Monday, January 26, 2009

So, what exactly DO you do??

I run a youth group a couple weekends a month. It feeds the part of me that worked at overnight camp for 6 years through and after college and still enjoys informal education and just doing good stuff with teenagers. And I'm sure there are some parallels between running a teen youth group and managing projects, but that's not what this post is about.

This past Saturday night I had a program with the kids at our local synagogue, we were painting a mural and making bead bracelets to sell to raise money for charity. While we were breaking for pizza, one of the girls saw me sneak away to check my phone for email/etc. She asked me what my real job was (always a funny thing, because for the longest time the kids didn't think I did anything else besides organize their little programs).

I told her I was a project manager.

She said (with not so much enthusiasm), "Oh, ok. What does a project manager do?"

I said, "Well, I help build web sites and applications. I make sure that people working with me know what they have to do and when it needs to get done. I have to keep things organized."

At which point she said (with still not so much enthusiasm), "oh...ok."

And then I thought later, "Boy, she must think my job is utterly boring!" But then I realized, had someone told me when I was 16 that I was destined to be a project manager, I would have laughed! When I was 16, I wanted to be a concert marimba player, then a professional soccer goalkeeper, then a special effects artist for the movies. Well, I ended up studying mechanical engineering and after a handful of years as a web developer, ultimately became a project manager. After almost four years of working as a project manager I was still not even sure if it was the career I wanted. I decided to go for the PMP, to get some formal training to complement the real life experience I had from managing web projects for a large scale custom content management system. I told myself then that if after my PMP crash course that if I didn't like what I learned then this would be the right time to leave project management and try something else.

Well, the course was good and the content was just the start of a whole new chapter of professional development. I actually really enjoyed topics like risk management, estimation techniques, change control process, work breakdown structure, and more. The course was just a very brief overview, enough to wet your appetite. So, that began my quest to learn more about what it really means to be a project manager. Picked up lots of used books on amazon and surfed the project management blogosphere. It's been a great ride and it still continues.

So, why do I like it so much? It's interesting, it's challenging, it keeps your blood pumping. There's drama with quick and intense decisions, there's "ah-hah" moments when you can figure out something to improve a process and watch your team benefit from it. Where I am working now at Horn Group, I love the opportunity to be able to experiment with new communication methods and try figure out what processes will help improve the groups project work. There's the fun and challenge of working with different personalities and trying to keep people happy, and for that I'm sure the years of being a camp counselor and youth group leader must have been good preparation. Not to say that every single day has the roller coaster ride, but there's always something interesting to do.

So, will the girl from the youth group be inspired by my words and go on to be a project manager? Probably not...I don't remember meeting anyone in college who was actually studying to be a project manager. But, I'm happy I found my way here and enjoy what I do enough to make time outside of work to read & learn more about how to become a better PM. If that's not a satisfying career, I don't know what is!


Robyn - Who's the Boss? said...

I feel exactly the same way. I think I'm lucky to have a job that showcases my strengths and doesn't drive me batty. But had somebody told me I when Iw as in college (or younger) that I'd be managing projects for a living, I would've thought that was a death sentence for life-long boredom.

I'm a little scared of people in our field who are passionate about project management. Of all the things to be passionate about, PM work isn't even near my list. But I still love what I do and am glad that I found my niche.

Dina said...

Yes, definitely. Especially after having kids I know there are many more important things in this world to be passionate about. I'm just happy that I find my work interesting and challenging.