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I am still a student. My formation and my personal thirst for knowledge led me to learn a lot of different things:

  • Programming experience in several languages (low level ASM to higher level JAVA)
  • Professional experience as network/sys admin
  • Participed in SCRUM like projects for 4 years
  • 1 year teaching experience in network and programming
  • Self taught: security, project management

What I want to highlight here is that I have a variety of knowledge and experience that I would like to use in real life to the fullest. The problem is this: Before getting to any project management interesting position, I am expected to have some years of professional experience in the same field.

My goal is to get to a position where I can use all of these skills, learn and face challenges, and without passing by the coder phase. I don't want to do something that any coder can do, I want to be able to express myself and supervise others.

What to do in order to achieve this goal? I need a fast and efficient solution. What career path to follow and what competence do I need to acquire now? I am really willing to learn anything that can lead me there, I just despise doing something that I know I can do (coding, maintenance, ...), it would kill my motivation.

Thank you for helping me make a very important decision.

PS: I am sorry if I am off topic, I think this is the best choice to ask here since you may relate to my story and help me with your experience as project manager. Project manager is not the only job that would motivate me though, but you might be able to help me still.

EDIT: I really appreciate all of your answers, you seem to have so much to say about it and every bit of information is precious to me. Thank you !

Accepted: Good follow up in the comments, thanks.

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I am really amazed, how can this have been viewed 1,685 times in less than 24 hours? –  Aki Feb 27 '12 at 6:03
    
It's not worth a full post. I support a lot of what has been said and I'm not an engineer so I respect the engineer opinion on this greatly. If you do want to learn more about being a PM. I suggest checking out the PMStudent. Josh devotes his life to helping people learn about being PMs. –  Joel Bancroft-Connors Feb 27 '12 at 6:15
    
I subscribed to the RSS feed, looks interesting, thanks for sharing! –  Aki Feb 27 '12 at 6:48
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@Aki - I edited your question title to make it more SEO and reader friendly. Descriptive, targeted titles make it easier for people using search engines to find your question and our site :) Some people may have tweeted this question as well, which can help bring traffic back to the site. These two things may very well have contributed to the higher number of views. Let's tweet/share more questions to see if we can grow our community! :) –  jmort253 Feb 28 '12 at 2:01
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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You mentioned that you're still a student. I don't know what you are studying, but I assume it's Computer Science or Software Engineering.

If you are not involved in internships or side jobs that involve programming, maintenance, and/or software development, then this is a great way for you to gain more experience as a programmer. Most organizations will not hire you for a management position unless you can prove that you have experience in the area where your expertise will be needed.

You mentioned you've participated in scrum projects and have worked on several programming projects. Were these paid positions or internships? If not, you'll need to demonstrate that an employer actually hired you for a paid position or internship in exchange for your services.

In addition, I strongly advise you to look for project management opportunities. It's tougher to find paid positions without experience. So in this case you should look for volunteer opportunities or volunteer to take on part of a project management role. Having the experience and references can help you obtain the position you seek.

In conclusion, you must also understand that experience is something that is only obtained from actual experience. So if you've never actually worked a role where there was a project management component, then you have no experience even if you studied project management.

If you don't have 3 to 5 years experience in a professional environment, then employers may be hesitant to put you in a position of trust until you first prove that you have the skills needed to understand how software is developed. Don't get discouraged if your first job isn't exactly what you're looking for. People switch jobs all the time, and once you have more experience under your belt, you'll be in a better position to bargain with your potential employers.

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Thank you. My professional experience was an internship, all my other experiences are based on open-source development or programming projects as a student (most of them included working as a team). What I am really anxious about is to find a job where I can take advantage of most of my skills, they are in different fields: programming, networking, team management, project management and teaching. I know that's unexpected for a mere student and I fear I cannot find the right job to make the fullest out of all this. Do I really have to choose one path and forget/waste all the rest? –  Aki Feb 26 '12 at 18:10
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Part of getting the job you want is interviewing really well. Practice answering the questions that are commonly asked in project management interviews and be prepared to handle questions related to your lack of professional experience. Most employers don't mind people learning on the job. They just want to make sure you're not going to take the business and reputation they've built and burn it to the ground. :) –  jmort253 Feb 26 '12 at 20:35
    
That's very motivating. I know that trust must be earned, so I wouldn't mind starting out as a junior or volunteer. In practice however, I have to find a part time starting in September, professional experience is part of my degree. Do you know some nice books/papers about PM? I'll give my best and start the interviews soon. –  Aki Feb 26 '12 at 21:01
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Do some research with Google, or better yet, search through some of the questions on this site about books/papers on PM :) When you come up with a more specific question that hasn't been asked here already, come back and see us :). –  jmort253 Feb 26 '12 at 21:03
    
Will do, thanks. Though I was interested in books you knew and recommend since you could point me towards a more appropriate book. –  Aki Feb 26 '12 at 21:04
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Before it became a "profession," it was a job function. Many still argue it is still a job function and not a profession at all. Personally, I'm more in that camp, but that's not relevent here.

Whatever you are studying, go get an entry-level job there. As you climb, you will either continue down the track as a technologist, becoming more of a subject matter expert, or you will break off and join management. So just enjoy the ride and figure it out as you go.

There are entry-level PM roles, but these positions are more around project controls, like EV schedulers, or risk managers, or HR managers. Typically, I find these people getting stuck in project controls. Well, "stuck" is kind of harsh. I think many enjoy it.

Projects come in levels. All of us have been managing projects since we were kids. You could find yourself as the named PM of a small task as an entry-level whateverroleyouendupwith.

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So if I get out of a non-PM-related entry-level job, I can access to better PM jobs but if I start with an entry-level PM job, I'd be stuck there? Doesn't look appealing and I will consider your advice very carefully. What kind of entry level job can make use of the variety of my skills? I find them very specific an centered around one field: coding or consulting in a specific field or network/sys admin, etc. Some are fine, sure, but I feel like I miss something, I am not doing my best, because my best is to have a good knowledge of these different fields and use them together. –  Aki Feb 26 '12 at 20:56
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Sometimes you are lucky and if the workplace gives more employees closer contact to clients, you could quickly be offered a promotion to PM. At a small IT firm I worked at, the developers work more closely with the clients. Therefore, I got experience in communicating with them as I did the technical work for the projects. –  CC Ricers Feb 27 '12 at 0:38
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jmort253's answer is already very good in my view. Let me add a little.

Why do you want to supervise others? The answer to this question may not be as easy as you think. If it is just for the sake of it, I would recommend don't go there. Leadership is much more than supervision or being the boss of someone else.

In my experience you need a large amount of skills and experience to be successful, most of these are soft skills. Although it doesn't hurt to have technical skills as a leader in a technical environment at the end of the day you work with people. Your team consists of human beings and not of computers.

Being able to work with people to understand their strengths and weaknesses, making use of their strengths while helping them to improve or mitigate the weaknesses, dealing with difficult people within your team but also outside of your team, conflict resolution, and more are soft skills you generally don't learn at university.

Add to that the occasional lack of enough sleep, time zone differences, angry customer calls, impossible deadlines, an unreasonable boss, a political board of directors, ... Are you up for all of that?

I don't want to scare you away. These things don't necessarily happen (at the same time or at all). But they can happen. Can you handle them? How did you handle situations of extreme stress and pressure in the past? Now ask yourself again, why do you want to supervise others?

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+1 - Sometimes it's nice to bury your head in a computer, as computers don't get upset with you when you're tired and cranky lol. –  jmort253 Feb 26 '12 at 20:37
    
Thanks, I do want to supervise others for the sake of it. I really enjoy it and find it challenging. I'd just like to be here and use my knowledge and experience to advice and supervise a whole team, especially admins and coders, in order to achieve a project while maintaining a good QA, improving processes, achieving security, improving working conditions and respond to everyone's need as well as I can. It's putting all this together that I find really motivating. And I am really confident that I can do it, and do it well. –  Aki Feb 26 '12 at 20:51
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Project management does not involve supervision in my experience. PMs are coordinators and facilitators who are cross-functional, dealing with people who are each directly supervised in their respective line organizations. –  Rex M Feb 26 '12 at 23:33
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@RexM Yes, I agree there are PM's without direct reports. However, there are also companies where a PM has direct reports. Both models exist. –  Manfred Feb 27 '12 at 0:19
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@Aki - It does sound like you might want to read more about what it means to be a Project Manager, as Rex and John are right, PM is not about supervision. It sounds to me like you're more interested in functional management, which typically is not an entry-level position. –  jmort253 Feb 27 '12 at 1:32
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Experience as a member of several project teams is an absolute must. Experience is to project management as location is to real estate. Experience, Experience, Experience.

You will set yourself up for failure if you are able to jump into a position without adequate experience. ( Note this is true in many fields -- if you want to own a restraurant, you must work in a restaurant as a waiter, cook, etc for at least three years before you own one. ). In every field there are tricks of the trade that make the difference between success and failure, and you will not find the important tricks in any textbook.

This is why so many businesses fail.

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+1 Great analogy with the restaurant and real estate. Welcome to PMSE, the site for expert and enthusiast project managers! Be sure to read more about our site in the FAQ or visit the PMSE Meta Site for any specific questions you have about how our site works. Again, welcome to our community! :) –  jmort253 Feb 28 '12 at 1:55
    
Sounds fair. I just find it boring that I had 5 years practical non-professional experience (although 1 year in part time and 1 year in internship) and I still have to do what I already did before. But you make sense, I'll continue to learn and acquire experience. –  Aki Feb 28 '12 at 6:06
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There is what we call the "transferable competences" concept in human ressources management. You have a job experience that is not the one requiered, because it was not in the same field or not exactly the same work. You have to be able, then, to prove to your new potential employer that some or more of the tasks you were doing in your previous workplace can apply to the new one. You "transfer" your competence from a field to the other. It is much simpler than it looks. But it is a question of trust and selling yourself and your abilities, proving you can do the job as anybody else. But the most important points to succeed in any job is judgment, dedication and the sense of responsabilities. Those you can't buy or be trained to get them. You have them or not. It is part of your personality, of who you are. Having new and innovative ideas is a good points too, if your new employer is open minded.

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Thanks. I will do my best to convince my future employer(s) and sell myself )<-this sounds quite "wrong"). –  Aki Feb 28 '12 at 20:34
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Sell yourself means you have to put your points across; make the other side believe that you can do the job; reassure them. Seelling yourself it emphasing on your strenghts and not on your weeknesses (I mean during the job interview). You have only one chance to make a first impression. –  Simon Boulanger Feb 28 '12 at 22:02
    
The more I think about management, the more I conclude that you have it or not. With diplomas or not. It is in your personality. –  Simon Boulanger Feb 29 '12 at 13:58
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