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I have just enrolled on the Open University's Open degree to allow me to pick and choose my modules to tailor a path toward attaining a position in the career I want to pursue.

Project management in an IT setting seems to tick all the boxes for me but I would appreciate some advice from you fellow Project Managers on how you initially got started in this career. I am planning on taking the PRINCE2 course in 2016 after completing my second year of study at the OU, I can then finalise my degree.

So far the modules I have picked include: - IT Project and Service Management - Object Oriented Java Programming - Leadership (this is a business module the OU offers, is it necessary?)

The above modules make up my 120 credits for year 2, I am aware that picking some code and theory based modules will round my knowledge of IT better, thus potentially making me a better project manager, so would you recommend swapping the Leadership module for 1-2 IT theory based modules or should I keep the business aspect.

  • Technical knowledge is useful, but whether it is useful to you in your future career path is an opinion, and one that's unlikely to help future visitors. – Todd A. Jacobs Oct 2 '14 at 17:05
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It depends. In some companies Project Managers do nothing but chat with the client and report to supervisors how the project is going while having little power or responsibility on anything. In other situation (I call em, "The real PMs!"), the Project Manager is the steel of your project: All functional changes, issues, beefs, dramas and decisions are hanging on your head. If you leave the project, you are all dead. So, it just depends in what company you will be and what kind of responsbilities you will have.

In my opinion: If you want to be a really good project manager, you-have-to-have-experience-with-what-the-programmers-do. I have seen many project managers with just economic/management background and while they do posses the key character trait to being a PM - ruthlessness and and being able to make people actually do what they are supposed to do - when it comes to taking technical tasks they either rely purely "in good faith" to the words of some tech-savy guy or they just make up some numbers:

"Oh, this feature is going to take us 48h!"

Sure, no one doubts, PM is about planning, managing risks, being the leader and all that stuff you read in the good shiny books.

But if you want to be one for real... You need to know some programming.

Otherwise, you will be always "that prick who just fucks around giving orders and torturing me".

  • On behalf of Chloe, thank you @Hellen this is exactly what she was looking for. Will mark this as the answer when we get home. – Alex Sep 29 '14 at 19:33
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    I partially support this answer... but I believe that a PM is not supposed to discuss or put dev estimates at question. If the PM does not rely on their team, there's an underlying problem that all IT knowledge won't overcome. – Tiago Cardoso Sep 29 '14 at 20:21
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I think the best advice is to go online and find out what types of IT PM-type jobs are out there and what they require. By and large they will ask for XX years experience in IT, maybe also specifying development and/or PM methodologies, but these can be looser for job titles like "Project Coordinator". If you review a dozen or so job postings per month for 2-3 months you should have a reasonable sample of what industry is looking for today.

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My view is even before hopping on this journey to be a IT Project manager or not understand what it takes to be there. As matter of fact based on your experience with the technology and working with the teams you get to do various tasks right from handling requirements, to managing teams and then the financials. Key point is not every one does everything. Though most of us start being Team leads handling technical issues, interacting with clients and then handling teams

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I think it helps a lot as an IT project manager to have training and experience in coding and development. It gives you credibility with developers when you can speak their language and understand the concepts that are important to them. It helps you evaluate developers' skillsets, and know when they're giving you targets that are reasonable.

I started as programmer and moved into project management over time. Coding is still my main interest; I like building things... understanding the nuts, bolts and moving parts. This continues to inform my project management style, and it has worked well for me.

Lastly, I think PMs with a coding background understand better that software development is a wicked problem. Many traditional PMs, in my experience, often see building an application as no different from building a house. This leads to uneven expectations, and ultimately confusion when things don't go to plan.

So personally, would I drop the Leadership module and choose something more coding-oriented? Yes I would.

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I will speak from a developer perspective. I am working for IT company (US based) for 10 years so far. I had a lot of PMs, after 2 years I become a Front End Team Lead. So I had to PM smaller task and do coding in the same time, and report to a PM it was crazy and I burned out after 3 years. From my perspective good IT PM should have following skills.

  1. Be calm, open and sincere
  2. Knows how stuff works form a broader perspective so you are not lost hence getting credibility and having confidence. Take some time to learn whats new in IT
  3. Reward team/member if they are doing a good job (even nice word will be enough) otherwise rise an issue and discuss it calmly
  4. Always be open to dev suggestions , you will learn a lot.
  5. Have a way to get anonymous feedback from your team.
  6. Leave to dev to set a deadline (Currently I am working on a complex project that I need 2 weeks , but PM gave me 2 months ).
  7. Your team will consist of different devs so pick ones that you can give more responsibility and offload your tasks.
  8. NEVER put junior person to lead a senior even if he knows UML ;)
  9. I you are going to dig into dev code, do be very careful if you have negative feedback
  10. Forget about your ego
  11. Don't let one spoiled apple spoil whole team, fire it ASAP.
  12. And lastly , all above can be summed up as treat your team as they are your second family your are their mother and father work-wise emotion-wise etc

There will be fights but they are easily overcome. I hope this helps

EDIT: Just wanted to add that having over 8 different PMs none of them had all of above so this is a imaginary PM that I would like to work with.

  • I don't think this answers the question that was asked... the question was about the mechanics of becoming a PM, whereas you have described your view of the attributes that a PM should aspire to. – Iain9688 Oct 1 '14 at 19:04
  • Title states Advice on becoming a Project Manager in IT sorry for off topic I can delete a post, just need one more confirmation. – BojanT Oct 1 '14 at 21:08
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    Thanks a lot @BojanT, very useful insight (commenting on behalf of Chloe, I'm her other half...) - I don't think this is off topic at all, reinforces the list of characteristics I discussed with her and also enforceds. the fact that there are few GREAT project managers out there...here's to hoping we can make a good one of her!! – Alex Oct 1 '14 at 22:08
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There are many paths you can take. I started out as a developer, moved into senior developer/System Analyst roles, and then into more of a PM type role. This occurred across multiple jobs over many years. I obtained my PMP certification five years ago.

I would recommend starting out in a developer role. No matter what kind of project management you may do, it is good to have a base knowledge of the technical work involved. Classic project management (i.e., by the book) dictates that the PM does not do any of the actual detailed work. However in my experience and from what I learned from my PMP course instructors, that is not usually the case in the real world. At a minimum, having the base technical knowledge will help you to communicate more effectively with developers, testers, DBAs, etc.

Once you are established in a PM position, keep current on changes to industry standards, methodologies, etc. If you find yourself in an environment which has become stagnant, consider changing positions to keep yourself and your career on track.

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