It’s great being a project manager.
Project management is how I imagined it’d be like to tame a beast. Boy, does it feel good when you do. I have been asking for it. I have been in many types of work over the last ten years and I have longed for one that I would truly enjoy, would feel challenged by and would keep me…cognitively occupied.
At one point, I thought it was academic research but it didn’t cut it for me. It was a little too cognitive. The hours were long, the pay low and the work felt somewhat isolating. Then there was the time I was freelancing in basically everything (hustler). I was a writer, videographer, organizer, disc jockey, all around production hand – to name some. I loved those days even though I felt like I was running around like a headless chicken. I did this throughout college and learned a lot more outside the classroom. It was a hectic time.
Now, I’d like to think this is the prime time for me to seize professional development like I was courting the love of my life.
A year ago from now, I decided to make a jump into tech. I had been dabbling with WordPress since I started blogging on this platform in 2005. I thought perhaps I could pursue a career in it. I thought about monetizing off the blog, which I used to do way back. It had been a while since I had done that and frankly, I hated advertisers. I felt disconnected from some of the advertisers I had and they were pulling down my SEO rank for a reason I can’t put a finger on. Long story short: blogging was a no go. The return was not feasible.
I looked for jobs anyway. Then I found a position at an agency in Huntington Beach. They were looking for a production assistant who knew WordPress and Adobe Creative. Bingo. I applied and researched the crap out of the company and its proponents. (This really helps and yes, there is such a thing as LinkedIn stalking). A week later, I got the job.
Zeek was a team of eight when I first started. I was overwhelmed by the fact that a team of this size was handling the workload it had. It was interesting to see how casual the company culture was internally vis-a-vis its large clients. I loved that contrast.
Starting out as an assistant was a perfect fit for me. Starting at the bottom helps you get a perspective about the small details that matter. I was lucky to have assisted (and have been mentored by) our brilliant production manager at that time – Kelley Koehler. She had an engineering background; Her strengths where in the provence of systems and logic.
One day, I was assigned to shadow her literally. I took up a portion of her office space. I was right behind her. I watched her day to day: her documentation was extensive (hardly any stone left unturned), her calls and emails with clients were explicit and uncompromisingly honest. Her demeanor (mostly) collected. Needless to say, I’d be a dolt to take these lessons for granted so I assumed the human form of a sponge.
Kelley eventually assigned me bigger responsibilities. I was gradually being assigned my own projects, handling communication with clients and managing off shore teams. Mind you, I had no formal training in project management or any technology work. My background is from all over the place but that somehow helped. I had the perspective of someone who lacked the experience. This forced me to learn by doing and take on some homework to catch up. For example, Kelley at some point introduced me to usability testing, web analytics and agile methods. We had some down time earlier this year that all we did in the afternoon at the office was study. There was no way I would have fully adapted to my job if I didn’t learn the theory behind things.
One of my take aways from this is that I greatly benefited from having a fantastic mentor.
Of course, one must first recognize when the opportunity presents itself and step up.
One day, the team learned of Kelley’s resignation. It was a huge blow because like I said, she was nothing short of excellent in what she did. As for keeping daily operations intact and staff informed about project systems in place, the next person who the team could rely on to do that was me.
What do you do when you’ve only been in a job for barely a year and have no clue what’s going to happen next? Go figure. No, seriously – you go figure it out. Coming from a place of limited knowledge and experience is actually more liberating than people think. I was nervous for the days to come. Do what scares you, I told myself.
Being project manager is more than just a title change. From all my days of shadowing, I have learned one important lesson: By doing, you become.
My career trajectory was not a straight shot. I meandered but I’m optimistic that I finally got to a place in my career where the potential for growth is promising. I look forward to it. It’s not for the faint of heart.