So you want to be an IT project manager, huh?

Filed under Books, Tools, Training | Posted by PMStudent

Let me help you unpack this a bit.

Why do you want to be an IT project manager anyway?

How did IT project management become suddenly sexy?

I see many people who are in other roles who have become very interested in ‘IT’.? I had a co-workers in the past who was going to school to get a degree in web design.? She complained about assignments, tried to find shortcuts or ways to get around the work.? When she asked for my help I had to push back sometimes because she would rather I do the assignment for her.

She just wasn’t very interested in web design.

When I asked her about career goals, it was for ‘the money’.

by Ivan Walsh via Flickr

Don’t do it for the money

Sometimes people are interested in ‘IT’ because they have always been computer geeks.? They love technology… it’s their hobby and their passion.

That’s how it happened for me.? I started dinking around with (aka breaking) computers in high school, and when I got into college I got a job doing tech support at the Gateway call center (which was once here in Sioux Falls, SD).? I was a gamer, and started teaching myself programming just so I could create fun little scripts and I even wrote a javascript pong game back in the day.

When I managed operations for a small start-up ISP, I had the opportunity to learn how to administer and program on a Lucent Definity PBX and I loved it.? I wrote scripts to pull out ascii data on a regular basis and generate useful reporting because we had to skimp on reporting packages (as in not buying one).

by phil schatz via FlickrMy point is this:? I love technology.? I’m no longer a gamer and not (that) interested in writing code anymore.? Heck, I’ve only reformatted and reloaded my computer(s) 2 or 3 times in the last year to try out new operating systems.

So I’m not that much of a geek anymore.? What I do have is a foundation of experience and interest that allows me to quickly understand most ‘IT’ environments and people that I come into contact with as a project manager.

That foundation is important.

Hal Macomber and I chatted about this over drinks while in Orlando last October and we both agreed that you need that foundation in any industry or functional area to be successful.

I will not be managing any construction projects any time soon; being a shop boy for a concrete company when I was 12 doesn’t really give me any ‘footing’ in construction.

Which ‘IT’ do you mean?

When you say you want to be an ‘IT’ project manager, what does that really mean?

‘IT’ is a pretty broad category and can mean many different things.

I’ve managed projects involving end-user application development, building web sites, server and client-side automation, back office integration between proprietary systems after company acquisitions, building out a switch, etc.? There are so many specialties within the designation of ‘IT’ they are hard to keep track of.

I started with one focus though, web-based application development.? I had spent years as an individual contributor (and hobbyist) in this arena before managing projects there.? After awhile I was ready to move on to something else.

Before you start thinking about moving towards a career path in IT project management, get clear about what you want to do.? I recommend researching enough to understand what’s out there first, then specialize.? Perhaps data warehousing is your cup of tea…that’s a lot different than developing software for an internal company desktop application.? 5 or 10 years down the road you can branch out into other areas, but for now I suggest picking a specialty.

On education and certifications; a rant

Remember the story about my co-worker earlier?? If you’re doing it just for the money and aren’t into the topic, you might be wasting your time and money.

Many years ago I was interviewing for a senior computer technician.? The ‘MCSE’ certification was all the rage back then and many people were going to boot camps to cram for the exam with a guarantee of passing.? Does this sound familiar?


One gentleman I interviewed had an impressive resume for the role.? A bachelor of computer science, MCSE? and some other things I can’t recall.? I was looking forward to the interview, he seemed perfect on paper.? As a part of my interview process, I always try to include some kind of role playing to really test the candidate.

He wowed me.

But not in a good way.? This ‘MSCE’ couldn’t navigate around a PC, let alone perform some of the routine troubleshooting tasks I was throwing at him.? It was painful.? I ended up hiring a 19 year-old who had been a technician for only 6 months.? He was a gamer, could do advanced troubleshooting with his eyes closed, and was a great communicator.

I know PMPs like this today.? When you hear me rant about how I dislike boot camps or being in it just for the piece of paper, now you know where it comes from.

Now that I got that off my chest…

Go get the CAPM, Project+, ITIL, IPMA-X, PMP, PRINCE2, degree in IT project management or whatever.? Go invest in some training courses.? I’m not against any of this.

Just do it because you’re passionate about it.

The entry-level certifications will give you a familiarity with project management in general and the specific standard or processes involved with the organization that offers it. A degree in computer science can be a great move if you are truly passionate about it.

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I went back to school for a degree in project management because I am passionate about it.? It helped me look at managing projects in a more systematic and formal way, which meant a lot when combined with experience and passion.

I got the PMP certification because it was a great way to learn about that paradigm.? For me the best parts were when I came across something I disagree with…no one source is “THE SOURCE”.? If I hadn’t the years of experience managing projects I would have done the CAPM exam instead for the same reason.

Of course these things help your career.? Remember how excited I was about the degree and certification on that resume?? They can help you get opportunities to show people what you can do.? But you can’t rely on them like that chap did.

It’s just a piece of paper unless you are passionate.

By the way, I offer some project management training you might be interested in (but only check it out if you’re truly passionate about learning project management!)