Hivemind, please help me choose a career direction
June 13, 2014 4:25 AM   Subscribe

In short: PMP? CISA? Dev? Or all of the above? I'm working at a small IT company (30 people). I have a CompSci degree. I went from programming to business analysis to project management with a side of information security thrown in as I'm responsible for ISO 27001 policy compliance. I'm not a "rockstar" or expert in any of those fields, but I can do them competently. (There certainly haven't been any complaints from the management.) Basically I'm a "jack of all trades, master of none". So where do I go from here?

I'm 35 and have a small kid and feel like it's time to get "real" with my career. I'm in a EU country and rather tied to my current location, but I'd still like you to give me a more global perspective. ~Btw, the local IT market is following the current EU austerity policy, which means money and jobs are not abundant. So finding global freelancing gigs would be cool.~ Ideally, I'd like to do something that leaves me enough time for my kid and with reasonable stress levels. Also, working from home or at least not having to commute every single day would be cool.

I was thinking I'd like to go back to programming (and let someone else be the PM and tear their hair out...) I have a feeling that I can always find a programming job, whereas jobs for project managers are not so numerous. Also, I think it's easier to freelance and work from home if you're a programmer than if you're a PM.
Then there's the infosec part. I would have to learn a lot more about tech side of things (networks, VPN, etc) if I wanted to work as an infosec consultant or something similar. I have practical experience with ISO 27001 and auditing, so maybe I could certify and work as an ISO 27001 auditor? Is there any demand for that?

Is there maybe any benefit to presenting myself as a PM with coding skills or the other way round, a programmer with PM knowledge? My employer would sponsor me for a PMP certificate and I could become certified in Java development (I "speak" Java & Python), but would potential employers (or customers in case of freelancing) see that combination as good ("wow, this PM knows what is happening under the hood") or bad ("trying to do both? I'm sure they can do neither")?

Other thoughts: I have zero debt. Better pay would be welcome but not absolutely necessary. I'm not a people person, but not super-loner either. What I'm missing is probably some diplomacy, which doesn't come easy to me (I have to think my way through possible scenarios). I'm a rather analytical person, detail oriented, almost zero visual talent, can write but not creatively.

Ugh, I've been going in circles for the past two months, and my yearly review is coming up, where I'm expected to say what *I* want to do. ~Hah. If I knew, I'd be already doing it...~

So, uhm, give me your thoughts, please?
posted by Behemoth Judge And The Explosive Xerox to Work & Money (2 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Many technical/IT PM's I know started off as developers and BA's. I'm a PM myself, though I tend towards the business side of things. PM's with technical backgrounds do have certain advantages, as you suggest, but those advantages only go so far. I have seen these PM's primarily leading development/scrum teams or overseeing the technical workstreams of larger projects under an overall PM.

As a technical PM, you will be better versed in the care and feeding of the IT teams you manage, and that's good. But managing IT teams is only part of job description for a PM. I spend as much, if not more, time managing relationships with the business side as I do the technical.

Also, as you say, PM jobs are harder to come by than coding jobs. The money differential is probably not that much either, especially starting out. It's likely that a junior PM makes less than a mid-career developer.

That said, the skill set you develop as you train to be a PM will serve you well as you try to climb the corporate ladder within IT. My advice would be to take your company up on their offer to train you up as a PM, and parlay those skills into taking on more leadership roles within IT as they present themselves.
posted by bluejayway at 9:37 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you have to prioritize: a job you can get vs a job you actually want vs lifestyle vs suitability vs market demand vs longevity. If you look at some of the IT sites, you can find what jobs are most in demand. Pretty much everything you can do is in the top 10 . (Maybe check out I think somebody hiring would be concerned that you are "master of none".
Given your position, you probably want to think about how you would fare with outsourcing, the rise of AI, and the potential disruption of cloud development/deployment on the IT world. A lot of IT shops are asleep at the switch and are going to encounter end-user end runs using cloud technology and time frames. If you look at startups and their timelines, can your organization compete? How does this unfold? And how is mobile being handled?

You might want to think about why you became a jack of all trades. Most of the really good programmers I ever met just wanted to program. Those that gave it up, took your path into PM work and/or management but from your own description, management is probably not your thing.

From what I can see, organizations want certifications for PMs. For developers, it is more about whether you can do the work. If you decide to get back into programming, you are going to have to dive in and hone your skills. Do you have the time and focus anymore?

I guess if I were in your shoes, I would dive into cloud and mobile. If you can still be intense about Java, maybe develop an Android app. Set up your own website on Amazon and have your app interact with it. This will play to your broad skills and keep you relevant. If you like the work, there are lots of unfilled positions at least according to Infoworld.

At your review, see if your company will pay for courses. If not, see if they will let you have time to get into these areas.

You give off a vibe of wanting the life ( free time) and freedom to telecommute. My guess is that you can easiest get that, from your current position, as a BA. The knowledge of cloud and mobile will make you more attractive and BAs are in the top 3/10 according to the demand figures I have seen. A relative of mine is a BA and the last 2 places he has worked allow telecommuting at that level. More of a problem for a PM.

For the security field, I think you would have to take SANS courses and start using those skills. If your employer won't let you specialize to develop those skills that will make it hard to grow in that field. Alternatively, you have to go back for a Masters in infosec. Can you take at least a year off?

Consider talking to a recruiter too: they will know local demand and what you would have to do to get your foot in the door.
posted by PickeringPete at 6:45 AM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

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