It seems like February 2, 2016 was a long time ago but it was a great day because it was the day I received the email that Thomas Toth, my mentor, earned the 2016 Learning! Champion Award from eLearning! Magazine. We were under a blackout and couldn’t talk about it until May. If you want to learn more about Thomas, take a look at his bio on his blog or his LinkedIn page. His resume is pretty impressive and this award seems like it was made exactly for him. He’s got the skills to back it all up too, look at some of the eLearning he created at his own company dWeb Studios.
However, Thomas is special to me because of the things you don’t list on a resume. I met Thomas in 2007 when we both worked at Janus Capital Group. I left my position as a field trainer to work in trade operations in April of 2006. It wasn’t a good fit for me but I didn’t know what I wanted to do career-wise so I just went with it. I’m sure that I crossed paths occasionally with Thomas since I knew people working in his department from my time as a field trainer but I didn’t really start talking to him until I took his Emerging Leader class in the summer of 2007. There were days when I just sat in awe. Thomas is dynamic and engaging in the classroom. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone like him anywhere. Somedays my mind would start to wander from the class topic to thinking, “Wow he’s having so much fun, why am I not doing this?” I would stay after class occasionally to talk to him about his job never the leadership program. There’s an expression that you have to leave something to learn that you love it. I had to leave my position as a field trainer and meet Thomas Toth to realize that I love learning and development.
At this point, I have a little over 3 years experience as a field trainer and I figured out where I need to go next but how do you get there? I don’t make decisions quickly and I put a lot of thought into them. I had a friend working on her M.A. in Instructional Design and Adult Learning at the University of Colorado Denver. It sounded interesting but then there’s the highly specialized B.S. that I earned and wasn’t using hanging over my head. Should I work on an MBA instead because that would have a lot of general applications? I think I still hadn’t worked up the courage to talk to him without having a reason. I signed up for a lot of classes that he facilitated on purpose. SharePoint (which has come in handy over the years), a decision making class (I think this was the first time of many to come that I cried in front of him) and I worked with him to set up a short-lived bookclub for learners who graduated from his Emerging Leader class.
I started graduate school in August of 2008. Thomas helped me come to the decision that working on my M.A. in instructional design was the right path for me. Thomas was kind enough to let me complete my internship for my M.A. at his side business, The Catapult Training Group, which I think he eventually just merged into dWeb Studios. I took every Friday off from my trade operations job for three months, met Thomas for lunch and to discuss my progress on my projects. I finished my internship and my degree program in July of 2010. New degree in hand, I started looking for a job, and landed my first instructional designer position at TD Ameritrade in March of 2011. I remember it clearly when I told him at lunch about my new position and he told me that he was proud of me for leveraging my degree and my financial services background.
Now, I am in my second post-grad school instructional design position, it’s where I need to be, it’s what I need to do, it’s where my passion lies and I wouldn’t have found it without Thomas. I nominated Thomas for the Learning! Champion award in the mentor category but he could have won in so many others. Through my relationship with Thomas and what he’s shared with me he’s changed my life. He’s my biggest cheerleader. No one is as invested in my success as Thomas is.
I didn’t graduate from my M.A. program with everything figured out, I actually think Thomas’ mentoring is more valuable today than it was back in grad school. I turn to Thomas for advice frequently. He will never tell me the answers, he helps me to get there when I can’t figure things out. He knows when I’m complacent and helps to motivate me. I own a Storyline 2 license because of Thomas. I build things like this because Thomas challenges me. Thomas knows exactly what motivates me and when I need that little push. I love building eLearning because of Thomas.
I half-joking tell Thomas that I want to be him when I grow up. However, I do want to be the best version of me that I can be but there are things about Thomas that I want to emulate in my career and personal life.
Passion. If you ever get the chance to talk to Thomas about something he loves; his family, learning technology or photography to name a few things, he lights up. Maybe it sounds cheesy but there is a twinkle in his eye. It’s contagious. He commits wholeheartedly to everything he does.
Optimism. He always sees the good in a situation even when it’s hard to find.
Generous. I wouldn’t be successful in my career as an instructional designer without Thomas sharing his knowledge, time and giving me his support. He doesn’t reserve that for just me though. He shares his knowledge with other people in our profession. Thomas is a frequent speaker at both ATD national and local events. I’ve been to a lot of ATD events and he’s the only speaker who tells everyone in his classes that “once you are a student of mine, you are a student for life” and then provides his contact information. No one does that! No one. He cares about our profession and has a desire to help others. I honestly don’t know how he has the time for it. He has two businesses but he always makes time to help me out.
Growth. I have never seen anyone as committed to improving himself as Thomas is. Instructional technology changes all the time, Thomas keeps up with it. Talk to him about all of the software he knows and the languages he can program in. He inspires me to improve and acquire new skills because I see him doing it. I learn so much from him.
Brave. Thomas is a risk taker which I am not at all. However, he’s encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone to try new things so many times that I can’t even count them. I have grown so much because of this. Thomas will take the right risks and invest his whole being into them. If he’s successful it will be big and if he fails it will be big too. I learned from Thomas that failure is ok as long as you learn from it and move on quickly.
Here we are in 2016 – 9 years after I first met Thomas Toth. He has changed my life in ways I didn’t think were possible. I can talk to you all day about how Thomas has impacted me and how important his influence on me is. I am thrilled that eLearning! Magazine by naming him a Learning! Champion, recognized the contributions he’s made to my career and advancing instructional technology as a whole. I am extremely lucky to have Thomas as a mentor. Our relationship has changed quite a bit over the years although he’ll always be my Yoda, I’m even luckier to consider him a friend. Thank you Thomas for everything!