How to become a project manager in IT

    Hello friends!

    It turns out that my acquaintances and acquaintances of my acquaintances who recommended me periodically contact me with approximately the same question: “How can I become a project manager in IT, if before that I worked in a similar position but not in IT? ”

    Since several such requests have accumulated in a rather short time, I decided to write a separate article about this. Well, you understand - I’m lazy, and now I can immediately give a link to this text, instead of repeating the next answer several times already formulated. The article does not claim to be universal - this is just my view of the situation. At the same time, I’ll say that when you interview, hire and train project managers, quite a few general criteria accumulate that answer the question “What does an IT project manager really need to know and be able to do?” In order to successfully work in IT .

    By the way, knowledge of English is not even discussed in the article. It is simply a must.


    What a query usually looks like:
    Alex, good afternoon! My name is <...>. I was advised to contact you <...>. I need your expert advice. I will be grateful for your help. Found a training for project managers that you read. I would like to ask if I should pass it. Briefly about my situation: <...> I would like to try to further develop myself in the project direction, but already in the IT sphere. Already passed several interviews, but so far unsuccessful (employers often refer to the fact that there is no experience in IT). In this regard, I had the thought of how to make the train move anyway. I would be very grateful for the advice on the courses. Perhaps it makes sense to look at something related to the project manager, if there is no chance of being taken to such a position in the IT sphere? I would be grateful for any feedback.

    Contact options differ only in previous experience in certain non-IT areas.

    What can I advise?

    First I scare and thicken the clouds.

    1. Indeed, they almost always refuse precisely because it is extremely important for a project manager in IT to understand not only project management as such, but also IT. This is required for exactly two things: a) to find a common language with subordinates (testers, analysts and developers who are all IT specialists) and, accordingly, to understand the essence of dialogs, specifications, problems and other things, and b) to find a common language with representatives of the customer, which often just as well have mostly IT background. Of course, there are some small chances to convince the future employer that understanding the specifics of the IT field is not critical for this position. It is important to remember that these chances are very, very small. Still, the employer knows better what he needs, and convincing him of something else is quite difficult. Especially employers in IT - they certainly know what kind of employee they need. At the same time, no one forbids trying to persuade. What if it works out?

    2. In IT, it is very important to understand the stages of product development (SDLC - Software Development Life Cycle). Working in non-IT organizations this understanding is fullyget, alas, impossible. There are moments specific to the IT industry. And since the project manager in IT is responsible for the development of the product / code / functionality by a given deadline, with a given quality and within a given framework for quality / functionality, he must understand how to achieve all this with the tools that he usually has in IT- sphere. Other industries may have their own nuances that differ from IT in one direction or another.

    3. Any trainings on project management "in general", most likely will not help much. We need trainings on project management in IT. Let me explain why I think so: trainings "in general" will not give an understanding of two important things: "IT technical language" and "understanding of the development stages precisely in IT."

    4. In any IT company, there are already employees who want to become leaders. And these employees (developers, testers, analysts) are already versed in IT (they know the same technical language as those around them), and they also know SDLC. Moreover, they know the customer, they know the specifics of the company and its internal kitchen (these are not critical points, but comparing them with zero knowledge of an external candidate - even these points may outweigh). Thus, it turns out that an external candidate NOT from the IT industry is forced to compete with internal candidates from within the company itself, as well as with other external candidates, also from the IT industry.

    So, what are the parameters?

    1. Proficiency in technical IT language. Understanding, for example, what FTP, Signoff, Sprint, ASAP, Regression, XML, Database request, Deadline, FYI, Client-Server Architecture, Redline, Smoke Test, FTE, Release are all about ... The list goes on and on. Being a super specialist in some of the things mentioned is not required at all. An understanding of the essence is required, what is it all about, what are the terms, what do they mean, what is behind them, otherwise you would be as blind in the world of the sighted.

    2. Knowledge of SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) - stages of software product development. And not just knowledge, but understanding why exactly such stages, why in this order, where and why can I jump from one stage to another and is it possible to move through these stages in the opposite direction, and if so, when and under what conditions .

    3.Methodological skills in project and people management (PM Hard Skills) . This includes knowledge of methodologies, management principles and processes by area. Such as Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Waterfall, Communication management, Specification & Requirements management, Change management, Risk management, Reporting, etc. The good news is that one way or another you can learn all this from relevant trainings, webinars and a lot of available online materials.

    4. Personal skills in project and people management (PM Soft Skills). This includes Team & Client management skills, Ability to solve complex tasks, Presentation skills, Conflict management skills, Communication skills, Feedback skills, Ability to hear, listen & understand, Openness to other points of view, Ability to admit own mistakes and to correct them, Self-criticism, Leadership skills, Coaching / Mentoring skills, Ability to explain, Professional culture (quality of speech, emails, calls), Ability to make decisions and take responsibility for it, Pro-activity, Task management skills, Delegation skills , Execution control skills, Personal effectiveness, Time management skills. The second good news is that you can also learn all this from relevant trainings.

    Let's make a summary table in which three candidates will be present:
    1. external without knowledge of IT industry
    2. external with knowledge of the IT industry
    3. internal with knowledge of IT industry and company specifics


    Thus, it becomes obvious at what points you can try to compete.

    My opinion is that without diving into the IT environment it is impossible to master the IT language at least at the level of understanding. Thus, there is no point in competing with the first paragraph. You (an external non-IT candidate) are guaranteed to lose here. The remaining three areas are quite amenable to competition. Moreover, if the second (knowledge of SDLC) also requires immersion in the environment for a complete understanding, then at least you can understand it approximately without working in IT - you can learn. The lack of knowledge of SDLC can be compensated for by knowledge of an intelligent technical lead, an architect, and indeed any technically competent person from your future team. But to find a common language with such a person and get his help, you need very serious skills in PM Soft Skills.

    Remaining PM Hard Skills and PM Soft Skills - and these are exactly the areas where a non-IT candidate can significantly outperform a candidate from the IT industry. Why do I think so? Many IT executives grew out of developers, analysts, and testers. Yes, among them there are very cool specialists. Many of these candidates for managers from the IT industry - at heart, they remain the same programmers, analysts and testers. And this suggests that just PM Hard and Soft Skills can be less developed in them than in an external candidate. After all, both of these areas (PM Hard Skills and PM Soft Skills) are independent of IT specifics. They can and should be developed regardless of the area where you are currently working.

    In the end, what happens? What can be our summary plate so that an external candidate who has not previously worked in IT has a chance?

    An action plan that may or may not help. But if you do nothing at all, it won’t help.

    1. Talk with someone from EXPLANATED acquaintances of IT specialists (developers, testers, analysts, and even better team leads or managers) about SDLC. Read more about this on the Internet. Perhaps you should talk more than once or even not two.

    2. Try to choose the role of project manager’s assistant in IT, or the role of a junior PMO specialist (knowledge of management processes is more important there than knowledge of stages and nuances and development terms). Once in any of these roles, it will be necessary to study the terminology and specifics of IT from within, if there really is a strong desire to move and develop in this area.

    3. Explain at the interview that “Your strengths are the ability to resolve conflicts, the ability to work with difficult situations, success in negotiations, knowledge of English. And you will close technical gaps in knowledge through proper communication and help from technical experts who will be your subordinates. After all, working with people is your hobby. ” About these words. It is important that this is really true about strengths, not bravado for interviewing. Believe me, any sensible leader will determine during an interview if you are cheating. And that’s all over. But let's say you got a job - then it is urgent to look for an ally among techies who will help fully cover and regularly explain the technical side of the work, tasks and difficulties encountered.

    Roughly speaking, you + an techie ally will be such a team manager with two goals (maybe allies will need more than one). Many hiring managers (your future boss) understand this and may not want to go for it, because you will "eat off" the time of technical specialists, which will reduce the productivity of the team as a whole. So your lack of certain skills and knowledge will be on one side of the scale, and on the other side - your future leader will weigh the possible decrease in the efficiency and productivity of the team where they plan to take you. And the more the cup of efficiency outweighs, the less likely it is that they will take you. Keep this in mind.

    In summary. To compete with guys who are knowledgeable in IT and also strive to become project managers, you need to seriously surpass them in PM Soft Skills.

    PS: the original of this article (and other interesting materials) can be read on my blog:
    P.PS: I was reasonably noticed that IT is not limited to development. It's right. In this case, the second item (knowledge of SDLC) will be less significant, or completely replaced with some of your own, specific to your direction.

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    Thank you and good luck to you!

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