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January 2014
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TD Magazine

On Good Information

Susan Camarena has been capturing, enhancing, and providing access to information her entire career.

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As the chief knowledge and learning officer of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Susan Camarena designs and implements knowledge management procedures and tools, which improve the agency's decision making and strategic planning. Before joining the Federal Transit Administration, she led the U.S. Agency for International Development's Knowledge for Development program. Her leadership skills and technical expertise were gained in large part from her time in the U.S. Army, where she attained the rank of lieutenant colonel.

How has your career changed in the past 10 years?

I was a Signal Corps officer in the Army, which meant I led individuals who installed and operated the telecommunications and information systems for the Army. I had a psychology background, and working in this technical field was quite challenging and rewarding.

When I left the Army, I thought the years of technology were behind me; however, in this day and age, technological awareness is vital to success. Now, I am the chief knowledge and learning officer of a federal agency, something I could never have envisioned 10 years ago.

What strengths have helped you grow in your career?

I had quite a diverse career, starting as a career soldier and then transitioning into jobs in the civil service. My Army experiences allowed me to develop strong leadership skills, which are vital for success in any position.

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I also had the opportunity to work with individuals from a variety of backgrounds, which helped me to understand how important diversity on a team is to being flexible and adaptable. You have to be willing to listen to and learn from people to promote teamwork.

What career lessons have you learned?

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I've learned to be flexible and always willing to learn. I was thrown into the field of knowledge management, and I learned that managing knowledge is just plain, good management. It's helping others capture what they know, share it, and generate new knowledge.

Within the past two years, the responsibility of learning and development was added to my portfolio. I see such synergy in combining learning and development with knowledge management. I believe that integrating these formerly separate functions has provided exponential knowledge growth within my agency and has helped forge new connections and relationships, as well.

What advice would you give to those wanting to advance their careers in the learning field?

Learn about knowledge management. The ability to introduce tools and procedures to connect people with information doubles the return-on-investment of formalized classroom training.

Be a mentor. You are never too old to learn, and serving as a mentor allows you to hear new concepts and ideas from protégés. Protégés often have fresh and new perspectives, and their excitement and energy can be contagious.

It's also important to remember that, as a mentor, you are developing our future leaders. I believe that my role as a mentor is to ensure that I connect my protégés to new and influential people who may bring them a future opportunity.

I like to tell my protégés that the adage "It's not what you know, it's who you know" is incorrect. The fact is, it's not who you know, it's who knows you.

About the Author
The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.
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