Project Management Courses Lead to Exciting New Career for Personal Trainer Seeking a Change

Malachi Walker

Malachi Walker

A professional certificate is a proven way to make your resume stand out from the competition. In the case of Malachi Walker, he hadn’t even completed the Project Management Certificate he was working on at SDSU’s College of Extended Studies, before his resume flagged down attention.

“The workforce took notice of my updated resume with the project management classes I had completed, and I was brought on board as a technical project manager with the San Diego Tourism Authority,” said Walker. “I perform software support projects, data validation, and hardware implementation and deployment projects.”

Three years later, he’s still on what he calls a “versatile, fast-paced, high-performing team” at the SDTA, and he’s still thrilled. “This opportunity has been a valuable learning and gratifying experience with an ever important and extremely fun objective — selling San Diego as the best convention, meeting, and visitor destination.”

We trace his journey.

Can you give us a brief history of your education and career trajectory?
I completed my undergraduate studies in the Division of Kinesiology, Sport Management & Communications at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2002. Upon graduation, I relocated to sunny San Diego and shortly after found work as a personal trainer and fitness manager for 24 Hour Fitness. After a year and a half under their tutelage, I believed I was capable of starting my own personal training operation.

Following eight years of growth and success in the training industry, I was eager to take on a new challenge. One of my loyal and trusted clients suggested I look into project management because he believed I demonstrated and learned organically many of the key strengths project managers need to thrive in the corporate structure. Concurrently, a good friend was nearing completion of the capstone class of SDSU’s Project Management Certificate program, and urged me to look into the program because it had been a very positive and enriching experience.

What did you hope to gain by taking SDSU’s Project Management Certificate program, and how did it meet your expectations?
I expected to gain insight and knowledge from industry professionals and stellar instructors through real-world case studies and hands-on projects.

A majority of my professional career has been spent as an entrepreneur and small business owner. Often the nature of these efforts requires you to wear many different hats in the same day in order to operate your business and provide exemplary service and customer care for your clients and prospects. Over the years I learned by trial and error how to manage my small business with a small but diverse toolbox of processes, best practices, and iterations.

At the completion of SDSU’s Project Management program, my expectations were met and exceeded. I was able to benchmark my professional work experience against large-scale corporate case-studies and hands-on projects while collaborating with my peers, seniors, and a committed team of project management instructors. The biggest takeaway the certificate program provided me was validation that the years of entrepreneurial effort I had put forth and experiences endured through business development challenges and pivots, equipped me with the tools and character development a project manager needs to succeed in any industry.

What gems of wisdom did you come away with from courses such as Team Building, Procurement, and Scope, Time and Cost?
Prioritize team development because it begets performance, synergy, and ultimately results. Always be knowledgeable of your baselines, objective, and schedule because this information will determine if you’re able to be proactive as a leader or manager. Correct data trumps all.

How important was it that the instructors actually worked as project managers in local companies?
Knowing the instructors where actively involved in project management and consulting with local companies was very important to me. They shared case studies for services and products I’m familiar with and actually use, which was key to my level of interest and engagement in the certificate course work.

Do you have a favorite project management anecdote/fail shared by the instructor?
I often share “The Power of Pizza” described by Edwina [McKinney] as a great tool for team building and an opportunity to get to know your team members on a different level. While eating pizza, people are more likely to have an easygoing conversation, it’s less formal, and you learn what motivates them and drives them.

Were you able to directly implement something you learned in the program to avoid a delay or derailment on a project at work?
One area I’ve significantly focused my efforts on is risk. I’m now much more risk-averse, as my tolerance and understanding of risk is deeper. Most importantly, I no longer automatically look at risk as a negative scenario. Despite the fact an uncertain event has occurred and change is inevitable, most of the time I seek to evaluate new possibilities as collateral output and positive opportunity from risk events. Having a more mature and calculated approach regarding risk has served me well in all of my project work.

Many companies require key employees — and those of any organization they work with — to be certified project managers. Why do you think that is?
Requiring project managers to be certified establishes a baseline of common knowledge and simplifies while clarifying the necessary communications for project moments that require decisive and prompt strategic decision-making. No matter the direction your project takes you in, certified project managers will share a terminology and process of elimination for analysis of previously executed work, or the work to come, and make necessary iterations to resources, schedule, communications with key stakeholders, and even plan new work, moving forward with little chaos.

Did the program lead to any networking opportunities with fellow students or instructors?
The program led me to a great volunteer opportunity with the San Diego Project Management Institute Project Management Professional Chapter. As a member of the Communications team, I’ve served as web manager and senior web manager. This volunteer opportunity introduced me to a network of like-minded PMPs and provided me with cross-training opportunities to learn and practice technical skills, as well as attending engaging and educational monthly PMI-PMP events.

How long did it take to complete the program and do you think it was a good value?
I was able to complete the program in seven months and it believe it was an excellent value!

How well did the course prepare you for your PMP exam?
I passed the PMP Exam on my first attempt, not because I memorized the book, but because I was able to practice applying the terms and concepts through testing, case work, presentations, and collaborative team work.

Would you recommend SDSU’s Project Management Certificate program to others?
Yes!!

Anything else you’d like to add?
SDSU’s Project Management Certificate program advanced my skill set and has helped me leverage project management in a unique manner toward several entrepreneurial endeavors. On a daily basis I’m using and continually refining many of the technical tools and soft skills introduced in the certificate program, and they’re proving very useful in my current startup company.