After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2006 with a degree in interdisciplinary studies and no longer on a student visa, Toby Atawo moved back home to Toronto, Canada. There, he worked as an account manager focused on employee benefits at Hewitt Associates (now Aon).
But as a Nigerian-Canadian, he began to feel a pull toward his family’s ancestral home: Nigeria is where his parents were born and raised, and where Toby had lived from ages two to eight.
“So in early 2009, I left Hewitt to go to Nigeria, feeling a need to add value to the country and help it achieve its potential,” Toby explains. “Over 60 percent of Nigeria’s almost 200 million residents are under 30 years old, which points to huge market-potential and middle-class growth opportunities.”
Within a few months of moving to Nigeria, Toby set up shop with his Mapleville Nigeria Limited company.
“I was a government contractor,” he says of his business. “I bid on areas of interest that I had been exposed to from my studies and brief work experience, such as peacekeeping and community restoration projects within the Niger Delta region.
“I also gained extensive experience in supply chain management, operating as a supplier to the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). This was the beginning of my journey as a project manager.”
But after Toby began to secure and execute contracts, he realized that there was an actual science behind the process. And that he needed to strengthen his skills in that process from start to finish.
Enter our Certificate Program in Project Management.
What brought you to our Certificate Program in Project Management?
After about eight years of operating in the project manager role at Mapleville Nigeria Limited, I wanted to formalize my education in project management, which led me to the certificate program.
In my research on certifying myself as a project manager, I saw a lot of courses that focused solely on passing the PMP® exam, but I wanted more from my educational journey. I wanted to develop a solid foundation in the science of project management, as well as apply the experience I had already gained leading projects.
In early 2018, my wife and I briefly returned to California on business. I attended an in-person informational open house in San Francisco for the Project Management certificate, and I really connected with the vision of the certificate program and the in-depth content that was discussed. Program Director Tim Bombosch did a great job in walking prospective students through what to expect. I desired the UC Berkeley Extension format that established a long-lasting professional foundation as opposed to a quick, 3–7-day course that crammed information into the students.
Why was project management a career skill you wanted to strengthen?
The biggest draw for me to the field of project management is the versatility of its processes and knowledge areas. It applies to all sectors of business, and a well-disciplined project manager becomes an invaluable asset to any organization.
How did your classmates and their diverse project management experiences enrich what you learned about in class?
I took my classes online, and there were a few classmates who were also international. I learned a lot from my peers: Many were at the same point in their career as I was. Their experiences helped to nail down the theory we were processing. It also opened my eyes to many other industries and how they applied their project management framework to their projects.
For example, one of my study-group members in the Project Management class worked at Berkeley Lab as a project manager. He shared his experience in his role and his involvement in the procurement projects within his organization. It was enlightening to me because as a government contractor for Mapleville Nigeria Limited our whole function of bidding for contracts was a procurement activity. It was great to contrast my experiences with what my classmate was going through at his organization.
What about your instructors and their professional backgrounds?
Lifong Liu, who taught Project Execution and Control, pushed me to succeed, and I appreciated the extra time she made for me and all her other students when questions came up.
But it was instructor Rosemary Hossenlopp who made the most positive impact throughout my experience. While I was taking her Project Scope and Quality Management course, I appreciated her encouragement, which was shown in the written discussions and assignments we submitted. Rosemary also offered constructive feedback, helping me elaborate on concepts and establish a project management mindset.
This was something that helped me when I decided to transition from Mapleville Nigeria Limited to a new job at Bohemian Alternative Energy back in Berkeley.
What do you do now at Bohemian Alternative Energy?
In 2019, not long after completing the certificate program, I joined Bohemian Alternative Energy. I lead feasibility studies and business case analysis for projects utilizing alternative energy, and I lead teams focusing on Sub-Saharan African territory.
Due to the pandemic, we have several renewable-energy projects currently on hold. In the meantime, I'm being proactive in looking to see what other opportunities could be out there and still see myself continuing to pursue a project manager role—hopefully within a large multinational organization—in the future.
What advice would you give somebody who is thinking about enrolling in the certificate program and who is interested in changing jobs?
My advice would be to stay open-minded when embarking on this journey. Not only will you learn a lot from a solid roster of instructors, but you’ll also learn from your peers. Use the opportunity to challenge yourself and utilize the knowledge, experience and networks that are available.