Scrum.org Community Podcast - How Professional Scrum Master Certification and Google Career Certificates helped my Agile Career featuring Nicole Christensen

July 27, 2022

The Google Project Management Certificate helps people prepare for entry-level jobs in the high-growth field of project management. The certificate dives deep into project management software, tools and templates, with an emphasis on Scrum. Scrum.org collaborated with Google to bring Scrum and Agile expertise to the Google Project Management Certificate and prepare for the Professional Scrum Master I certification. In this podcast series hosted by Scrum.org CEO, Dave West, he interviews Google Career Certificate graduates to learn about their experiences before, during and after the program. In this episode, Dave interviews Nicole Christensen who has a background as a High School English teacher and is now a Product Owner at Readable English, a company focused on programs that help students read.

 

 

Transcript below:

Dave West  0:06  
Hello, and welcome to the Scrum.org Community Podcast. My name is Dave West, CEO here at Scrum.org, and I am your host for today's podcast. This episode is actually part of a series of interviews of participants in the Google's Project Management Certificate Program. You may know it as Grow with Google, back in the day, it's changed its title to focus on the outcomes that it's achieving. And, as some of you may know, Scrum.org has been part of this program. Now, I'm very lucky, very fortunate to have Nicole Christensen with us today who's been part of this program, who's going to be sharing some of her experiences. Nicole, welcome to the podcast.

Nicole Christensen  0:51  
Thank you so much. I'm really excited to be here, share my story and help others make the journey.

Dave West  0:58  
Right. The biggest challenge for today is going to be keeping this podcast to 15-20 minutes, I have lots to talk to you about. So it's great. Now, the Google Project Management Certificate helps people prepare for jobs in the high growth field of project management. And let's be honest, you know, delivering value in this knowledge work world, this data centric world, there is definitely there's a lot of opportunity around ensuring that value is delivered. The certificate dives deep into project management, software, tools, templates, all that kind of stuff. But it has an emphasis on Scrum and agility. Obviously, from Google, you'd expect that being one of the key contributors to the digital age, as it were. And Scrum.org collaborated with Google to bring Scrum and Agile expertise to that program, and help prepare for the PSM. But the certification just to demonstrate the knowledge as it were. So excited to get going. So Nicole, I guess before we start for our audience, it would be really useful for them to know who you are. Tell us a little bit about who you are.

Nicole Christensen  2:18  
Yeah, so I actually began my career in the educational field as a high school English teacher. And to be honest, when I started thinking about what I wanted to do, when I grow up, I didn't even know that this was an option. I, you know, wanted to really help others. That's really important to me and my family values. And so that's why I started with teaching and, through the years, made my way over to the technology side of teaching, as I began teaching an online program in 2010, which brought me to Pearson at one point, working for Pearson online and blended learning at the time. And that's, again, I had an amazing experience there and really wanted to live that day in and day out. So that brought me to this Google Certificate Program.

Dave West  3:18  
So the reason why you did the program because you'd already got lots of knowledge, you know, worked at Pearson, they they do Scrum. I mean, they are huge, they do everything but, why did you decide to do the actual, you know, program at Google?

Nicole Christensen  3:38  
Yeah, so trying to translate the skills and the knowledge that I had from being a high school English teacher into an organization that was looking for a project manager or a product professional, you know, trying to translate that information is actually really challenging, because a lot of people struggle in order to find those connections. So how would you make basically planning lessons for a for a class? And how would you translate that to being able to put together a project, you know, charter? And how could you put together the tasks that one would complete in, you know, honestly, that's what teachers do day in and day out is they do it on a scale up, you know, for for the different individuals, and it's all got to be individualized. But trying to be able to show that in a way that organizations are looking for is really what what that challenge was and showing them that you can do so in an agile manner. So how do we rethink the way that we're doing things and help organizations change? So the whole change management process as well.

Dave West  4:58  
So in a nutshell, the program really helped you take those skills that you've developed over a few years don't say of many years, because that makes you sound awfully old. And you're really not. But over those years, those skills that you applied in education work in all these different skills than working at Pearson, I'm really about to apply those skills in the context, this sort of more professional, dare I say, professional context, or this, you know, this Project Management Professional kind of context.

Nicole Christensen  5:29  
Yeah, and, you know, finding a way in order to do that, that others can can see and can translate to their own organizations. So through this program, I was able to put together a portfolio where I was able to do both, you know, a Google version. And when I was applying for different positions, having that linked directly into my resume, made a big difference, because people were able to go in and see what I could do prior to, you know, seeing me or talking to me during an interview. So they were able to see that I that I understood that tools that you know, rather than just in an interview going, oh, yeah, I know how to use that program, they were actually able to see that and were able to dive into that and ask me questions about how, you know, I went through the process of completing specific tasks as a part of the program.

Dave West  6:29  
That's awesome. Yeah, I think that was one of the things that I was really excited from looking in and looking at how we participate with the program, that ability to provide that demonstrable skill that, you know, this is how we do it. That portfolio, as you called it, is crucial. And unique. I haven't, I was surprised that it isn't, you know, I guess artists carry around and models don't they carry around like these big things in New York City. I think I've seen that on on the train there, etc. But I've never seen that for knowledge workers. So it was pretty unique and interesting. So tell me a little bit about the benefits that you use, you know, obviously the biggest benefit and maybe is you've got a fabulous job working in a on a product that totally connects all your past with your future and is changing the world. Just a little bit about that benefit and anything else that you got out of this program?

Nicole Christensen  7:31  
Yeah, absolutely. So after going through this program, and preparing for my PSM, I was able to actually switch careers. And I am excited to now be a Product Owner of a company. Yeah. Product Owner for a company called Readable English that takes the way in which we attempt to learn how to read, and using a glyph markup, it makes the English language phonetic. So a lot of times, you know, students that struggle with reading, as I saw when I was teaching high school, you know what I had seniors that couldn't read what I was asked to have them read. So this really takes away all of the rules and the cognitive load all the pieces that happen within our brain, and connects things in a very different way that helps us to map it easier. So yes, being able to take my experience, as a teacher watching students struggle in literacy, and to now be a Product Owner where I get to talk with teachers and superintendents of districts, and I'm able to find ways to make our organization and our product even better for them in an agile manner has been amazing. So this whole transformation I get to do now, something I never knew existed, and I absolutely love it. It's it's a great, great change. Of course, I will tell you, if anyone has ever taken a look at the pay that teachers earn, right, I mean, that's one of the huge benefits of this is, you know, I now make a lot more than what I was making teaching high school. And so that, of course, is a benefit but it's also rather than just helping the 40 kids that were in my class, I'm now helping entire districts worth of students and states worth of students and so it's grown that desire, that passion for kids, it's just exploded.

Dave West  9:59  
Why It certainly increased the impact. And it's great that you're, you know, compensation's like that. And we could get into a long conversation about why we should pay our teachers more. But let's not go there. Today, that isn't our purview. So going back to the program a little bit, what did you enjoy the most during the program? What did you, I mean, you, you fitted this round your job, you, your life, your family, your kids, your dogs? So, what did you enjoy the most?

Nicole Christensen  10:37  
I loved that the projects made sense. It was real world experience. So when we're putting together a portfolio, right, it's all of the projects are built around fictitious organizations, but the activities, the things that we do in order to demonstrate that knowledge are real world activities. So it is taking a moment in order to build out tickets in JIRA, it's, you know, or Asana or, you know, learning that the tools that we use every single day, and putting that into practice. So there's the organizations and the components of it. I also loved that in the midst of the pandemic, they switched, and gave us that agile experience. So now we're in a pandemic, and our fictitious organization that used to bring plants to a physical office, people are at home. So now we're going to switch and we're going to turn it into a place where people order plants for their home. So having that real world application has allowed me to now think of my certain, or my current circumstance, and ways that I can bring about that, that same change.

Dave West  12:10  
That is awesome. And the pandemic obviously, was horrible in so many ways, but at least we can learn something from it. And, and something positive can come from it. And I think that that is that is truly awesome. So okay, Nicole has done a great job taking us through your journey, and destination, which has been fantastic. Let's talk a little bit about Scrum. You know, Scrum.org here, CEO of scrum.org. So I am a little bit interested in Scrum. What's your experience with Scrum? And also, you know, you started using it, I understand from our conversation earlier when you move, and you did some work at Pearson on this Tiger team. And that was probably your first moment. So tell us a little bit about that. Tell us your your journey to Scrum.

Nicole Christensen  13:02  
Yeah, absolutely. So one of the opportunities that I had, while at Pearson was a voluntary opportunity. And and we were trying to help different parts of the organization work in in a more agile manner. And so through the use of Tiger Teams, which, if anyone wants to learn more about them, I suggest looking them up. But it was all about sending in people from many different backgrounds, many different experiences and they would go ahead and try and you know, figure out ways to do things. So as a team, the individuals that I worked with were people in the product area within the global Pearson, there were people that were in the higher ed portion of Pearson, you know, I've got people in all all different countries all across the globe. And we are coming together in a matter of two weeks, we had our sponsors that came to us and said, here's our problem. We had two weeks in order to do our research as a team in order to develop as a team and come and then at the end of two weeks, we had to present to the then CEO of Pearson, John Fallon, what we found and what our recommendations were for the organization to be able to adapt and change and move forward. That process was intense. But it showed me a glimpse into this side of the world and the way that we can work in in Scrum and the way that we can connect regularly and when we find things aren't working, change and adapt. So how do we inspect what we're doing each day? How do we connect what we did yesterday with what we're doing tomorrow, and fixing things fast. So you know, failing fast and fixing and moving ahead. So it was a great experience to be able to try that so much  that is really kind of the point where I loved making this change. I fell in love with the intensity, I fell in love with the capability of working with people all around the globe, I now, my development team is in Pakistan, we have individuals from all different countries, those in the US work across all time zones, but we're all moving in the same direction. And you know, to be able to, to be a part of that was something incredibly unique. And to be in an organization that is open to having those tough conversations. I think this was huge. To my being able to move

Dave West  16:03  
 Sounds awesome. Yeah. The time zones can be a little challenging after a while. Yeah, yes, Scrum does, at least it make everything even the pain a lot more visible, which is both a blessing and a curse. Maybe sometimes. So you've completed the program and the PSM certification, etc. How did how did the program help you around PSM one? Oh, it's, uh, you know, it's a popular certification, a lot of people around the world, it demonstrates your proficiency. I'm interested in how you know how it helped.

Nicole Christensen  16:45  
Yeah, going through that program really taught me a lot of the terminology, right. So having the correct terminology, the correct frame of reference, and again, being able to see it in practice to put that practical application, along with the questions that were being asked. So when taking a look at any of the, you know, the practice exams, or even any of the, the resources that are available, in order to dive into it a little bit more, it brings that knowledge in a way where it's kind of deeper embedded, so it allowed me to see how that gets used. And it allowed me to very quickly recall the information that was necessary. So it wasn't just trying to, you know, memorize things, but it allowed the application. So that way, when I took the exam, I went, Oh, of course, that's what the answer is because, you know, do that on a regular basis, you know, so being able to have that frame of reference.

Dave West  17:56  
Yeah, I think the you one thing that struck us about the whole program, was this practical, like you talked about the flower shop, or the flower organization? Yeah, you know, that sort of practical use of the mindset. And that then reinforced it, which hopefully, then the test just brought out. So you got this, you know, tests that you could pass and demonstrate. I think that that that's crucial. Okay, well, I guess the final question, I mean, I have to ask this, so, maybe to myself, more than anything, what's next? I mean, I'm super excited about Nicole changing the world of readable English. And, you know, even for the Americans who try English every day, but the I'm really excited about your mission. But what's next on your journey around Scrum and professional development?

Nicole Christensen  18:48  
Yeah, so I'm currently studying for the PSPO. So I'm working on that and really wanting to now apply, again, that foundation to the next level. So now, as a Product Owner, how do I continue in order to support my organization, as you know, we grow and as we change, so I'm actually bringing Scrum to my organization. So as far as I know, other than the our developer in Pakistan, I'm the only one that has the experience. So each day, as a part of our Daily, I actually bring in a little a little snippet. So over time, the team will be able to see and learn the same practices. So why are we doing a Daily, how that is going to save in terms of waste and those kinds of things. So you know, bringing  about those same practices. I'm excited in order to come continue to grow and develop professionally and learn even more about the process, because again, it's it's definitely a process, you don't get to a point where you feel like, Hey, we got this now. It's it is kind of that regular development. So I'm practicing for my test, I take a little bit of time each Friday, I put some professional development time on my calendar and take it and work on that. So as long as helping my organization, I also need to make sure that that I'm able to continue to grow. And honestly, I see myself continuing on through as far as I can go.

Dave West  20:46  
Sounds awesome. It's great that the Google Project Management Certificate program provided that foundation for you to build on you now know where the resources are, you now know, you've even got access to the CEO of Scrum.org to help you. Not sure how helpful I'll be, but I know people that are very helpful. Which is great. So, Nicole, thank you so much for taking the time today. I know you're certainly busy, you got a lot on. So taking this time out to share with our listeners a little bit about the journey that you went through. It's a very inspiring journey. And something that I'm so excited that we Scrum.org could help just a very tiny bit. Obviously, the work that Google of doing on this. This program has is amazing. And I love to hear more about it. So thank you.

Nicole Christensen  21:38  
Thank you very much. It's, like I said, it's made a huge difference in in my life and in my family's life. So thank you.

Dave West  21:47  
Brilliant. So this has been Dave West here on the Scrum.org Community Podcast talking a little bit about how the Google Career Certificate Program and project management can help and the relationship that we have with that program, so thank you for listening today. Hopefully this has inspired you if you're thinking or just even just debating whether to join this program and have a go at it. Hopefully it's inspired you to become part of this program and help people like Nicole change the world every day. Thank you, everybody.