Macaire Ament O’Connell is a Functional Consultant here at Bluewater, and she was selected to be part of The Learning Guild’s Thirty Under 30 cohort in 2023.

The esteemed Thirty Under 30 program recognizes and provides special scholarship for thirty learning professionals under the age of 30, with the goal of supporting the visibility, voice, and development for the future generation of learning leaders.

To celebrate Macaire's accomplishments and recognition, we interviewed her and got an inside look into her experience in the learning industry as well as insightful learnings from her experience as a Thirty Under 30 cohort member. We hope you enjoy getting to know a bit more about Macaire as well as key takeaways from Learning 2023.

Tell us about your time at Bluewater and what led you to your current role.

I entered the learning and development world as Bluewater’s marketing coordinator. I learned the language of the industry by speaking with thousands of learning and development professionals at events like Learning, DevLearn, and ATD International Conference and Expo. Within three years of joining the team, I was a marketing manager, contributing to the creation of enablement materials for sales and other departments, identifying opportunities for training or process improvements, and participating in executive strategy discussions around emerging trends in the learning space. To learn more about the business, I spent two years in an operations role, and I recently pivoted to the functional consulting team. In both roles, I had the opportunity to enable users on new systems and processes as well as to deepen my understanding of how the learning function operates in different businesses.

What led you to wanting to apply to Thirty Under 30?

Some of the first Bluewater team members I ever worked with encouraged me to apply when they realized I was pushing 30! I love the learning industry, but I often struggled to describe how I fit into it because I didn’t graduate with an L&D background or work heavily in content/course design. In fact, when I hit the submit button on my application, I said out loud ‘there’s no way I’m getting in.' Applying gave me the chance to step back and reflect on what I had accomplished in the industry over the last seven years. Participating in the cohort really helped me to give myself credit for the growth and experiences I have had. I also wanted the opportunity to connect with my peers across the industry and learn from their experiences as part of the program.

Tell us about your time at Learning 2023. What did you learn and get to do as part of the cohort?

I feel like the experience began as soon as we found out we were accepted! For months leading up to the event, we were connected in a 30 Under Thirty Slack channel, managed by our awesome cohort leaders Stephanie Borglum and Mimi Phung. We were able to introduce ourselves, share interests (both work and extracurricular), and start thinking about what we wanted to take away from the conference weeks before our arrival. I also loved asking the cohort what their go-to resources and LinkedIn follows were.

Once we were onsite, we had special programming each morning, including peer mentoring activities and a goal setting activity. We were also given the opportunity to participate in a lunch and learn session with one of three learning leaders:

Our cohort created Slack channels to share notes from various sessions, showed up for each other when members were giving a session, and spent time discussing what we learned after each session block.

We were also recognized during one of the opening keynotes and enjoyed attending evening activities together, including a night at Epcot and networking events.

What were your biggest takeaways from your experience with Thirty Under 30?

Connection is king. 

Meghan McMahon Bautista had the data to back this one up in her session on creating an evidence-based onboarding experience, but I also felt the power of connection directly as I moved through the conference. With thirty of us in the cohort, it was rare for me to enter a session alone. Having a friendly face in every room elevated my level of engagement tremendously. I was able to share notes, discuss real world applications for what we learned, partner up for any activities with ease, and solidify key takeaways to a level I often had not as a solo attendee.

L&D needs to speak the language of the business to get and keep a seat at the table.

Both in sessions and in discussion with fellow cohort members, we heard how important it is to speak to what matters to the business. For me, Mark Lewis's session ‘Strategies for Seamless Alignment: Bridging the Gap Between L&D and Organizational Goals’ was a great walkthrough of how to attack this. Increasing adoption of our learning programs and tools is exciting, but we should always be thinking:

  • What is the business goal?
  • Do I have confidence I can impact that goal through an L&D effort?
  • How much impact do I think that effort can have?
  • Am I set up to measure that impact?

L&D as an industry is full of helpers, but as one session put it, “we’re not order takers.” If we jump every time a learning intervention is requested, without confirming that the problem is a learning problem, we set ourselves up to appear ineffective. Similarly, if we spend our resources solving learning problems that don't impact business goals, we get out of alignment with our business leaders.

There’s no one way to be a learning leader.

My lack of confidence in applying came from my own ideas about what a Thirty Under 30 cohort member looked like. One of the most valuable parts of this experience was realizing how vastly different our backgrounds and roles were. My Thirty Under 30 cohort included fellow former marketers, graphic designers, teachers, and even engineers, and all of us bring a unique perspective to the world of learning.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get started in the learning industry?

Your background doesn’t have to be a straight shot from education/organizational psychology for you to find a path in learning. I have found my best successes come when I am following both my desire to learn and to help. That is what led me from marketing to business operations to consulting, all within the learning and talent space. A passion for learning and a mindset of helping was one thing the whole cohort had in common, and it can lead you to some amazing places!


Learning 2023 Sessions

Thirty Under 30 - 2023 Cohort