Gaining that "Required Experience" | A Few Reflections

I’m beginning my third year as a Learning Systems and Development Specialist for a non-profit organization located in Reno, NV.  I entered the organization in a case management role in July 2014 where I worked with a number of colleagues to alter the services that clients experienced in a Pre-Vocational Day Program for adults with intellectual disabilities. It wasn’t until a few years into this role that I realized the utility of organizational behavior management and systems analysis skill sets.

What to Read Next

Weekly I encounter someone reaching out through email or social media with a question along the lines of, “How do you get the practical experience? It’s seems like everyone requires experience, but I can’t figure out where to develop my skill sets?”

Some Available Options

Here are a few typical routes that I suggest:

  1. For those in or seeking a formal training institution (e.g., public/private college) there may be a system in place for you to pursue skill development. While attending Florida Institute of Technology I had access to professors that were able to help me find opportunities in the workplace enviornmetn where I was employed, as well as opportunities with outside entities (e.g., Publix Supermarket).
  2. Research labs are often in these same training institutes, but there are also sometimes private options available as well. I see a lot of people search for labs that are related to specific topic that they are interested in studying, or with the particular professor that they want to study with, and some people hit it lucky, but often times this doesn’t seem to be the initial point of entry. I like to think of those places as your long-term goal and to begin with setting a series of short-term goals to work towards first. For example, I worked in two undergraduate research assistant positions for 2.5 years each where I worked on supporting others’ research initiatives. They were great experiences, interesting questions, and helped me develop interpersonal skills as well as identify my interests further. It’s been a very slow progression of 8 years for the tables to turn to where I spend the majority of my time on ideas that I want to pursue (and these are still always in a team-based format – INSERT BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS CAN”T SAVE THE WORLD ALONE). It turns out that formal research isn’t really my gig (at least for now).
  3. Approach your supervisor prepared to have a conversation on a workplace issue that you think you can provide some level of a solution. I started practicing this pitch as an undergraduate at a day program for adults with intellectual disabilities. Often times my ideas weren’t as thought out as I had assumed and I was turned around. When chatting with colleagues I started to realize that I needed to put a lot more prep work into my pitch. I know include something that includes: a problem statement, the potential solution, the data that supports (to some degree) the extent to which this is likely a problem, as well as the return on investment or value proposition stated in some sort of tangible numbers.

There aren’t much data available on the outcomes that these various training options, at least in an aggregated place.  However, there are some ways in which you can start to “hack” this issue and identify some trends:

  1. Track the lineage of a particular mentor or adviser. Grab their CV, LinkedIn, whatever you can get your hands on and start consuming everything that you can find on them . I did this for each conference that I was going to attend prior to meeting people along the lines of Steve Hayes, Janet Twyman, Greg Hanley, Pat Friman, etc. It provided me with a starting point for conversations, and the beginning of many professional relationships.
  2. The same thing can be done in the context of research labs – start with the head researcher and work through everything you can find.
  3. Talk with your employer upfront about their perspective of solving organizational behavior-related problems in the workplace. Another great source of information comes from coworkers.  My current employer has a number of employees that have been with the organization for over 25 years. They are excellent sources of the history of the organization, including what has worked previously, as well as how to prepare to have a better chance of your pitch being supported by the decision makers in the organization.  

So where’s that leave us? 

Well, use your science.

Measurement & Analysis

There are a lot of ways that you can measure your personal skill set development. A few things that I have found particularly useful, include two main components:

  1. A measure in some unit of time (e.g., # per minute, day, week, month, year)
  2. Apply whatever conceptual system you subscribe to to understand the functional relations (e.g., Skinnerian, Relational Frame Theory, Goldiamond’s Nonlinear Approach, Kantor’s Interbehaviorism)
  3. Application checks (e.g., you using the skill in a real-world setting)

A recently example that I encountered just this past week was during my Sunday routine of checking various data that I collect in my life. I’ve recently found an interest in various forms of media, video being one of those components.  When I first began editing it would take me about 10-12 hours to edit a 3-5 minute video. Roughly a year later and I go into my studio, sit down for 6 hours and end up with three 5 minute videos in a (relatively) short 6 hours. That’s everything after shooting, from creating the project file to clicking publish online. It had been about a month since I looked at this particular dataset, so it caught me off guard when I charted the times. It was a good reminder to keep checking in on those application checks, as they tell you so much more about your progress.

Bringing this back into my day-to-day role at the non-profit

It’s been a slow transition for years, but somewhere around 50-80% of my day now consists of things that largely fall into the organizational behavior and systems analysis areas of practice. There’s weekly consults with various department heads, collaboration on development and refinement of organization-wide performance management systems, designing and developing new services and tools for the market, outside consultation – things I try not to take for granted and never realized the amount of work it took to initially obtain.

Reflecting on where I’m at, it seems that these are the strategies that proved useful, but it wasn’t an overnight transition. It took years of free work, blood and sweat (literally at times), analysis and consultation with colleagues, failure, and humbleness through the mentorship and learning process.

Hope this is of some use, glad to chat with anyone that’s looking for more help – schedule here:


Ryan O’Donnell, MS, BCBA

Affiliation: RYANO, LLC


Bio: Ryan O'Donnell hails from northern Nevada in the grungy, yet surprisingly classy, (and newly renovated) Reno, Nevada . He likes his climate like he likes his data: evolving, uncompromising, and progressive. He is a master of science; that is, he has a M.S. in Applied Behavior Analysis, however he has since grown to include many other interests, including entrepreneurship and capturing perspectives and stories through various mediums. He has used this degree to work with a lot of great people to help organizations and families in Florida and Nevada that support people with Intellectual Disabilities. Currently he leads product development and distribution for High Sierra Industries as a Learning Systems Development Specialist. His focus outside this role is on building a community of thought leaders and doers to create content that increases the transparency of behavior analytic technologies with the hopes of creating a platform that truly saves the world. His interests are all over, from artificial intelligence and machine learning applications to the theory and philosophy behind Why We Do What We Do ( In his spare time you can find him consuming social media, prepping/climbing a giant mountain, or walking around with his camera in his hand (and, occasionally, all simultaneously). Connect with him on most all social platforms via TheRyanoDotCom and let him know what drives you to pursue the Behavior Analysis vision.


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