If I wanted to become a project manager, where would I start?

6 years ago from , Director of Engineering @WhereByUs

Hi there. So, my wife is a -- lowercase -- project manager at her job, although that isn't her title or job description. Having that taste, she understands that PM is a full-blown career she wants to pursue. The question, really, is: how?

Various websites suggest you need a Project Management certification, but they say this bullshit about web design too. I'm really suspicious, but I don't know if I should be.

What do you recommend? Are there books or courses you like? I am all ears.


  • Darren Krape, 6 years ago

    I am currently a Sr. Product Manager at Amazon, and I don't have any certifications. The distinction between Project and Product Manager here is pretty blurry, though it may be more distinct elsewhere. Generally, it seems fairly rare for PMs in my area to have Project Manager certifications, though many do have MBAs.

    Speaking to my particular experience, I never really planned on a PM track. My background is in design, but I often worked for small organizations or on small teams, so I took on a lot of the management work myself. This helped me demonstrate those skills and through promotions or new jobs, helped me to where I am now. Looking back, I definitely think I'm better-off having taken the "organic" route rather than going for certification early. There really is nothing better than direct, on the job experience (especially in job interviews).

    One thing that may be worth her thinking about is what aspects of project management she wants to focus on. For example, at Amazon I am both the manager, in that I oversee the day-to-day execution, and also the business owner, so I am responsible for the overall vision and roadmap. I really like taking on both sides, but I can see how someone would like only one. Here we have another role called "Technical Program Manager", who is the liaison between tech and the business teams. This would be better for someone who really likes tech, but is less interested in the overall vision.

    As Alex noted, probably the best thing is to talk to people in roles that look interesting and something she'd want to aspire to. That can help focus on the skills (and maybe certifications) that would be most beneficial to focus on.

    7 points
  • Ferdi WielingFerdi Wieling, 6 years ago

    More so than with other jobs, this one really depends on the environment she wishes to work in. From my experience, particularly agency side, tangible experience and results far outweigh any PMP/CSM/PRINCE2 certification.

    Some of the best project managers and directors I know have been able to grow from fresh grad junior PMs to full blown department heads in their respective offices. Agency life tends to push people like this forward when opportunity arrises.

    Having said that, client and corporation side, things tend to be a little more traditional. Typical career paths tend to be pretty locked down in existing processes with internal training and career development certifications and trainings. In certain cases you can leapfrog these with the right educational/certification background - see above. Which flavour of the day will net the most advantage is very much dependant on internal processes and preferences, and thus dependant on the company.

    Understand this is probably already something you and your wife have theorised, but hope my personal experience will help confirm.

    Source: 14+ yrs working from boutique agencies to one of the Big Four consultancies and pretty much everything in between. Also, married to an incredibly talented Group Program Director, previously Operations Director at one of the worlds largest advertising agencies.

    2 points
  • Alex StillwellAlex Stillwell, 6 years ago

    I think there is value in her talking to someone in the ideal role that she wants. Consider not only the role but the firm too as PM's roles differ between firms. A PM at an agency has different responsibilities than a PM at an engineering-first tech company.

    1 point
  • Jake BarryJake Barry, 6 years ago

    Certification necessity completely depends on the industry (and company, to some degree). If one is looking for PM roles at large Fortune 500 orgs, it is almost always required unless one is coming in with a long resume of solid experience. But for a lot of small companies, certification can be a waste of time because the methods used vary significantly from shop to shop.

    I've found it helpful to look at job descriptions for PM roles at companies I where I might want to work to see what they require. Even in my last role at a major retailer, many of the people in PM roles were not certified.

    1 point
  • Benjamin WilBenjamin Wil, 6 years ago

    Disclaimer: I'm not a project manager.

    But if you do a search for "project management" on 43 Folders there are 5–6 pages of blog posts that may pique your interest. These posts are pretty dang old, but reference lots of classic, tried-and-true GTD-related books, methodologies, and thinkers. It might be a good starting place to discover more reading material.

    Hope that's helpful.

    1 point
  • , 6 years ago

    Thank you so much for the advice. It reaffirms my gut feeling, and I can tell you she was really -- but briefly, thanks to you all -- discouraged after reading at the PM Institute that certification requires three to five years experience. We were able to find plenty of job posts for PMs that require no certification.

    She just bought the PM Institute course to start levelling-up. Appreciate it, all. I'll keep you posted.

    0 points