After 36 years of providing IT training to corporate clients, Joanne Wilson says her proudest career achievement actually involved high school students.
At the dawn of the PC revolution, Wilson sourced computers from five vendors and brought them into 10 Ottawa high schools, determined to give the teenagers a show-and-tell glimpse of the technology she knew would soon change their lives.
“I provided a seminar of what was out there when they were ready to (graduate),” Wilson told CDN in an interview from Mississauga.
“The equipment was about the size of a sewing machine. It was a big piece of word processing equipment,” said Wilson, CEO of The Trainer’s Advisory Network.
Though technology has changed dramatically since then, Wilson is still playing the important role of mentor, especially to young women in the channel.
In a virtual ceremony on Tuesday, Wilson was honoured as Mentor of the Year at CDN’s Women in the IT Channel (WITC) Recognition Luncheon. She was also inducted into the WITC Hall of Fame.
Just a year after earning her business management degree at Wilfrid Laurier University, Wilson dove into the IT channel by starting up The Trainer’s Advisory Network. Run by Wilson and her husband Bill, the firm originally specialized in Microsoft Outlook training before focusing on training for CRM systems such as Maximizer, GoldMine, Sugar and Zoho.
The company has attained Elite Partner status in Canada and second top partner in North America, both for GoldMine CRM. Wilson’s clients have included TD, Shaw Communications, Aegon Canada and Canpar.
Mentoring and training
After three decades in IT training, Wilson has discovered that new users learn best by ‘doing.’
“A lot of VARS and resellers just want to do the work for them,” she said. “I think (clients) can do the work for themselves and really understand their CRM product. Do it yourself, feel it yourself and then you’re going to know it way better.”
The most effective IT training involves listening to each client and assessing their needs, Wilson said. She believes the same approach is the key to providing mentorship.
“It’s more about analyzing where they are, listening to their concerns, looking at their needs and then trying to build something (so) we can mentor to what they need,” she said.
The next generation
Wilson’s mentoring extends beyond the formal parameters of the channel ecosystem. During the pandemic last year, she hosted small, physically distanced aquafit classes to help her friends and channel colleagues battle fear and isolation from the temporary oasis of her backyard.
Reflecting on ways to mentor the next generation, Wilson hopes the channel is inclusive enough to recognize the potential of young girls with diverse interests beyond science and math. She’s offering that kind of mentorship to her own 13-year-old granddaughter.
“I said, ‘Would you like to get paid to help me out in the office?’ She’s a fashionista, right? So buying clothes is her thing,” Wilson explained.
“In that role of coming to help me, I think it’ll show her that you don’t have to be a techie. It can be all parts of (the channel). The marketing, the accounting, every project, putting together documents – those are all things she’s capable of doing. And then she might find, ‘Oh, I like this.’”
At Tuesday’s virtual event, three other women were inducted into the WITC Hall of Fame along with Wilson: Nancy Kierstead of Bulletproof, Noémi Labelle of ITI and Rose Marcello of VMware. Pallavi Ramdanchani of Cognizant Microsoft Business Group was named Rising Star of the Year.