This week’s spotlight is on Uju Onyilagha, a PT who is now a scrum master and agile coach for Booz Allen Hamilton!
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What is your full name, title, and company name for your current, primary role?
Uju Onyilagha, DPT, CSM, CSPO, AWS-CCP — Scrum Master for Booz Allen Hamilton
Where are you located?
Where did you go to PT school, and what year did you graduate?
A.T. Still University in Arizona. I graduated in 2018.
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
I initially went straight into travel PT. However, I only did one contract before working perm as a neuro/pelvic health PT.
In what setting(s) did you work, and what types of patients did you treat?
I have worked in outpatient (ortho/neuro/pelvic health) and acute care. I’ve also worked with the geriatric population, amputees, adult neuro patients, and pelvic health for all genders.
What did you enjoy about your early roles? What didn’t you enjoy?
I truly enjoyed pelvic health and implementing my hands-on techniques (e.g. myofascial release, craniosacral therapy), while working with the prenatal population and oncology patients. It brought light to my day encouraging, supporting, and providing patient education along with my hands-on skills to patients that suffered from uterine cancer, prostate cancer, etc.
What I didn’t enjoy so much was the extra documentation that kept me in the clinic for more than eight hours. That overall played a role in decreasing my work-life balance.
What else have you done since then, prior to your current role?
I had the opportunity to work for a health tech startup. I used my skillset as a PT to build out several exercise programs for patients that suffered from acute and chronic pain, as well as women’s health conditions.
After that, I moved on to Capital One, where I gained experience working for a big corporate company within the fintech (financial technology) industry.
When and why did you decide to do something non-clinical?
I knew during my first year as a PT that I didn’t want to continue doing this work for the rest of my life full time. I experienced extreme burnout, and many of my co-workers who have been practicing for several years were very unhappy. It almost seemed as if the PT break room was where everyone would gather to commiserate together. That terrified me, and I didn’t want to end up like that five years down the line; stuck in the same place, unhappy.
The moment I really knew it was time to leave traditional PT was when I needed to make a doctor’s appointment for myself. I found it difficult to take a half day in the morning due to patients scheduling weeks and months out in advance. I had a lot of guilt at first, and leadership didn’t make it any easier, as they had a rule of four weeks in place to request PTO and get it approved.
How could I have taken care of my patients when I couldn’t even take care of myself?
At the end of my first year, I started to make a plan for myself on where I see myself in the future.
What are you doing these days?
These days, I work as a scrum master and agile coach for Booz Allen. The project I am working on still gives me the opportunity to help oncology patients but in a different capacity. I’m currently in a leadership role where I coach and lead two large teams of engineers to deliver a product to our end user.
I am also a new dog mom for a chocolate lab and new homeowner as of this year! When I have the capacity outside of my main work hours, I see a few women’s health patients a week virtually with Maven.
What percentage of your time is spent clinically vs. non-clinically?
About 10% of my time is spent clinically.
How long have you been in your current scrum master role?
I have been with Booz Allen for about three months.
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
Absolutely! I’m huge on education, so I wanted to fully immerse myself in what it meant to be a GREAT scrum master. Here are some of the courses, bootcamps, and certifications I’ve completed:
- Certified Scrum Master course and certification
- Scrum Master three-month bootcamp
- Self-knowledge courses through Udemy, Google, and LinkedIn Premium
- Several other agile courses, such as the Certified Scrum Product Owner course, Coaching Agile Transformations, SAFe 5.1 Scrum Master, and many others
I also became a certified cloud practitioner through AWS. While working at Capital One, our engineers primarily worked in the cloud. I wanted to have a better understanding of the services we used, so I took the course and got certified in a couple of months!
Need help figuring out the next steps to your non-clinical career? Non-Clinical 101 can help!
How did you find your scrum master job? Did you apply or find it through a connection?
Honestly, I got very lucky with getting this role at Booz Allen, especially given the climate of the market and economy right now. I met a girl at a brunch in D.C., and we shared a mutual friend. After sharing with her how I was impacted by the mass tech layoffs at the beginning of the year, she was committed to getting me into Booz Allen to work with her. She gave me several referrals within the company, and one of the roles worked out in my favor!
Did you do anything special to your resume and cover letter to land the scrum master job?
I did! I hired a professional resume writer to highlight my skillset to match the type of roles I was going for.
What was the interview like for the role?
My interview at Capital One was quite intense. They have a thing called “Power Day,” where you have four rounds of one-hour interviews, all in one day: two behavioral interviews, one situational, and one case study. This was by far the toughest interview of my LIFE! But I landed the role.
At Booz Allen, I had one round of a 30-minute interview and landed the role.
How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?
My cousins and close PT friends were all super supportive, especially my friends in healthcare.
My parents, on the other hand, were a bit confused and not the most thrilled. Having Nigerian parents that brag about you to all their friends about their child being a “doctor,” then telling them you don’t want to practice anymore, they almost had a heart attack. However, they periodically ask if I still have a PRN PT job, where I can keep my skills and license active. I always assure them that I do.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you? What types of tasks and responsibilities fill your time?
Each day varies depending on what day of the sprint we are currently in. My tasks include:
- Facilitating our daily stand-up meetings for the engineers to keep track of the work we have committed to within the sprint and make sure we are still on track
- Leading our sprint planning sessions with our product owner to help maintain and organize the product backlog in order to plan and prepare for future sprints
- Working with our senior leadership team to prepare the roadmap and capacity planning sheet to efficiently plan the timeline for when we can deliver the product to our client
- Improving our current workflow and processes
- Coaching the team on best agile practices
What are some of the rewards of your scrum master role? What are the biggest challenges?
Some rewards include meeting our deliverables on time, completing work that we have committed to for a successful release, and giving our end users a newly enhanced product.
Some of the biggest challenges are implementing agile changes for a team that may not be so open minded to change. The resistance can cause tension when people are used to their current workflow and processes.
How did your clinical background prepare you for this role? Which skills transferred?
My clinical background prepared me for this role in staying well organized.
Additionally, having a strong background in providing patient education has given me the confidence to coach and educate team members on how to be efficient with our work.
The way I advocate for my patients is the same way I advocate for my engineers. I serve as the team’s representative when it comes to being a buffer of expectations and workload from our senior leadership team and client.
Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay compared to patient care?
The pay is great! I am making double what I was making as a new grad PT. I know PTs that have been working for 20 years that don’t make what I do now, so I’m very grateful to be in this position.
What type of person do you think would do well in your role?
A person who would do well in my role is:
- Very much detail oriented
- An advocate for change and implementing change
- Skilled in leadership and conflict resolution
- Comfortable with public speaking and presentation
- A problem solver
- Easily adaptable and flexible
Do you work remotely or onsite?
I primarily work remotely, but I go onsite about once a month.
What is a typical career path for someone in your scrum master role?
For someone in my role, the next step would be to go from scrum master -> agile coach -> possibly a release train engineer.
What is next for you? What are your high-level career aspirations?
I love education and always being one step ahead. I have a Release Train Engineer (RTE) course in a couple of weeks, so this is definitely where I see myself progressing to next. Essentially, an RTE is the chief scrum master of all scrum masters within a project.
What would you recommend to someone who is considering going into a role like yours? Do you have any special words of wisdom for the readers?
Make a clear roadmap for how you want to get to this role. Network, get certifications, and set up coffee chats with people in the types of roles you are interested in.
Have goals on your roadmap and a timeline for when you want to get there, but also be patient with the process.
What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?
I really want physical therapists to be respected more. With all the places that I’ve worked, we’re treated as if we’re at the bottom of the barrel, and it’s so disheartening. With all the work, education, and student loans that we take on, we should be compensated more fairly and be given true autonomy.
What would you teach to today’s graduate students in your profession, if you had the opportunity?
Volunteer, intern, and get a sense of what setting you want to work in. Just because you’re an athlete doesn’t mean that being an ortho PT is the best fit for you. About 90% of my class wanted to be an ortho PT during their first year, and about half of them changed their decision by their third year. Consider all your options within the field of PT, and make sure you know why you want to do it.