Matthew Williams is always looking for the next challenge. His career in project management began in the US Army, where he was introduced to the field through work on satellite nodes. When exiting the military, Matthew transitioned into the tech industry where he works today as a Senior Program Manager at Google. His technology portfolio is extensive, with stints at Microsoft, Oracle, and Twitter. He cites a growth mindset, a willingness to take on challenges for personal and professional development, as the reason for his success.
With the MS in Project Management program from USC Bovard College, he was able to expand his knowledge base with insight from both the professors and his peers. The flexibility offered by the online learning environment allowed him to balance a thriving career, family life, and schoolwork.
Below, Matthew Williams outlines his background, how his military experience prepared him for a project management career and making an impact on future students of Bovard College through the Ambassador program.
What is your background and how did you get into project management?
I took a nontraditional route on my way to working in the technology sector as a Program Manager. While in the US military, I worked on satellite nodes for almost nine years before deciding to move on to the next big adventure. Before exiting the military, I was accepted into a coding course called the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA). Microsoft jointly runs this course with the military, and upon successful completion, graduates are afforded the opportunity to interview at Microsoft. After successfully graduating and interviewing, I was offered a Program Manager role with Microsoft to work on software release management.
How did your experience in the US Army prepare you to transition into project management?
I think all levels of leadership in the military prepare us in the project management sector. It’s our job to manage projects, whether short, medium, or long-range planning, at some point in our careers. For myself, project management was critical when working at higher levels in our battalion, specifically in our S3 (operations) shop. Most of the experience I gained in project management occurred while planning out schools and training projects. A lot of the experiences gained here stemmed from having a clear project charter and figuring out how to set forth a plan that will help deliver results at the end of the project.
What led to your decision to pursue an MS in Project Management from USC?
Three things led me to pursue an MS in Project Management from USC. After many years of experience working in the project management field, I wanted to push myself to learn more and validate the lessons I had learned from a professional setting in an educational setting. I had gone into the course thinking I would mostly gain perspectives on my project experience and validate that I had done the best I possibly could. Instead, I found I had learned so much from not only my professors with countless years of experience in various project management industries but also from my peers.
The second reason was USC’s tradition, history, and academic excellence. Growing up, I was a big sports fan, and watching athletes, I noticed some of my favorite athletes had a tenacity not replicated by many others. All of these athletes came from USC athletics. Looking back, I don’t think of this as a coincidence. I believe USC makes people strive to be their best in their field. This trait is how I want to be perceived by my peers, so I knew attending USC was a way for me to strive for not only academic excellence but industry excellence in my career. The curriculum for the MSPM program was an excellent way to ensure I have up-to-date industry knowledge of my chosen career field.
The third reason why I chose USC’s MSPM program over other schools is the veteran support offered at USC. I was able to use my Post-9/11 GI Bill with the Yellow Ribbon program to pay for a majority of my program. Once those payment options ran out, I was granted a scholarship from the Engelstad Foundation scholarship for Veterans to help pay for my tuition. The veteran community at USC is excellent. I was able to connect with multiple active-duty service members and veterans in my course.
What are some highlights of your career so far?
The greatest highlight of my career came before I joined a technology company. While serving in the military on deployment in 2012, a typhoon struck land in the Philippines, destroying almost everything it came into contact. The company I worked for halted operations to provide immediate ground support for joint military humanitarian support.
Some project highlights from my technology career include my time at Microsoft and Oracle. While working at Microsoft, I was part of the organization Dynamics 365 Government (Customer Engagement) which became the first and only Software as a Service at the time in March 2018 to obtain a FedRAMP High Impact Provisional Authority to Operate (P-ATO) through the Joint Authorization Board (JAB). That project was a very complex cross-functional project with a government audit at the end, and we could say we were the first to do it. It was an incredible experience.
While working at Oracle, I worked with some of the industry’s best Security Architects while running a Security Architecture program. I was lucky enough to collaborate with one of my architects on a patent to develop a technology product that would benefit people in this world by ensuring authorization and authentication are better secured.
You have an impressive resume in technology. What advice do you have for those looking to enter the industry?
There are no best routes to get into a tech company but understanding there are always alternative routes to get you where you want is key to accomplishing your goals. Challenge yourself, set realistic goals along with milestones, chart your progress towards your goals, reevaluate your milestones, and be relentless in your pursuit. Nothing worth doing is easy.
What core skills have led to your success?
Having a growth mindset can point you toward success. Rather than coasting on success and being comfortable with a team or company, I always look for the next challenge and want to know what growth is needed to meet those challenges head-on. Find your passion, understand which areas you are deficient, do everything it takes to be your best in that area, and never settle for comfort. Something my dad, a retired Army Master Sergeant, taught me is always to ensure my next assignment is my toughest one yet. I did this in my military career and have kept the same growth mindset in my technology career. Don’t be afraid of failure because it is a risk; look at it as an opportunity for growth.
What do you enjoy most about being an Ambassador for the MS in Project Management program?
Speaking to industry peers and future Trojans is probably my favorite part of the MSPM Ambassador program. I get to talk to many individuals about this program and how I was able to navigate working in tech, having a family, and balancing school. Most tend to be apprehensive about starting school again later in life with many more responsibilities than in their undergraduate programs. I get to help them by sharing my experience, so they are informed about what the program entails.
Learn more about the MS in Project Management program.