So You Want to be a Program Manager

I'm going to break with my own tradition and write something work-related in this Sun-sponsored blog....

I manage the program managers and administrative assistants at the OPG (Solaris) office in Beijing. I have an awesome team, every one of them is smarter than me.

I also have a constant stream of people who come to my office and say they want to become a program manager. I thought I should write here what I tell all of them.

First of all, you should do some research to find out if you really like program management, and if you've got a talent for it. I advise all aspiring program managers to do all of the following:

1) Take a project management class. If you work at Sun you can take SunU classes like Frontline Leadership, PRINS, PLC, or Essential Meeting Facilitation. If you're outside Sun you can take PM classes at your local college or university, or you can get certified through a program like the PM Institute.

2) Sit in on several program managers' meetings. You'll get to observe many different styles, and you'll see how effective each one is. Just pick a meeting you're interested in and ask the program manager in advance if you can be a fly on the wall.

3) Get a program manager to be your mentor. Remember that no one is going to ask you to be their mentee - you'll need to initiate it.

4) Volunteer for program management activities in your current job. Whether you're an admin or a QE engineer, your manager will appreciate it if you offer to help organize some management task. And it'll give you a chance to see if you like this kind of work. Note that you'll need to take initiative, your manager probably won't think to assign this sort of thing to you. You'll need to recognize the need and volunteer.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series, where I'll discuss the qualities I look for in a program manager.

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