Crystal Downey
Business people working as a team at the office

ATD Certificate Programs: Key to Building Relationships in the Industry and Beyond

Thursday, December 20, 2018

As the first keynote speaker at TechKnowledge 2018, Kevin Carroll encouraged participants to start each day with an interrobang (?!)—that is, to start each day with curiosity and enthusiasm.

Curiosity and enthusiasm were two drivers of my decision to travel solo from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to San Jose, California to attend my first ATD conference. As a young professional in our industry, I was curious about new technology and its application to learning, as well as enthusiastic about the future of talent development.

In reviewing the program offerings, I elected to attend the Project Management for Learning Professionals certificate program slated to start two days before the conference itself. I can easily say it was one of the best decisions I made regarding the conference.

As a shy East Coaster struggling to adjust to the time difference, had my TechKnowledge experience started on day 1 of the conference, I almost certainly would have felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of attendees and workshop options. I would have gained knowledge and insight from the presenters, but I might not have met or interacted with a single new person if it meant that I would have to make the first move to drum up conversation.


I didn’t struggle to network with others, in large part due to my attendance at the preconference certificate program. The class size was small enough that we were able to quickly build relationships with one another and our instructor through engaging class activities, but large enough that we were a group of diverse professionals from numerous backgrounds and industries. I made connections with people I could go out to dinner with to discuss our hopes and plans for the conference, as well as the challenges we faced in our roles back at home. I was able to pick these same faces out of the crowd during sessions and keynotes, making the conference feel friendlier and granting me the confidence to engage with other attendees whom I did not know.

In addition to making the large conference feel smaller, I also gained some great tools and insight to take back to my team. It is almost a year later now, and I still break out my session workbook from time to time to reference project document templates or to consult the list of free resources and tools we compiled together.

These skills and resources have no doubt made me more effective in my role leading training initiatives for my company’s project managers. Our industries may differ, but the project delivery process and the common challenges of projects are the same. This program gave me more insight into the roles of the people I support through the programs I manage and gave me common ground to build better relationships with them. I was able to speak their language using terms in the project management lexicon, which increased my credibility with the project managers I work with—both attendees of my programs and SMEs I collaborate with.

Overall, my decision to attend a preconference certificate program was a huge part of what made TechKnowledge such a memorable experience. The diverse offerings mean that there truly is something to appeal to every role and every career stage. I would recommend these programs to anyone, but especially to a first-time conference attendee or someone brand new to ATD. The skills you learn and the knowledge you gain are top-notch and immediately applicable. These programs are also a bridge to building relationships with other people in our industry: people you can meet up with at the conference year after year, people who might offer you that next-level career opportunity, people who enrich your career with their curiosity and enthusiasm and inspire you to do the same for others.

Learn more about the certificates offered at TK2019.

About the Author

Crystal Downey resides in Pittsburgh, where she is a senior talent systems and learning specialist with Michael Baker International’s Learning & Development team. She partners with operations staff to create functional learning programs related to health and safety, engineering, and project management. Crystal has worked within the U.S. Army, legal, nonprofit, and engineering industries to design and implement solutions-focused training and e-learning initiatives to improve the skills and performance of participants in her programs. She recently earned the APTD credential through ATD. Crystal is passionate about the intersection of technological advancements and learning, and what that means for the workforce of tomorrow.

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