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How to become a project manager?

Alina K
Front end developer at Shopify 💻 Riga TechGirls Co-founder 👩‍💻 My goal is to help people switch career and work in IT.
・5 min read

Hey, I'm Alina, a frontend developer at Shopify. My goal is to help people find their place in the IT field. I'm doing this via Instagram blog and also by creating a series of interviews with IT folks of different professions.

Whether you're already working in IT or are just curious about the field, becoming a project manager is a realistic opportunity. What is more, knowing project management, you will be able not only to use the skills at work but to manage your life efficiently too — that's what I learned chatting with Kris Kushner!

Kris Kushner is a PMP Certified Project Manager, Speaker, Coach, Project Management Sandbox program founder, with 8+ years of international work experience, 6+ years in IT.

[Alina] Could you share please, what the Project Manager (PM) does?

[Kris] To begin with we need to understand what a project is. Basically, this is a time constraint and unique endeavor. For instance, a new pool in the garden is going to be a project — we didn't have it before and we are not going to build it forever. As project managers, we need to plan, initiate, control the work, and make sure the outcome of the project is aligned with the project goals.

Continuing example with the pool — we defined what the pool should look like and how much will it cost to build it. We found the team, purchased the equipment, and started the work. As a result, we need to make sure we have a pool, it is located on the right spot, it has the right size and quality; it was built on time and we have not spent more than we planned.

[Alina] You worked as a PM for 6 years, how did your path start? Did you have a university degree in the needed field at the time of your first job?

[Kris] Actually no, I started from blank. Here is my love story. To begin with, when I had the very first experience I didn't even realise I was managing a project. Later on when I formally started I still had no relevant knowledge or education. I have just defined the professional path and built a plan on how to hit my goals there. So it was not love at first sight for me. What is more, before I fell in love with project management, it was just a tool for hitting my personal goals like having good earnings, not being stuck in one location and having a chance to make a valuable professional impact.

[Alina] Kris, so you're saying one could start the job as PM without a university degree?

[Kris] Absolutely. I am a real example of it. And to be completely transparent, there are a lot of great project managers who do not have a degree in this field, and even do not have professional certifications. Everything is doable.

[Alina] If I worked as PM in a non-IT field (e.g. in a car production company), how do I start working in IT? Is there a short list of things to add to your resume to re-qualify successfully?

[Kris] This is a good question. First of all, to let you know, when you study project management there is no industry classification. Meaning, project management is multi-applicable and project managers from all the industries are using the same methodologies and techniques. The difference could be in tools and in the relevant industry knowledge. Thus, if you want to switch to IT you should at least understand how the industry works. Specifically, you need to know the Software Development Life Cycle and to be able to use modern tools.

If I were construction or a healthcare project manager and then decided to become an IT project manager,

  • I would first study the industry structure and components (IT, Software, Mobile, Web, Desktop, Design, etc.) and will learn how the software is being delivered.
  • Also, I would learn the most common tools. It is actually easy, you need to create a list of them and to take free trials from the providers to get the hands-on skills. For instance, the most common could be Jira, Trello, Teamworks, Wrike, Monday.com, MS Project, Asana, and so on. TIP, they are ± common, so you need to understand the idea. I would take Jira, and maybe Asana. Also, you need to know how to use chart flow tools, like Lucidchart and Visio.
  • On top of that, I would search for the roles that I could be interested in to study the requirements. It is needed to identify the variance with the current experience and to spot the essentials to comply with. Once down, I would highlight my strong sides and would double down on the weak ones to level them up ASAP.

[Alina] Each development team in a company usually have 2-4 programmers, so the company can sometimes afford to hire intern/junior without experience because there will be other programmers with more experience overseeing newbie, fixing mistakes. PM is the one and only - so I imagine, the cost of a mistake is much higher, so the company would want only experienced PMs. How do PMs find their first jobs? What they can do to increase potential employer's confidence in hiring specifically them even though it's their first PM job?

[Kris] I can tell you a secret, there are a lot of companies with many project managers aboard. The big ones can even have a project management office and internal mentorship opportunities. Even if there are only small teams of 2-4 developers, most likely there are several teams that have other PMs you can learn from. There are always some internal low-profile projects that need to be done and allocating an experienced PM for such projects would be too expensive for the company. If it is a really small company, most likely they have fewer requirements for the role where the general one is to be able to get things done. However, it always really depends on the company and its structure.

I personally had a chance to work with both small ones with one team only and with bigger ones with the Project Management Office inside and can say it is possible to find a suitable opportunity.

[Alina] One of my acquaintances started work as QA but then decided she wanna be PM. She wasn't sure she could handle this job because it's a higher responsibility in her eyes. How she could understand if this is for her?

[Kris] Sure, there are qualities that can help you define whether project management is the right choice for you. Definitely, this could be frustrating to realize that you need to be accountable for some expensive project and everything depends on your ability to plan and to lead people. Fear of responsibility is normal, everyone feels it and it comes from the lack of understanding of how project management works.

First of all, you are not alone, you are with the team. There are no projects that are delivered solely by project managers.

Besides, if we wanna cut to the chase, I would say one of the most important skills is the ability to take ownership. And this starts with ourselves. Let's make a tweak and think not about expensive projects, but about our personal lives. I believe our lives are the most important projects. If we can take ownership and responsibility for our lives, which is vital; why can't we be responsible for some project?

My Instagram, where I write about starting work in IT
Kris Kushner Instagram

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