Achieving the status of systems engineer should mean a lot to anyone who holds that title. It takes a lot of experience and knowledge to get to the level of a systems engineer. What comes after, though? In some cases, you can become a senior systems engineer, or a chief engineer, but there isn’t much to improve upon from becoming a systems engineer. Maybe you disagree with me and you can speak up in the comments. From my experience, when you become a systems engineer, you stay a systems engineer until you decide to move on. There are a few directions you can go from being a systems engineer; you must decide how you want the rest of your career to go.
One common road beyond systems engineering is consultant, where you are essentially doing the same job but for many different organizations as their needs arise. Independent consultants make a decent amount of money and if you are good at your job and know your stuff, it’s likely you will be in high demand. This option generally requires a decent amount of travel, in some instances up to 75%. Another option to look at, which is a big shift, is to become a project manager. Most engineers roll their eyes at the prospect of dealing with a project manager, much less becoming one.
Project management isn’t an easy job. Being a PM requires a lot of self-discipline and control over your time. If you have a propensity to procrastinate, becoming a PM is not for you. A PM needs to be able to get their job done with little to no oversight. PMs are tasked with a project or multiple projects that require a deadline and a budget. Deadline and budget management are not for the faint of heart. On top of the money and time management, the most important aspect of project management is being the liaison between the customer and your project team. Expectations can be hard to meet at times; however, a good PM must meet the customer’s expectations or be up front about challenging some of the more unreasonable ones.
At this point, I’ve either scared you from the PM track or you are intrigued. Those that are scared off, I get it; it’s not an easy job. For those of you who are intrigued and ready to get more of a challenge from your job, here are some things you need to do before you are ready to become a project manager.
Gain Real World management Experience
This is probably the most difficult part of taking the PM path. It is difficult to gain real world PM experience when you aren’t a PM. As a systems engineer, start looking into the details of the project you are working on. If you get the chance to be a lead engineer, then you are even closer to the PM path than you know. As a lead engineer you must know the ins and outs of the project. Deadlines apply to the lead engineer as well. As a lead, you must manage some team members and keep the work going. After hours, or even as a sidebar to your daily work, start meeting with the PM and find out what they do day-to-day. There may be an opportunity to take some of the work off their plate and help out. If you want real world experience and you are motivated to become a PM, there will be opportunities, you just need to look for them.
Get Trained and Certified
Training will be a big part of the transition from engineer to PM. There are many training opportunities and certifications that will bolster your resume and experience level. Online PM training courses exist as well as opportunities for live classroom training. Here are a few good options to choose from:
- The PM PrepCast – This is a course made up of video lessons that cover all aspects of the Project Management Professional (PMP) syllabus. This course has the added benefit of counting 35 hours towards your PMP study requirement.
- Master of Project Academy – A great option for getting a large bundle of info based on PMP training and some added bonuses. The Master of Project Academy: Project Management Bundle offers not only PMP training material but also MS Project and Agile Scrum material.
- The Complete Agile Project Manager – The Project Management Institute offers their own training solutions. The Complete Agile Project Manager curriculum is comprised of 9 different courses the cover all of the Agile PM spectrum. This is a self-paced course and consists of over 17 hours of content that can be done where you want and when you want.
All of these training options will help to prepare you for the PMP exam provided by the Project Management Institute (PMI). The PMP certification is widely recognized as the industry standard for PM certifications. Having a PMP certification on your resume is a huge step towards getting the PM job you want.
Expand your Network
Expanding your network is a must when it comes to finding a good PM job. After you complete your first successful project, it is important to capture the highlights of that project and share them with your network where you can. By expanding your network, you are making a name for yourself in the PM career field. As a PM, you often have the opportunity to work through a variety of projects and with a variety of people: leave a good impression. Once you establish yourself within your network as a solid PM, there will be endless opportunities to grow and pick up more contracts.