I was doing play-by-play in the driveway to my fantasy hockey career as I scored the game winning goal that won the Stanley Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now, I play fantasy hockey of a different kind, and do play-by-play on new products coming out in the tech industry. It’s not exactly how I dreamed up my career, but I am loving it more and more every day. I joined the UC Denver ILT program four years into my training profession knowing more education on eLearning was paramount to my continued career ambition – to be an instructional designer and eLearning developer. The irony of my current job is I work helping to sell products that keep us more connected and efficient in an ever-changing, faster-paced world and all I like to do in my free time is unplug from the internet, grab my dog, and go camping. Don’t get me wrong I love what I do for a living, but I feel like my skills are now at a point where I can have more of an impact on the industries and causes I’m most passionate about – the outdoors and sustainability.
I’ve been asking myself the question, “How are you going to transition from your background in computing to your background in camping?” and I’ve learned in the last two years that it’s a process, a multi-faceted approach, and being open to doing whatever you think could help. It’s about getting more involved with the things you care about, which brings more contacts and connections into your life. It’s a lot of work right now, but when I find that job I hope it will feel like my retirement. After all, when you do what you love, you never work a day in your life, right?
I’ve done the usual things like subscribed to job posting websites (including the ILT-L) so I receive emails every time a job with “Instructional Designer” is posted in my area, have my portfolio and resume on my website up to date and blog to keep SEO up, and I’ve let recruiters know in my LinkedIn profile settings that I am actively looking for the next opportunity. I have even joined up with a social group called eLearning Heroes run by Patti Bryant, a UC Denver Grad alum, which is an opportunity for troubleshooting, job hunting, and more. But once a few clicks are done on a computer it’s foolish to think it’s a passive quest afterward. Besides, not every single company is going to be advertising jobs online or with the big search engine sites like Glass Door, LinkedIn, and Monster.
I started to think about all the things I like about being an instructional designer: the video production, the ability to help people understand complex information more simply, the graphic design, the fact my materials can be viewed by anyone with the internet, and my audience is only limited by my marketing scope and creativity. Then I discovered TheDyrt and I had my lightbulb moment.
TheDyrt is a website that is self-described as “The Yelp for campsite reviews” where outdoorsy types like me can go online and find new campsites to explore and leave reviews on the site for others. Their strategy was to award points to campers based on the written reviews they left, with campers who left picture and video reviews gaining more points than text alone. These points were important only because the campers with the most at the end of a month won prizes of free gear. So basically I found a site using gamification in the outdoor industry, with prizes being new products in the outdoor industry. In my first camping season I won 7 contests around the US and took home about $700 worth of free gear. It wasn’t a Stanley Cup but I was happy. It turned out so was the staff at TheDyrt, because soon after I won I was contacted by their marketing department, who said that they wanted to see me take my campsite review skills and apply it to the gear. TheDyrt realized a lot of campers would like to know more about camping products, and they had a lot of die-hard campers like me (I am currently 24th on their leaderboard of 26,000+ campers) with experience to share back to companies developing new product. They had no idea I made product trainings for a living, but it didn’t take them long to notice that was a lethal combination.
What I was really doing was creating a portfolio of instructional design materials that were going to be on a website viewed by thousands of people somehow related to the outdoor industry. I’m not waiting by the phone for a call from my dream company, but I am hopeful. I decided it would be good to start reviewing gear on a blog (THIS ONE!) and creating eLearnings on outdoor products in my free time, just in case I ran into someone who wanted to know just how much I love the outdoors and was in a position to offer freelance or full time work.
Then I ran into Tim Nickles outside a climbing gym with a tent display I couldn’t take my eyes off of. Tim is the founder of a rooftop tent company Roofnest. His startup business needed more materials to educate campers on the product and its many features and benefits. He also wanted to put together a user-driven ambassador program that rewarded Roofnest consumers for recommending the tent to others. I was able to tell him about my passion for camping and show him examples of my work, which now included a portfolio of products for the outdoor world. I have been working with Tim ever since on freelance projects. He’s my first independent client.
I’ve created a spreadsheet which helps me add companies I discover to a list of potential clients and employers, and allows me to keep track of my progress with them. I have been surprised to see how many companies are really sister companies of something else, and also how many are located around where I live in Boulder. I am very optimistic if I can be patient and alert.
Since Roofnest work only takes so long and I haven’t been able to find anything more substantial, I am now exploring the abilities to lend my skills to other causes I’m passionate about. I want to diversify my portfolio by taking a stock interest in nonprofits working on outdoor recreation initiatives. I realized I can write a statement order of volunteered products (eLearning solutions) to which I can receive a tax-deductible donation receipt, and that has been a strategy that has led to interviews with a few companies. In August 2017 myself and a few UC Denver students (Michelle Sroda among them) had meetings with the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) and I am currently involved with Mariah Courter (recent UC Denver ILT eLearning graduate) in the planning phases of a rock climbing eLearning project for Autism Climbs.
The decision to join the UC Denver program in January 2017 has led to some remarkable work opportunities and exposure to other like-minded working professionals. I have built a new social network of independent freelance Instructional Designers, developed this website and a corresponding YouTube channel to showcase my outdoor work, and continue to pursue full time employment options via job search sites and my own reference tool. While I may have hung up my hockey skates, I’ve hoisted the Stanley Cup, and that next best feeling is going to come when I land another client or secure a full time position with the outdoor industry.