Tomas from the Czech Republic sent an email in regard to the “How can I become a PM?” podcast. He asked how to break in to the project management role coming from the academic world. He finished studies in Economics and Management and had a Software Engineering degree. He now has a lot of theoretical knowledge in IT and Economics but doesn’t want to be a programmer and lacks the experience to move into the PM role. Where can he go from here?
When you have great educational credentials but lack the "real world" experience to back it up you can feel trapped. As with any profession, people interviewing candidates are looking for someone with proven abilities over those that "head knowledge." Makes sense. If I were visiting the Czech Republic and needed a cab in Ostrava I would want someone who had been driving there for a while.
Here are 3 alternative approaches.
- In the PM Podcast episode I discussed taking an assignment as a project coordinator. This role is usually under the direction of a project manager and does more of the grunt work (timekeeping, project schedules, meetings, minutes, etc.). As a coordinator you get to see the theory in practice and learn the tactics, what works and what fails without being no the front line. IT also introduces you to the key players and positions you for the next step up into management.
- Bypass the coding and try to break in at the analysis or design level. One area that coders typically avoid is business analysis and writing specifications. Most are more content sitting in front of the computer than interacting with end users and business personnel. Starting at this level would bring you up to speed faster on how the business works. Again, you will be meeting the stakeholders and developing the relationships to move to the next step.
- Go directly to the business side. If your education includes economics or other business related field this may be a good fit. While you gain the business knowledge you can apply your understanding of IT to fill the role of liaison between the business and IT.
More and more universities with management courses here in the states offer internships or mentoring programs. If you are still obtaining your education I would encourage you them to look for those opportunities. You can gain real world experience to add to your resume while still learning about it.