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How I Became A More Technical Project Manager
Digital project managers are often told “being technical” isn’t required and can be picked up on the job. This topic was even debated at a recent Digital PM Summit with most panelists agreeing that technical skills weren’t fully necessary if strong project management skills existed. My experience has shown that acquiring technical competency can make a tremendous difference in the confidence level and trust-building abilities of a project manager. I often train new project managers who find their lack of technical knowledge to be a top stressor in their new roles.
Several years ago, I decided to improve my technical understanding in hopes of improving as a project manager. Not only do I highly recommend doing this to all digital PM’s, I see technical literacy as foundational to almost any business management job today. Although I’m still (and always) growing more in this area, here are some actions that have helped me:
Learned HTML & CSS
HTML and CSS are the fundamental building blocks of web development. Although web development has grown increasingly complex, learning the fundamentals really helped me understand the job of the web developers I worked with every day. Treehouse is my personal favorite for learning coding skills online.
Practiced Building Websites
Learning theory and programming syntax doesn’t equal experience or expert judgment. Like any skill, you can learn the basics, but it takes lots of experience applying it to challenging situations to truly become a master of a skill. I’ve done front-end development work for a half-dozen websites which helped me apply my nascent coding skills. Even more so, it made me appreciate the challenge and intricacy of the decisions developers make every day.
Worked in a High-Tech Environment
I have worked in web development for many years, but working at Sparkbox required me to work closer with developers than in previous roles. Their organization is heavily focused on code quality and development excellence, so I had to go deeper in my understanding and learn more about development environments, branching strategies, pull requests, and many other modern web development best practices. An extra bonus was developing great relationships with developers and finding a “safe space” to ask any and all technical questions I didn’t understand.
Always Be Learning Fundamentals
Learning “on the job” can be a great way to pick up technical knowledge, but I work best supplementing learning with my own studies too. In my experience, the workplace is the best resource for staying current with new and changing technologies as active projects and expert teammates are a natural resource for that information. However, I have found that being familiar with basic tech fundamentals to be the most helpful knowledge gaps for me to fill. Some of my favorites are Harvard’s Introduction to Computer Science and Tech Tuesday articles.