Career 4.0

I’m about to start a new career.

It’s been a while coming, but beginning in April, I start a new job. I’m still with the same company that I’ve worked for over the past 7 years, but with a new position. I will no longer be doing IT support, but instead will be a Project Manager.

For the first time in any of my careers, I’ve been provided an excellent opportunity to not only do what I enjoy, but to actually achieve my goals and be rewarded for doing so. So many large companies ask for your long-term goals, but never really do anything to help you get there; it’s a requirement that it be on your review, but not that they attempt to help you accomplish it. Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. is different. This company has helped me at every turn to get where I am. I believe I’ve earned it, and that the company is more successful as a result of my work.

In December, 2014, all IT across the company was informed that things were changing–not a little, but a lot. We had all kind of expected the news, but it was still a shock. Our jobs were effectively eliminated, and we needed to apply and interview for new positions within the new organization. Though some people have been through this type of shuffle before (myself included), there’s always trepidation and uncertainty about what the future holds. For my part, the timing literally could not have been better.

Back in late 2010, I was given my first large-scale project within the organization. The task was to coordinate the deployment of Microsoft Office 2007 to our division. This comprised some 5,000 plus computers, so was a fairly substantial responsibility. Unfortunately, licensing restrictions, and delayed rollouts caused this project to sputter out somewhat, but it was an excellent learning experience for me. But it was just the first step. Over the course of the next five years, I would be given more and more important projects, and led them successfully to conclusion.

I realized fairly early on that I enjoyed the work associated with project management, and wanted to move in that direction. In my yearly evaluations, I indicated that I desired more responsibility and to take on bigger challenges. I’m fortunate that my managers gave me those opportunities. In late 2014, I began studying for a project management certification.

Getting Certified

There are several formalized project management certifications, but the most common is the Project Management Professional (PMP). However, PMP requires 7,500 hours of experience in various areas of responsibility. This equates to close to four years of full-time project management work–which I do not have. There is, however, an entry-level certification called Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM). CAPM certification has much less restrictive requirements, which I was close to meeting already.

I approached my managers, and asked if they’d be willing to help me pay for the education I needed to obtain the certification, and they agreed. I took an exam preparation course, which did little to teach me the material, but definitely prepared me for how to study. What I learned is that the CAPM and PMP exams are extremely tricky, and designed to confuse you. Add to that the fact that there’s no actual score, only a pass/fail grade, which makes me want to be sure I’m ready before I take the exam. As a result, I am still studying.

Perfect Timing

As I prepared to become a Project Manager in credentials, my thoughts turned to the future. While I had chances to work on projects for my group within the company, a true Project Manager role was my ultimate goal. When the announcement came in December that we would have to apply for new jobs, I was immediately excited to see that Project Manager was one of the positions open. Naturally, I submitted my (newly updated) resume, and applied.

Finally, toward the end of March (a tortuously long wait for everyone involved), the official announcements came out, and I was offered Project Manager. My new job begins on April 1st, 2015, and I will have a new manager. Best of all, the job doesn’t require that I actually be in the office, and I’ll be working from home, full-time, though I will occasionally need to travel. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of work to be done to transition my current responsibilities to a new group. I’m still not sure exactly when I’ll begin all of my new responsibilities, but I look forward to the day when I do.

What is a Project Manager?

I’ve gotten this question a lot from the people I’ve told about my new job, and have come to realize that most people don’t actually know what Project Managers do. In fact, it’s a lot of organizational work, requiring constant communication, juggling changing priorities, etc.

I’ll give you an example: a company uses a specific piece of software, but wants to upgrade to a newer version. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, this company has built many other programs that tie in directly to the current version of this software. By upgrading to the latest version, it may break all of these other programs they use, which are critical to the business. Now this project becomes much more complicated.

The desired end result is that everyone in the company gets the latest version of the software. To get there however, the Project Manager is responsible for putting together a plan that does a lot of things. In this instance, everyone that owns a program that ties into the new software has to be involved in testing, to ensure those programs work. If they don’t, further development needs to be done and tested to make problems will come up during and after all this work, and that has to be managed somehow, as well.

This is just a simple example of a project. Many projects have budgets associated with them, and it’s important to manage timeframes to get projects completed on time. The Project Manager’s responsibility is to ensure the project is done properly, on time, and on budget–not always an easy task, especially when relying on others to do most of the work.

It definitely takes a “very particular set of skills” to be a successful Project Manager. While I feel I have those skills, and have demonstrated that in my current role, there’s always the possibility that I will fail at this new job. The thought of failing isn’t exactly exciting, but that’s what makes new endeavors worth pursuing. Yes, I might fail, but I also might succeed beyond my wildest dreams. Either way is an adventure, and one I look forward to.

Here’s to my newest career, and all it brings, pass or fail.