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Can You Become an IT Project Manager Without a Technical Background?

This post will give you an idea what skills and knowledge are required for project managers and whether technical expertise is the protein or a spice.

So, you are communicative, confident, fluent in English and love to have everything planned right down to the last painstaking detail. Sounds like a great foundation for being a project manager, but there’s just one little thing standing in your way. You’ve never thought of yourself as an IT person. So, the million dollar question is: can you become a project manager in IT? This post will give you an idea what skills and knowledge are required for project managers and whether technical expertise is the protein or a spice.

Many people underestimate the role of soft skills when imagining project managers in technical industries. That’s too bad! It isn’t strictly tech knowledge that makes or breaks you as a good PM in the IT industry. Netguru teams are perfectly aware that soft skills often distinguish a good project manager from a bad one. I’d like to give you a few examples of how soft skills prove valuable in IT project management in the simplest possible way - by referring to my own humanistic background and the skills it gave me. However, you might be surprised by the plot twist at the end :). Let’s roll!

Once upon a time

Were you to travel in time and ask a 5 years younger me, now an MA in Polish philology, whether I imagined myself in IT, I would have laughed out loud. But here I am, managing the web and mobile application development process! Just because this is where I landed doesn’t mean there weren’t all kinds of other jobs that I dreamt of at one time or another...

(User) stories well told

When I was a child, I wanted to become a writer. Well, you don't have to plan your own bestseller to become a good PM, but a certain articulation and ease-of-expression definitely helps when it comes to writing. For example, in writing good user stories. The ability to render a client’s vision of a product in words, address different types of users appropriately, deal with multiple approaches and scenarios does in fact resemble writing a novel.

There’s certainly a world of difference between a client who is a one man startup and one that is the entire product management department in a large company. You will think of a product differently depending on whether it’s addressed towards tech-savvy youngsters or seniors just stepping out on their adventure with the Internet and mobile apps. You need to be understood by your audience (developers, testers, clients) in order to create something worthwhile.

The (IT) world is a stage

Then, I wanted to become an actress. This one was over after some parts in a few small plays at school, but still ended up being helpful in project management. Let me give you some examples:

  • stress management while dealing with sudden changes in the project or an approaching deadline,
  • public speaking during calls with different types of clients,
  • sharing my project vision with other team members,
  • the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes and flit between different roles in order to gain a more effective grasp of the individual needs of the devs, Quality Assurance specialists and clients.

Here is the project news!

My teenage dream was to become a journalist. But hey, do project management and journalism have the slightest thing in common? An emphatic yes!

Both a PM and a journalist need to be good listeners. I talk to everyone involved in the project and take notes during weekly meetings with clients. I need to make sure that everybody has their say during a meeting and is not afraid to speak their mind.

Also, I look for ways to improve the workflows and solve any issues that may arise. My team’s advice is essential in such situations. There will always be someone out there smarter than me, and the good news is that at Netguru that someone is always eager to help you! I may not know the answer to some highly technical issues, but I am not afraid to ask more experienced PMs or developers. I really wouldn’t go very far at all without a proactive listening strategy, remembering, using and sharing my newly acquired knowledge.

Finally, I also need to be as determined as a good journalist is. If I need some information from the client (mockups, feedback, more details about the project) - the only way to get it is through persistence.

Reading between the code lines

Before joining Netguru, I’d worked in the IT industry for almost two years, having started out as a total newbie. During that time, it became apparent to me how much I love new technologies, computers, beautiful designs and applications that are sometimes life (ok, mostly time) savers. And this is basically what is needed to make a start in IT - a passion for technology, no matter if you work as a programmer or a non-tech professional.

Such an enthusiasm and passion may well lead you (as it did me) to enroll for computer studies, but that’s just an option. Acquiring technical knowledge certainly doesn't hurt. In fact, it really helps - to figure out why some tasks take more time than others, for example. It also makes creating stories easier.

Going back to my previous comparison to writing: if projects were novels, tech knowledge makes you read them in a different way. Understanding code will help you read between the lines and catch all the trivia you wouldn’t notice without it, but not knowing the trivia doesn't prevent you from understanding what you read. Nor does it stop you writing your own part that is coherent with all the previous chapters and helps bind it all together.

So there you have it: the story of a humanist-turned-IT girl, hoping to evolve further at Netguru.

If you feel ready to start your adventure, visit our career page regularly (we're constantly hiring) and join us.

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