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It was a bold decision; a brave moment of “bet on yourself.”

So of course the reactions ranged from “Are you sure?” to “You did what!!?”

Three years into her career, Nalah Williams was leaving her stable, good-paying civil engineering job behind and stepping into the unknown world of small business ownership.

“When you hear a few people say, ‘I just can’t believe you’re going to do this,’ that can kind of scare you a little bit,” Williams said. “But I’m someone who once I’ve made up my mind, I’m not going to change it. I’m a little bit stubborn in that way [laughs].

“Plus, just the fact that you’re telling me that you don’t think it’s a good idea, well, now I have to prove you wrong. My competitive nature kicks in.

“And besides, no one ever got to the top by doing what everyone else was doing.”

Williams started Golden Mane Consulting, a home design and construction company, based in Dallas, and has made a success of it as the president and CEO.

She continues to be very active in ASCE, especially as deputy treasurer of the ASCE Dallas Branch and serving as a representative for the ASCE Construction Institute board. She credits the CI Student Days event as developing her love for construction, and she’s since served as the CI Younger Member Council president, working to plan and run Student Days.

ASCE has honored Williams as a 2024 New Face of Civil Engineering.

Williams’ bet on herself has paid off in a big way. She felt she was stagnating in her previous work and not able to showcase the non-technical skills that she felt could differentiate her from other engineers – things like the client interactions, the project management, and face-to-face communication.

“I would definitely say you have to work on getting to know yourself. You have to be very honest with yourself about what it is you like,” Williams said.

“What do you want to do? We don’t always get to do what we want to do, but honestly, for the most part, we’re in a field where we’re always in need. So the opportunities are there, but don’t accept that you have to be unhappy.”

Williams recently spoke with Civil Engineering Source about her career.

photo of Nalah Williams

Civil Engineering Source: What’s the accomplishment or aspect of your career so far that you’re most proud of?

Nalah Williams: I’d say owning and opening my own firm at 26. I certainly haven’t met a lot of engineers who have done that, if I’ve met any for that matter at such a young age. And people keep telling me that I’m so brave to do so, so young. So it’s a little bit scary that they keep saying that, but I think it’s a pretty cool accomplishment.

Source: Do you feel in this new chapter with your own business you have been able to stretch your skills and find a new peace of mind?

Williams: Absolutely. Having your own firm, you spend a lot of time networking and marketing, so it’s all face-to-face interaction. To get people to work with me, they have to know what I’m doing. They have to see how well I communicate.

So that’s definitely using my strengths to the full. With all the work I do in ASCE and all the free resources, I make sure to stay up on my technical side as well. I feel like I’m constantly signing up for different certification classes and finding new design software to learn. And I’m able to spend as much time on each as I would like or that I think would benefit me the most.

Definitely a big thing for me is focusing on spiritual aspects first and foremost. Having my own company, I’m able to set my own schedule. I’m able to put my faith first and have work be secondary to that.

Source: Do you mind talking a little more about your faith?

Williams: I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I strive every day to put my worship of God first in my life. And so that means preaching and teaching to others about the Bible and God’s Kingdom. 

I’m a full-time servant doing that. I’m able to put the time and devotion that I want to with that, which I certainly wouldn’t have the opportunity to do with a full-time job. And it’s not impossible, but it’s a lot harder to do. So by setting my own schedule, I’m able to put that as a priority, which is what’s most important to me.

You know, I’m not really in it for money. Obviously, money has to be made to survive in this system, but money is not my goal.

My spirituality is my focus, so that already differentiates me from other people, especially in how they think about business.

But that’s the path that I choose to take, and it certainly has brought me the most blessings.

Source: What kind of impact do you hope to make on the profession?

Williams: Yeah, I think I’d say that it would be to help others with my visibility to other people being a big part of that.
Of course, growing up – and I think this is probably true of maybe most minorities, specifically African American women – there are not a lot of us in this field.

Our numbers are growing, but you know there’s not a lot. And it’s not my sole purpose, but seeing is believing as they say. So I just want to be visible to people. I want to show them the opportunities that they can have, whether that’s from a minority standpoint or the female standpoint. I want to show them that you can do this; you can open your own business; you can take those risks.

Source: When you were growing up, who were those “visible” role models for you?

Williams: In high school we had a career technology center and I had the same two teachers for all five of the classes that I took in engineering – Mr. Kenneth Strong and Mr. Chris Patterson, and they both were just awesome. They produced a love of engineering for us within Project Lead the Way.

And then as far as owning my own business, I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My mom has her own speech pathology company. My grandmother owned her own school for years. So that certainly wasn’t something that was a new idea to me.

Source: When you look at that decision to start your own company at 26, where do you think the confidence came from to take such a leap?

Williams: The confidence definitely came from God. I pray about any decisions I make, especially big ones like that. And I have faith that as long as I’m putting his work first, everything will work out.

And then also the support of family and friends. I still live at home, so I didn’t have to pay a mortgage on a house yet, so I could take that risk of switching jobs, doing my own thing because I had the support of my family to back me up whenever I needed.

I won’t say you have to have other people, but it helps a lot to have a support system in place with any type of risk. I don’t think anyone has ever said, “Oh, I hate that I had such supportive people around me!” you know?

So I think it’s those two things. You certainly have to have some sense of a higher power – something to guide you and motivate you – and that support system. That’s where my confidence comes from.