transitioning into management in I.T.?
January 28, 2007 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Any tips for transitioning into management in I.T.?

I'm in my early 30s and I have about thirteen years of experience in various I.T. positions including: helpdesk technician, system administrator, computer lab manager, technology writer, and most recently as a web developer.

I think that I have a good personality for management, but it seems to be difficult to get a foot in the door. In my experience, most of the management positions are filled by friends-of-friends or by older specialists with loads of prior experience. Though I have a lot of varied I.T. knowledge, my official management experience is limited to entry-level, part-time employees. I'm a big-picture thinker and I have read a lot on management, business, and communication, but I'm not sure how to get that across on my resume.

Unfortunately, there is almost no chance to move up in my current organization because most of the managers are "lifers." Ideally, I would like to find a position where the management side is stressed over the technical side. What can I do to expand my network of possibilities and to start positioning myself for such a position?
posted by xulu to Work & Money (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You've made all lateral moves. You need to start showing some upwards advances.

Look for positions where you can advance through ranks while you're at the company, things like "Web Programmer I, Web Programmer II, Web Team Lead/Webmaster" trees. Universities are great places to do this.

You also want to get some team management experience. Find out what it will take at your place of employment to get put in charge of a team working on a part of an application ... or start looking for jobs like your current one, and one of your questions for the interviewer is if there will be opportunities to lead teams of your peers.

(I took my current job, even though the pay is lower than comparable positions in bigger markets, because I get to be 'Systems Analyst II' in a couple of years, and if my teammate leaves I get to be 'Webmaster' too. I also get to lead teams of graduate assistants on various programming tasks.)
posted by SpecialK at 8:26 PM on January 28, 2007

Going to school is one possibility. A graduate degree like an MBA would be a great way of expanding your network of possibilities, although you'd have to decide whether something like this would be worth the time, effort, and expense. Even if you were to take some business/management classes outside of a degree program, this might improve your resume enough to move into a beginning management position at some other organization. Plus, if you can find a school with decent career services, they could help put you in touch with recruiters.
posted by blue mustard at 8:39 PM on January 28, 2007

I'd see if Joel Spolsky will be starting another round of management training this summer. A friend of mine's one of the first in the program, and it sounds great.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:59 PM on January 28, 2007

You might want to look into obtaining a PMI certification. It isn't a magic bullet, but will demonstrate a commitment and interest in moving into a managerial role.

One of my current project managers first attracted my interest when she came to me with a well thought out proposal. She identified a project that needed doing and a good plan for how to accomplish it. She didn't seek a promotion or ask me "what can I do to get promoted?" She developed and led a project that demonstrated quite clearly to me that she had the skills and talents to lead a team. It was a smaller project and done as rainy day work in between other assignments, but it showed me a lot about her. It helped that she had the support of her manager, as well.

Good luck.
posted by Lame_username at 4:21 AM on January 29, 2007

In my experience, most of the management positions are filled by friends-of-friends

This is what they mean when they say that networking is important. Among the other things people have mentioned, you want to be friends and friends-of-friends with people who are going to be hiring managers.

I'm in a very similar position to you, although my career path so far has been a little less lateral but with a bit of stagnation recently. I'm currently preparing to go back to school for an MBA (which, I should note, is a good deal more accessible here in Canada than in the US, but still).

The other thing I did was to go to my own manager and tell him that I'm starting to want to move beyond the pure technical work and want to get more involved on the strategic side of our operations. This was a bit of a surprise to him because he thought that I was the typical geek who would never want to move out of hands-on -- I mention this because of the possibility that you're in the same situation. I'm not managing, but I'm more involved in inter-departmental projects, policy decisions, and so forth, and that's scratching the itch for the time being.
posted by mendel at 4:41 AM on January 29, 2007

There are a lot of different areas you could / should work on and keep in mind in your quest to transition into management. I'll give you some advice taken from my own experience going from a programmer to a senior consultant in 9 years and 5 jobs (I'm 34 now). It's hard for me to prioritize these, but I'll try.

When you look for a new job, you should always look to move up. Your title and your level of responsibility should be improving with each new job you take. This may mean that you need to look for a new job now. You may be able to get a better title and more responsibility working for a smaller company for a while.

While working for one company, learn your position, do it well, then look for ways to increase your level or scope of responsibility. This could mean proposing solutions to problems, dealing more directly with customers or training and mentoring newer hires (among many other possibilities). Learn about your employer's business and industry. Don't be content just to know about your area. Ask informed questions of your superiors. Look for allies who are higher-ups. Do you have some skills or knowledge that your manager doesn't? If you can help one of your managers look good, and s/he's fair, you may be rewarded for your effort.

Check your appearance. Do you look like a manager? I went from programmer to software architect and chief programmer wearing the same casual dress and not paying the closest attention to my appearance or personal hygiene. I wore beat up jeans, timberland boots, flannel or t-shirts, didn't shave regularly, didn't cut my hair regularly, was overweight and out of shape. Basically, I was a geek. My geek look may have even been an asset early in my career.

But I realized that it was going to be hard to go much farther if I didn't rethink my appearance. Starting in the summer of 2004, I began to eat a more healthy diet and work out on a regular basis. I lost 30 pounds and started upgrading my wardrobe (dress shirts, ties, more formal/stylish jeans, sportscoats, suits, top coat, less conservative shoes, etc.). I have my hair cut short every 3 weeks and shave twice a week. I pay close attention every Sunday evening to my personal grooming (mostly nails and facial hair).

Not only do I look more professional / respectable / together, but I feel much better, physically and psychologically, than I did when I was living as a geek. I started working as a senior consultant last summer, and the job is going extremely well. I've continued to upgrade my wardobe and pay attention to my appearance. As my wardrobe has continued to improve, my manager (the CEO of our company's Austrian operation) has asked me several times if I'm after his job. To be honest, I am after the kind of job he has, although I'm not directly after his position.

Lastly, see if you can develop a set of skills that will make you uniquely attractive to some employer or set of employers. Perhaps learning about a specific branch or learning a new language would help out. I moved to Austria and learned to speak and write German fluently. I'm also a native English speaker, and I have lots of experience on web-based projects. Here in Austria, where the economy is currently booming, that mix of attributes is currently in high demand and low supply, putting me square in the cat bird's seat.
posted by syzygy at 5:24 AM on January 29, 2007

Something else I thought of: Note that the path to middle management and the path to senior management are diverging these days, with the former being people promoted out of sub-management jobs and the latter being professional managers. It might be worth deciding where you see yourself in 5, 10, 20 years and use that to determine whether you're looking to get ahead a bit in what you're already doing, or if you're more setting up for a career change even though you might stay in the same field.
posted by mendel at 5:59 AM on January 29, 2007

Like mendel said, talk to your boss about it. Unless your boss is right out of Dilbert, if you tell him what your ambitions are, he will probably try to help you out.

You might have to take some baby steps at first, like taking responsibility of small projects and then sighter bigger ones, and on and on, but you and your boss can probably work out a plan to do it.
posted by bored at 6:25 AM on January 29, 2007

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