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Programmer To Project Manager

By doublek321 ·
2 questions:

1) Anyone have an opinion as if it's a "good career move" to switch from being a programmer to a project manager? It sure seems like programming is A LOT more competitive these days than it used to be. On top of this, it seems that managers get paid more than programmers for doing a much less technical job. On the downside, it feels like there is less security because it's not as much of a "definable skill".

2) Anyone have any resume advice for attempting this switch? Should I list the computer programs I worked on or the project management skills I feel I gained while doing them?

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Sequence error.

by DC_GUY In reply to Programmer To Project Man ...

A certain percentage of the workforce will ultimately move up into management, the ones with the right qualifications: various people skills such as written and oral communication, diplomacy, the ability to spot a con, knowing how to train and motivate staff; budgeting and scheduling; multi-tasking of headache proportions; and most of all to see the "big picture."

At some point in your life people will be suspicious of you if you HAVEN'T made the switch, so it's definitely a good career move, IF you have what it takes.

You talk about "attempting this switch" as if you're initiating the process. Normally the way it works is that you've done good work without requiring much direct oversight, given a few interesting presentations, written some good documents, demonstrated your teamwork and big-picture perspective at staff meetings, and been given some choice assignments involving leadership as a stepping stone.

If you're project manager material your boss should have already brought up the subject. This is a by-invitation sort of thing, you don't just sign up for it. Getting your first project manager posting by applying to a company that never heard of you with a resume that lists no project management experience is pretty unlikely.

Work on finding and seizing an opportunity where you are now, among people who already know you and know what you're capable of.

If the people you work for simply won't consider you, then either you haven't impressed them with your abilities, or they just don't have any openings.

It boils down to two choices for you. Stay where you are and attempt to hone the skills you lack (if that's the problem -- get some training on your own time and your own dime), or wait for one of the great project managers to leave so you can fill in behind them.

Or, choice #2, you can jump ship. But don't expect to be hired in as a project manager. You'll be doing the same thing you're doing now, but hopefully in an environment where you'll be more recognized, expand your skill set, and have more opportunities to move up once you've proven yourself. Variety in your background will almost always enrich your skills and attitudes.

The job security in either position has its pros and cons. I wouldn't let that be your deal breaker. Managers tend to get paid more but they suffer a lot more stress. That is the deal breaker for a lot of 55-year-old techies.

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Yes and No....

by aaron In reply to Sequence error.

Management definately has its share of headaches and one needs to be certain that the ride is worth the fare.

Project management can be frought with greater stress because these days one often ends up managing virtual teams where the people working on the project do not report to the project manager. This is a very difficult and dangerous place to be.

Also, while this is usually by invitation, letting your current manager know that this is an area of interest and career growth for you may help you get some opportunities that otherwise might go to others.

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Great advice. DC_GUY has obviously been through this before.

by VirtualGardener In reply to Sequence error.

One thing though, If you think Programming is competitive. Wait till you get into management. Secondly, it may be a mistake to assume PMs get paid more than technical types. I personally am in State government, and I can tell you that it is very, very common to find technical positions being paid far more than their supervisors. Kind of depends where you plan to work. Good luck!!

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Great Summary, I?ll add a small twist

by YourAverageManager In reply to Sequence error.

DC_Guy is on target. I would add that pursuing the PMP certification is a process of learning and that PM?s you work with could be good resources. This breaks the ice because we all value knowledge in IT. Pursuing PMP will create its own opportunities because you are involved and asking questions. Also consider that portable knowledge has a higher market value. If you join a local chapter then your professional network expands as well. Many PM?s do not have the hands on skills in programming that you possess. Can suppose that would make you more valuable. You need not be in a manager position in order to manage projects, but management skills are necessary. People skills will turn out to be more important.

Right now the IT Market is placing hands on programming skills before all others. Even within programming the language is important. So, if your language is legacy system oriented, start the transition there too. I know some people that could not make the transition mainly because they were generally disinterested in the field all together, simply burnt out.

Wishing you an easy decision along with good fortune.

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Programmer To Project Manager

by ashtank In reply to Sequence error.

thanx DC_GUY for valuable comments. In reference to that, allow me to ask you something for advice. I have been into IT for the last 7.5 years with career spanning in companies with 2500+ manpower to as low as 25. As usual, i started as an engineer and gradually graduated to lead small teams though i kept my fire alive for programming and coding and still doing it. Of late, there have been offerings from the gud organisations for the positions of either "Project manager" or Business Analyst" which only invlove around 20-30% of being into core IT and more of strategy making and managing teams, etc. now, do u feel that this is something a team leader profile like me shud follow? Also, i m anyway going thro the stress of project mgmt, though not that stressful as in large organisations, do u think its the right time of my career to switch to project mgmt?

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What is your Passion / Challenge

by SkipperUSN In reply to Programmer To Project Man ...

What do you find passion and challenge in - Technical or Management. IT is slowly realizing that some people enjoy technical and will do that their whole career - others enjoy the switch to management..

So figure out your passion and challenge - then go for it - we can't tell you which way to go, you must figure that out yourself... As for the resume - it will all depend on the answer - I want the Technical - or - I want to be Management...

Best of luck - to you and your choices..

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Programmer To Project Manager

by eurogistic In reply to Programmer To Project Man ...

I think that this move depends on two things. Firstly, age, and secondly, the level of programming and/or applications.

From a personal view point, it gets harder to keep up with programming the older you get. This deterioration in concentration is obviously gradual, but noticeable after the age of 50.

Again from a personal view point, I found that very large programs, say 20,000 lines of code plus were difficult to maintain or change. I know the arguments for many small modules, but the original programmers of applications like BPCS were clearly not convinced.

Project Management on the other hand must be a natural transition from programming, and I, for one would question the ability of a PM who had no previous coding experience.

It is, however, a different landscape. You can immerse yourself in coding a complex programme to the complete exclusion of everything and everybody around you - as a PM you cannot be so unsociable, if you are to succeed.

It is also probably a one way career move only. After a break of six months or more as a programmer, it is unlikely that a prospective client or new employer would consider the gap to be beneficial, so a return to programming from project management could be difficult.

To make this career move, should, ideally, require some re-training, possibly for suitable qualifications, but if you are a contractor, you have to weigh up the course costs and time away from earning a living against a fairly competitive job scene.

I also think that the mindset has to change as well. It is reasonably easy to convince other knowledgeable people of your programming ability, but project management is a much more grey area, and difficult to move into without experience.

If you are currently employed and your employer sees this as career enhancement for you, and will offer the necessary training, I would say, grasp it with both hands - other than that you may well struggle for some time unless you drop lucky.

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Caution is Advised

by bridget_huck In reply to Programmer To Project Man ...

I would advise any programmer thinking that they can switch to project management for more money to be very cautious. Project management requires some entirely different skills than programming. Yes, you do have to be detailed oriented just as a programmer must be but you have to also be able to truly look at the big picture. You also need to be able to do the following:
1) Deal with difficult people (both outside and inside your project team)
2) Track and manage multiple budgets (I have by far found this one of the most annoying parts of project management.)
3) Facilitate good design sessions with end users as well as with data modelers or programmers. I really think it takes practice to get good at this, but it also takes patience (and a good mentor is always helpful.)
4) Really monitor the quality of testing, regardless of whether you have a dedicated test team or not. In the end if the testing is not good and the product is buggy, it will be the responsibility of the project manager.
5) Delegate those tasks that can be handled by members of the team. This one always sounds easier than it is, because once again so much comes back to the project manager so sometimes we just want to do things ourselves to make sure they are done right but we also know that we can easily get in deep and that puts all of our tasks behind.

I have been a programmer for over 10 years and started managing projects about 3 years ago but I continue to program and even learn new programming languages so that I do not get myself stuck in a corner where I don't want to really be. I really think my boss sees a lot of value in my being able to wear both hats. This allows me to truly be able to spot the B.S. when it is coming from our programmers.

Bottom line, would be that you should be cautious before switching completely because I have seen some great programmers fall flat on their faces as project managers. What always annoys me is the fact that their management seems to forget what great programmers they were and only focus on the project management failures so it is hard to rebuild their careers without leaving the company.

I am trying to avoid turning completely to the dark side by keeping my grounding in programming.

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Hiring the wrong skills......

by PMPsicle In reply to Programmer To Project Man ...

I'm sure you've seen the ads ... asking for 10 years of project management and describing a role which consists of dealing with people (usually called relationship management) ... then ending up with a list of skills appropriate to a programmer.

Those jobs seem to be open for a long time for a reason ... or reappear in about six months.

I've noticed the same problem occurring throughout this discussion ... a confusion in skills required for the PM role.

Bluntly, the skills needed have far more to do with a BA's skill set than they will EVER have with a programmer's skill set. (Not to mention the additional PM skill-set).

Sorry, folks ... in over 15 years of official PM and almost 10 years in un-official PM, I have NEVER used my programming skills (except in a very general way). Sorry.

On the other hand, I have run JADs, I have used documentation skills (not pgmr doc, technical writer type documents), and I certainly have used my negotiation skills.

The problem, of course, is that management doesn't really understand that a resource manager has far more need of programming skills than a project manager. Which is part of the reason for the PMO's appearance.

The point is that you're going to get hired based on skills B & C. But skills A & C are what you need to succeed. If you don't already have skill set A (PM, & B/A), you're setting yourself up for failure. And the HR & IS/IT managers are hiring for failure (which is frustrating believe me).

Glen Ford, PMP
Can Da Software
IS Project Management
Business Process Improvement

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agreed PMP'sicle

by HMSDES In reply to Hiring the wrong skills.. ...

I'm glad to see your response to this as I totally agree. Project management is an entirely different skill set from a programmers. The job functions and responsibilities are completely separate. Just because you have programming experience in no ways guarantees success as a PM.
In order to succeed moving from programming to PM, you'll need to ensure that you've been given adequate training in the managing of projects. You're going to look at running a project differently than you would as a programmer.
A valid point was made in that once jumping ship, it's harder to go back into programming unless those specific skill sets are kept up to date.
Good luck.

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