How to become an IT Project Manager
An IT project manager is a rewarding and lucrative career that blends the savviness of a C-suite business executive, the technological expertise of senior IT staff member, and the leadership qualities of a highly effective manager. Each of these skill sets develops because of higher education, domain space knowledge, and IT work experience.
So just what does it take to become a project manager? Let’s explore this.
Get a Bachelor’s Degree in IT or a Similar Field
The path to IT project management starts with a broad-based knowledge in computer science, information technology, data management, and programming. Unless you have a preternatural understanding of tech, you will need to get a four-year degree from an accredited university and graduate with an above average GPA.
During or immediately after obtaining a bachelor degree, it may be helpful to intern with a tech company or even work at a startup tech company. This kind of experience allows you, as a recent graduate to gain on-the-job training from more experienced IT project managers.
Be Willing to Try Different Roles in IT
Nothing can substitute for work experience – a wide variety of experience. The more time you spend in IT at companies of varying sizes, or in multiple departments in a large company, the more you will learn. However, it is important to remember that IT professionals can get “stuck” in their jobs and, as a result, not advance.
Mitigate this potential career pitfall by being selective about the jobs you take. Make sure that you’re learning new skills and technologies in each one. Different roles in tech allow you to gain experience, gather knowledge, and build versatility, which will benefit you once you become a manager. Try to work for five years in the field, and then start looking at graduate school or executive training.
Pay Particular Attention to the People Side of the Business
In business, the most important skill you can learn is to navigate the culture of the company. An IT Project Manager relies on team members to work together to accomplish very important projects in an organization. Having the ability to motive individuals, inspire team members, and problem-solve through inevitable challenges are key skills required in successful project management. In fact, you’ll quickly learn that the “people” portion of the project is far more complex than the project challenges.
Don’t undervalue the absolute value of listening, learning, and emulating the behavior of your successful managers and leaders. Learn to recognize how they combine reward and guidance, and apply correction to bring a team together. Ask both a lot of questions and also for feedback when you’re in a leadership position. These experiences are among the most important learning moments you will have.
Get a Master of Business Administration and/or a Project Management Professional Certification
MBAs represent a costly investment of your time and money. They do, however, open up many career opportunities, many of which are high paying. If you can afford to the investment of time and money to get your MBA, then go for it.
If you cannot afford this graduate degree, you can still get project management training and leverage your work experience and bachelor’s degree. Look for project management professional certifications, which cost between a few hundred dollars to upwards of $10,000. These shorter, more condensed programs teach you management best practices.
Just like an MBA, a PMP certification can increase your career opportunities and your earning potential. To get (and keep) this certification, you are required to pass a comprehensive exam based on your training and to do 60 hours of professional development every three years after the exam.
This combination of subject matter expertise, on-the-job training, people skill, and business management skills is critical for becoming an IT project manager. The benefit of landing this much-coveted management position isn’t the end of the line. After several years as an IT project manager, many people go for Chief Technology Officer positions.
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