An 'A' Student

Commonwealth Financial's Keri Donahue took classes to move from HR to the Web.

After spending the first five years of her career as a human resources manager at Commonwealth Financial Network, Keri Donahue started getting antsy for a new challenge. So five years ago, when IT executives at the Waltham, Mass.-based broker/dealer asked Donahue if shed be willing to spend part of her time helping to implement a content management system, she leaped at the chance.

A few months later, Donahue was offered a full-time position as a Web site specialist. She hasnt looked back since.

Donahue didnt have any prior technical experience other than having taken a few introductory IT courses at nearby Bentley College during her undergraduate studies. So she started her budding career in IT by cutting and pasting content into a system that feeds Commonwealths Web site. In her early days in IT, Donahue received on-the-job HTML mentoring and took a few HTML courses on Commonwealths dime at New Horizons Computer Learning Centers.

These would mark the first steps in a five-year journey that led Donahue, 32, to receive considerably more training, which has helped make her a more effective IT worker and a better-paid one, too.

Keri Donahue

Keri Donahue Donahue has learned a lot about HTML, Photoshop and JavaScript on the job, primarily by tapping the knowledge of more experienced peers. Commonwealth is great in that you can go to anyone and ask them questions, she says.

Three years ago, after Donahue had begun learning more about Web site usability and demonstrating more interest in that area, her boss gave her a list of classes to consider. After attending a series of two- and three-day courses offered by Human Factors International Inc. in Boston, Chicago and New York, she took an online exam in March and received a Web site usability analyst certification. The certification helped her land a promotion, she says.

Donahue says the off-site training has also helped her to better understand how people use Web sites and online applications and to determine the types of features and functions users want.

As an investment broker/dealer, Commonwealth develops many of its own proprietary products, such as online financial wizards for more than 1,000 customers who are independent financial professionals, plus applications that those representatives can use to pull all of their customers information into a single view, Donahue explains.

Best Places for Training
1. Commonwealth Financial Network
2. National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
3. The Mitre Corp.
4. The Capital Group Cos.
5. Informatica Corp.
6. Verizon Wireless
7. Creighton University
8. University of Miami
9. BAE Systems Inc.
10. Securian Financial Group Inc.
To determine this top 10 list, we considered the following factors: Average number of training days and average cost of training per IT worker per year.

To help her comprehend the needs of Commonwealths internal and external customers, she has also taken introductory classes on mutual funds and cash management.

In developing our Web site, its important for me to understand mutual funds, says Donahue. So when someone comes to me and says theyd like to add this piece here or change the look of this area, its important that I have an understanding of what it all means and how best to display it on our site.

The classroom training Donahue has received has also helped her grasp the contextual nature of Web design. For instance, one of the courses she took focused on research and helped her discover why its a graphical no-no to place red text on a blue background.

It has something to do with your eyes its a physical thing in terms of how the brain interprets the colors and contrasts, Donahue explains. I was picking these kinds of things up from my boss, but now it has new meaning behind it.

Overall, Commonwealth provides its IT workers with an unbelievable amount of training, says Donahue. I think I could take a class once a week and not hit every one until after six or seven months, she says. Plus, its not a static environment. Were constantly evaluating and improving the classes what works and what doesnt, she says.

The training has also helped Donahue and her peers gain additional respect from end users. Says Donahue, We have this credibility weve developed through all of this training.

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