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From Chalkboards to Ones and Zeros

By Steven Katonka, Software Demo Technician


 My grandfather had this saying.

“Steven, as you go through life you should imagine carrying a little backpack. Along the way, whenever you have the chance to pick up a positive skill or experience, you just pick it up and place it right in there. You’ll be quite surprised how many times that backpack is going to come in handy.”

I heard this little speech on more than one occasion. In my youth; I didn’t think much of it. As I got older and was required to make my way in this world; I slowly became more aware of the importance of my grandfather’s advice. His words have become a fundamental part of my approach to life. I never would have believed back then` the journey my little backpack would take me on.

My grandfather was a teacher. My mother, my aunt, my uncle, all teachers. I grew up seeing the difference they made in the world and by the time I entered my first year of college, I knew one thing quite clear. I was called to teach, and I did.

For five years I got to help my students grow in knowledge and character.  I shared in their laughter and tears. This desire of mine to teach was fulfilled (at least in my mind at the time) to the fullest. If someone would have told me back then that I was going to lose all of that in an instant, I’m not sure I would have believed them. I believed I was truly fulfilling my calling. I was destined to be a teacher. Can a person’s destiny change?

On a cold November evening, my fate as a public school teacher was sealed. The levy failed. There was simply not enough funding to keep my position in the district. Sometime later; I left my classroom for the last time, just myself, and life’s little backpack.

How hard could it be to find another teaching position? Surely a person wouldn’t have to search that hard to find their destiny right? Several years later it became apparent to me that perhaps my “destiny” wasn’t exactly what I thought it was. Was I still called to teach? Every fiber of my being screamed “YES IT’S IN YOUR BLOOD! YOU WERE MADE TO BE A TEACHER!” Yet, the only real option for me was to be a substitute teacher and that wasn’t keeping a roof over my head.

I started at Datatrak in 2014. What initially attracted me to the job was that I would get to help others. As a Solution Center Agent; I got to work with the daily users of the Datatrak platform. I couldn’t have imagined the brave new world I would be introduced to in the following years. Throughout my day I had the pleasure of speaking with individuals from all over the globe. They were doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and countless other professionals.

I quickly learned this job required a unique skill set. The Datatrak platform is remarkably intuitive for the end-user, greatly simplifying their daily workflow inside of it. Yet, the capabilities are immense as the platform handles virtually every aspect of clinical trials and clinical trial management. So, it was important that I not only understood every facet of the system and its use in the field, but that I could quickly identify what aspect of the platform a user was reaching out to me about. Then, I could assist them as the subject matter expert.

How did I organize and then utilize this vast amount of information? It was kind of like organizing a large curriculum with lesson plans. All users of the Datatrak platform learned in different ways. There was a need to be flexible and patient, all skills I acquired back in that classroom of mine. By the end of my first year, I was wearing out my little backpack.

The longer I worked at Datatrak, the more I realized that I was part of something immensely larger than just a company. Talking to medical professionals everyday taught me a lot about the sacrifices those individuals make in the field. I was also made aware that by working for Datatrak; I was actively taking part in causes far greater than myself, or even the company I work for. Things such as cures for diseases and longer lives for ourselves and our loved ones.

By the summer of 2019, my time as a Solution Center Agent had provided me with a thorough understanding of not just how the Datatrak platform worked, but how it functioned in the field. I could see how the numerous functionalities provided our users with the tools they needed to do their job, and how those jobs done day in and day out, make this world a better place.

I wasn’t a school teacher anymore, and had accepted that perhaps being a teacher wasn’t my destiny. Yet, it was that same summer that threw another curve ball in my life that I did not see coming. An opportunity to teach. Not in a school district, but right here at Datatrak as I took on a new role as Software Demo Technician. The chalkboards of my old classroom would be replaced by ones and zeros. It would be the internet. Where there was once children in need of knowledge in order to grow up and make a difference in the world; there would now be professionals in need of vital tools to accompany them on the forefront of clinical research.

Every day I give potential clients a walkthrough of the Datatrak platform. I liken it to a digital tour. The best part is that no tour is exactly the same. The Datatrak Enterprise Cloud is an immense platform, meeting diverse needs. Depending on who I’m presenting to; I get to show a broad range of different functionalities, and it doesn’t stop there. As a teacher, I had the ability to set up my classroom in any way I believed would benefit my students. This digital classroom of mine is no different. I can build and configure my demo environment to meet the needs of whoever I have the pleasure of presenting to. Device studies, complex randomization needs, remote monitoring, importing local and central lab data, clinical trial management; whatever the potential client needs to see, I can set it up.

The training to be an educator, the knowledge acquired as a Solution Center Agent, the wisdom of a special man; all reside within the little pouches and folds of my life’s little backpack, that my grandfather spoke of many years ago.

As it turns out, I was indeed made to be a teacher. Just not in a way I could have ever imagined.