based contract jobs for him. That let me add some real work experience to my resume.
Not only that, I volunteered on the Marketing, Communications, and Technology team and completed eLearning projects pro-bono for the chapter. I ended up with an eLearning course that I created to help new members who joined the chapter, and it was published on the website. That helped me build out my portfolio.
Then I decided to get more involved, and I volunteered on the executive board as the VP of Technology. At this point, I had graduated and landed my first (entry level) job as a content developer at Delta Dental. I actually took a pay cut so I could get my foot in the door. But it was at our executive board planning meeting that I got to know Shelia Matthews. She was volunteering as the VP of Membership at the time, and she worked at UPS. She, essentially, got me a job at UPS as a contractor making double what I was making at Delta Dental.
My journey has taken me from Content Developer to an experienced and successful learning and development professional. A lot of my success has been from people I have met along the way, many who I met through the ATD Greater Atlanta Chapter.
Are you someone who is looking to change careers, or even just get more experience in the L&D field? If so, I would encourage you to not only join a local organization but get involved. There are so many opportunities just waiting for you. You just have to reach out and grab them.
Stephanie is the current VP of Technology for the ATD Greater Atlanta chapter. She is also a Sales Enablement Curriculum Manager at Cardlytics. Connect with her on LinkedIn.