What They Don’t Teach in College: Lessons for Young Project Managers

Posted By:

Fresh out of college with my Computer Science degree, I landed a project management position with Neal Analytics. I focused my attention on building a career out of directing teams and planning projects, and even though I had never worked as a project manager before, the people at Neal recognized my passion and took a chance on giving me this great opportunity. Right away, I had to admit that there was a lot for me to learn, and most of it didn’t have anything to do with actual project management. A lot of the small but essential tips for being a functional manager in the work place are not touched on in college; they’re something you only learn by being in the environment.

If I had to create a college course that would benefit the tech world, it would be called “The Importance of Email.” As a founding member of the SPU Developer’s Club, we had an incredibly tough time getting our club members to respond to emails. This discouraged us from trying to connect to them through email at all, and we ditched it like last year’s social media app. Thanks to the prevalence of spam emails and unimportant daily updates and newsletters, we hold emails with more disdain than our Facebook timelines. Once I began working in a professional tech environment, I had to readapt to using email regularly. I know this is mainly a message for younger people getting started in a career field, but it is important to instill in young people that emails are at least as important as text messages if not more so.

When I was looking for guidance, I met with all sorts of knowledgeable and inspiring people. One person in particular, who was a major project manager at Xbox, gave me some great advice when he said, “Apply everywhere and say yes to anything.” For anyone searching for a lifelong career, this is an important message. A lot of people are in a rush to find a job and be done searching, when your younger years are the perfect time to explore. Many will jump from job to job trying to build a resume when the goal should instead be to find work that you love, and to allow that passion to drive you where you want to go. When you are passionate, you inspire others around you, which improves the quality of work and innovation all around.

This last lesson is often the hardest, especially for my own young and thick-skulled generation. Many people are easily threatened by others who are more talented than they are, or feel insignificant when they don’t know as much as someone else. These aren’t real problems as long as you leave your pride at the door. People get distracted in this industry trying to be the best possible candidate, but when you are on a team that attitude has to go. Surrounding yourself with smarter people will make you smarter and drive you to be better day by day. A lot of people will never admit when they don’t know something because it’s awkward to be the person out of the loop, and it feels easier to smile and nod and look the information up online later. The truth is that it’s best to just admit that you don’t know what someone is talking about and let them teach you. You aren’t expected to know everything, so it’s fine to swallow your pride and let your coworker teach you something.

While these lessons aren’t exactly secret knowledge, it’s still helpful to be aware of them early on in your career. A young project manager needs as many tools as possible at their disposal in order to learn and grow. The biggest enemy you face in the tech industry is yourself, so do what you can to let your better side win.