Angela Johnson's career began at a call center where she performed technical and customer support and end-user training for legal clients having trouble with the online legal research and database service WestLaw. But after a few years, during which time parent company West was acquired by Thomson Reuters, Johnson moved to Rockwell Automation, a manufacturing automation company whose products gathered and analyzed data about specific parts being machined on factory and plant floors.
"I am one of a rare breed whose brain seems to intuitively understand the linear nature and thinking required to work with relational databases, I guess, and Rockwell recognized that. We had so many clients on so many different databases, but I was able to help with the technical aspects of extracting that data from Oracle, SQL, Sybase, all these different databases and analyzing it," Johnson says.
She was lured away by Oracle and then, after the database giant's acquisition of retail management software company Retek in 2005, split her time between database management functions and serving as a technical trainer, teaching Retek departments and development teams to design and build custom database software.
"One day, though, I knew I was done. I walked in to see my boss and said, 'I'm having dreams about databases -- I'm seeing columns and rows in my sleep. I need to do something else,'" Johnson says.
Her past experience and her interest in technical education were a great fit for a project management role, so she went through the training and received her certificate as a certified project management professional (PMP). It was around the same time that Johnson discovered agile, and fell in love.
"Project management, especially in tech back then, in the 'We use Waterfall and it's so cutting edge' days, felt like refereeing a disagreement at a daycare center. I'd end up spending so much time just running back and forth shuttling messages and mediating arguments between different groups, different people. And it was like, 'Argh! Why can't you just talk to each other? Why aren't you working together instead of at odds?' And so, when I read the agile manifesto it was just this huge light bulb moment of common sense: no barriers, people collaborating with each other, no hierarchies, constant communication," Johnson says.
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The agile bug
From then on, she took every opportunity available to learn about agile and scrum to participate in the methodology and to try and evangelize for it as a scrum practitioner and a scrum master. When she achieved both of those designations, she asked her own coach and trainer how to get to the level of certified scrum trainer, and she never looked back.
"When I founded Collaborative Leadership Team (CLT), I wasn't a CST yet, but I had my own training materials and I was coaching organizations as a scrum master and an agile coach helping them make the transformation. I really wanted to be in the position where I could 'train the trainers,' and that took me three years," Johnson says.
Like Johnson, many professional agile coaches and scrum trainers came to the role with a background in technology, computer science, management and/or education. But until recently, scrum wasn't emphasized in college computer science curriculum, says Heidi Ellis, professor of computer science and information technology, Western New England University.
"We've been teaching scrum as a stand-alone class the last few years because we know businesses are using it. But a lot of programs integrate it with core courses, like data structures, introduction to programming and basic software development courses. Either way, it's important because technology changes so quickly, and because it introduces a collaborative environment early on, and teaches you how to prioritize, communicate and iterate," Ellis says.
Johnson's clients are all over the spectrum: software, hardware manufacturers, IT companies, but as a CST certified by The Scrum Alliance, she also trains coaches and does her own coaching for clients outside of the technology space.
Scrum.org also offers professional training and certification in the Scrum and agile methodologies, as well as a Professional Scrum Trainer (PST) designation, but at Scrum.org, offerings are specifically focused on the software industry and software craftsmanship and delivery, says Dave West, product owner, Scrum.org.
Most agile and scrum coaches operate as consultants, moving from client to client and helping them achieve agile transformation. Many CSTs and PSTs work with clients and deliver training classes for potential trainers while also keeping their technology skills sharp by writing code or working on side projects, West says.
"We have PSTs who are still writing and developing code, of course, and many who split their time among all these areas. They're coding, they're working with clients on coaching, they're out delivering training classes, but they all have a deep technical background. That doesn't exclude someone who doesn't have a degree in engineering or computer science. I know one particular PST in the Boston area whose undergraduate degree is in music -- but it certainly helps," West says.
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Without a degree, real-world coding experience or other technical acumen is a necessity, as is communication, teaching skills, negotiation, collaboration and teamwork, West says. To reach the CST (or PST) level requires not just extensive experience, but validation to prove that you'll excel at the role, he says.
"If you want to become a PST or a scrum trainer or expert, it's critically important to gain experience, work in the industry and learn from those above you, and then start giving back to the community. And that will validate your learning, and give you the tools you need. You can write blogs, help other people with their craft, and then over time you'll build your brand and your reputation," he says.
That external validation, both from certifying bodies and from peers, colleagues, teachers and students is a crucial part of the scrum and agile community, Johnson says.
"You need to keep records and documentation of people you've worked with, people you've coached, trained and mentored. You should have evidence of your contributions to the scrum community; teaching evaluations from students, your coaching and teaching materials and you have to know the scrum guide and the agile methodology inside and out and how to apply it in the real world," Johnson says.
An exclusive club
The process to become a CST is lengthy and rigorous, and it's exclusive: there are only about 190 CSTs worldwide, of which only about 20 are women, according to Johnson.
Johnson's path to becoming a CST has been long and winding, but there are myriad directions to take her career from here, and that's what's most exciting, she says.
"I absolutely love what I'm doing, and I never want to go back to that 9-to-5 employee type role again. I'm running a business, I'm teaching, I'm helping others make that transformation. But if I wanted to, I could go into a private organization as a CIO. I could be in upper management. I could start a consulting organization, I could even be in human resources or higher education, if I wanted to. The possibilities are endless," she says.