You don’t necessarily have to want to become a project manager to appreciate having project management skills, according to Roksana Dahl. This Certificate Program in Project Management graduate should know: She is a former lawyer originally from the Ukraine and who most recently used her new skills by assisting in the Berkeley Online Technology Project Management Bootcamp while working full time as a program specialist at San Francisco Health Plan.
But let’s back up a bit and take a look at the path Roksana took to get where she is headed today.
Born and raised in Kyiv, Ukraine, Roksana’s childhood dream was to be a lawyer.
“When I was six years old, I watched the drama series La Piovra (The Octopus in English); seeing how unfair the world could be made such a big impression on me that I decided to become a lawyer to ensure that justice is served to everyone, not just the rich and famous,” recalls Roksana.
By the time Roksana graduated from high school, she was fluent in English, Russian and Ukrainian, and she was studying German and Italian. Her bachelor’s degree was in law, and she went on to earn a master’s degree—also in law—from the National Academy of Internal Affairs in Kyiv. “I specialized in criminal law and my thesis was about extradition. Childhood dreams do come true: I worked as a lawyer before I moved to the United States.
“After my graduation in 2007, I became a lawyer at a medical company,” she continues. “It is quite normal in Ukraine for in-house lawyers to wear multiple hats. I was not just working on contracts—though that was my main responsibility—but I also was in charge of multiple projects—real estate, company registration, negotiation with vendors and many other things.”
And it was her experiences as a lawyer that opened her eyes to project management.
“People lead projects and apply project management skills even without having a formal title of project manager,” Roksana explains.
These tasks led her to further her education outside law topics—and in project management. “I took courses at Krok University in Ukraine to become more effective at work, including topics on how to manage conflicts, neuromanagement, et cetera. The courses were great, and I seriously considered studying project management there, as well, but life brought me to the United States.”
Roksana credits her early exposure to foreign languages in making her open-minded enough to be able to move across the ocean when the opportunity came years later and to start a new life in the United States.
From One Coast to the Other
Roksana worked as a tax preparer for Liberty Tax Service and as a file clerk for Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C., where she got a taste of American law by preparing court case documentation. After one year in Pennsylvania, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.
But it was a life-changing wake-up call and a career move to San Francisco Health Plan that reignited Roksana’s drive to keep learning and applying her project management skills.
“When I moved to the United States, I made a huge mistake: I did not get insurance for the first few months here,” she laments. “Like many other young people, I thought that nothing serious could happen to me as I was healthy. And I was wrong. I ended up in the emergency room in November 2013. When I was recovering from the unexpected surgery that literally saved my life, I got bombarded with bills. At that time, I had no job, no insurance, but I had multiple bills for thousands of dollars. I negotiated a payment plan and had paid almost $36,000 over five years.”
This costly mistake and following revelation led her to find work at San Francisco Health Plan, “a great managed care health plan in San Francisco.
“In 2014, I started working there as a customer service representative because I felt it was my way to help people understand health care and insurance a bit better. San Francisco Health Plan is a mission-driven company and I am proud to work for this company, even though I have a different role there now.”
After two-plus years in customer service, she transitioned to City Option Program coordinator, where she prepared presentations, trainings and newsletter materials; eventually, Roksana was promoted to her current program specialist role, where she tapped into her existing project management skills and began to look into how to build this toolkit.
New Skills for Professional Development
“I decided to look into pursuing the Certificate Program in Project Management for two reasons:
I am a big believer in lifelong learning. The world is changing daily. The status quo is a losing strategy nowadays. Project management skills will help you become more effective in any area of your life.
I lead projects at work, and as a perfectionist I strive to set high standards for results of my work. Taking project management courses will provide sufficient knowledge of industry standards.”
She did not look at any other program.
“My friend completed this certificate program and recommended it to me,” she says. “Also UC Berkeley Extension has an outstanding reputation.”
Aside from the personal recommendation, it was the professional experiences of the instructors that really made the program successful for Roksana.
“Start with the first Project Management course,” she shares. “Reem Gohar was a fantastic instructor and an experienced project manager. I still remember project management stories she shared with us. We practiced leading the team, working on different cases and presenting to various audiences.
“I learned the basics on how to be a project manager. And that’s when I realized that I wanted to utilize project management skills not only in my daily life—to plan vacations, organize events, et cetera—but also in my professional life. That course was an eye-opening event for me.
“Whatever you do, you have to be effective. Project Management teaches you how.”
Reem wasn’t the only instructor she considered influential, either. And she even makes her own recommendations.
“Of course, I have to mention other fantastic instructors:
“I recommend the Leadership Without Authority course to anyone interested in personal and professional development, not just to those interested in project management.”
As a “people person,” Roksana opted to take her courses in the classroom; the certificate can also be completed online from anywhere in the world.
“I was lucky to take most classes in person; I truly enjoy little coffee breaks, human interaction outside of the classrooms, lunches with your team, et cetera. Online classes are great for people with limited time because you can join the class from anywhere in the world and you don’t have to commute. Classroom sessions are great for people who love networking, observing body language, presenting in front of the class, exchanging contacts with your team members.”
Project Management Skills at Work
After Roksana completed the project management certificate program, she was offered the role of part-time teaching assistant with the Berkeley Online Technology Project Management Bootcamp.
“First, if I had not completed the Certificate Program in Project Management, the recruiter would not have contacted me; the certificate brought me the job,” she says.
“Second, project management skills are universal and can be applied in multiple fields, including technology. When it came to technical skills—Jira, Asana and Scrum—I learned together with my bootcamp students, but all other project management processes and definitions I was able to explain. Also, it was a pleasure to share my passion for project management with my students.”
“I plan to continue working on projects in my professional life, and I think I am moving in the right direction now.”
Roksana also shares this advice if you are unsure of the direction you might be headed:
“If you want to obtain project management skills that are applicable anywhere—technology, finance, government, health care—start with the Project Management introductory course, and if you like it, then register for the project management certificate program.”