Name: Don Spencer
Job Title: IT Project Manager
Where: Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
Employer: Self-Employed – Consulting
Years of Experience: 24
Education: Hons.B.A. (History & Philosophy, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada), M.A. (History, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada)
Salary: See the PayScale Research Center for the average salary of a project manager.
IT Project Manager Salary Survey
Do you enjoy computers, managing projects and all things 2.0? Then you may want to consider a career as an IT project manager. If you don't know what the job description for IT project manager professionals is, then this Salary Story will fill in the missing data.
We recently interviewed IT project manager Don Spencer who gave us the inside scoop on career paths for IT project managers and a realistic IT project manager job description. If you want more info on the average salary of a project manager, you can also check out our IT project manager salary survey. Take a moment to log on to this interesting career!
IT Project Manager Job Description:
An “IT project manager” title can mean different things to different people. Much of the confusion about what the job description means depends on the size of the company you are serving. If you are, like me, the lone wolf in a small to medium-sized business, “IT Project Manager” means being responsible for everything in the organization that might be considered part of the information systems.
This would include computers, mobile devices, servers, firewalls, switches, WiFi access points, printers, print servers, PBX and VoIP phone systems, long-range industrial cordless phones, hubs, and cabling. It also means responsibility for all operating systems, upgrades, anti-virus and anti-spam services, email services, outsourcing, office applications and Internet applications.
In larger companies, “IT project manager” may mean that you are responsible for a variety of projects. In my case, that meant multiple projects, some of which followed one after the other, some of which had to be conducted concurrently. But it may also mean that you have staff reporting to you whose projects you supervise. In other words, less hands on and more managerial.
How did you come to fit the job description for IT project manager?
Becoming an IT project manager was not my plan in post-secondary education. Initially, I took three years in college studying theology. After that I studied for another three years in history and philosophy for an Hons.BA. Then I did graduate school in history at another university studying medieval European history for my MA, followed by three years doing all but my dissertation towards a Ph.D. in Canadian medical history. It was a clear path for teaching university courses.
I decided at that point that I didn’t want to teach in universities after all, so I accepted a position at a new museum in Waterloo called The Seagram Museum. That job started in 1983 when the IBM PC was introduced. The Director of the museum, Dr. Peter Swann, asked me to assume responsibilities for the new desktop computer and to act as the museum’s liaison with the first wide area network in Canada (at a regional level). That organization was called the Waterloo Wellington Museum Computer Network.
I took to this new personal computer and communications technology naturally and developed a facility in database management, first with the Stanford Public Information Retrieval System (SPIRES) hosted by the University of Waterloo, and then with Ashton Tate’s dBase. Eventually I moved over to Clipper and started developing custom applications for museums and archives elsewhere in the province.
After my five years with The Seagram Museum, I moved directly into the burgeoning personal computer and networking sales industry, acting in mainly an account manager role for another five years. Then, in 1993, I set off on my own with a custom database application business called Artifax Applications, a name some partners and I had used to create software applications in the 1980s for IBM and Apple versions of a publication and reference tool called the Museum and Archives Handbook.
From 1993 to the present, I have been the sole proprietor of Artifax Applications, developing custom applications (primarily in Microsoft Access) for a diversity of businesses including manufacturing (inventory, purchasing, time cards, reporting applications, product pricing), family and marital counseling case management (distributed across North America), marketing distribution, and management information systems for an international chain of photography vendors.
Did you have formal training as an IT project manager?
Most of my training, in both programming and systems administration, was through books, occasional seminars and conferences, magazine and online subscriptions and the purchase of many, many technical books. I did not work towards industry certification since I already had work. In retrospect, IT certification would be useful in my job search now, at least to open doors which might otherwise remain shut.
I am still on the executive for the user group doing occasional speaking engagements, planning events and meetings, and providing liaison with user group leads across Canada with the assistance and sponsorship of Microsoft Canada’s IT Pro Advisor group.
In the past three years, I have also ventured into the world of blogging. So far that has entailed regular contributions to a personal blog called Don Spencer’s Artifacts, an information technology-oriented blog called Bringing Closure, and regular contributions to the IT Manager’s Connection hosted by Microsoft Canada and the Canadian Information Processing Society. Preparing entries for my blog contributions is another means whereby I do self-instruction and research.
Any advice for someone who wants to be an IT project manager?
Consider certification. Don’t do as I do, do as I say. Certification is about opening doors as well as disciplining your training and development. Product-specific, vendor-specific, and task-specific certifications are all useful as long as the material to be mastered helps you in your daily workload.
If, like me, you find yourself looking for employment, just imagine how many more doors will be open simply because people automatically understand that you know your stuff – you don’t have to prove it again and again.
But, having said that, if you are a liberal arts graduate and still want to try your hand at information technology, give it a shot. Be prepared to spend a lot of lonely hours learning the technology from books, magazines, web casts, and other resources.
Start a blog about something you are passionate about. Engage in conversations with other bloggers who share your passions. Get on Facebook and become known as someone in the technology field who knows what he/she is talking about and who is passionate about sharing information with others.
Listen to the younger generations and pay special attention to the technologies and social networking tools they use regularly. Why? Because that’s the future of IT, whether you like it or not. You will have to provide these services and enable people to use them, so get used to it.
What is the job outlook for IT project managers?
I’m convinced IT is a great place to be for the future…only if you embrace change and are ready to reinvent yourself several times in your career. A generation is now about 3-5 years after which the technology will not be supported by vendors.
Be more than the chief cook and bottle washer. If you don’t work in a place where you can directly engage upper management on the impact of information technology, then consider looking elsewhere for employment. If you work someplace where your opinions are not taken seriously, consider going someplace where they are.
Finally, seriously consider self-employment or consulting in the IT sector. Small and medium-sized businesses are growing dramatically, but they cannot all afford full-time IT professionals on staff. Nonetheless, they need IT expertise and will look to consulting agencies with both certified staff and extensive experience in many different situations.
That breadth and depth of experience is valuable to every company, small, medium or large. Pay attention to the system management tools that are being designed these days specifically targeting SMBs. It’s not just the big guys, any longer, who have appropriate integrated tools at their disposal.
How does outsourcing affect IT project managers?
In Canada, most SMBs will have to outsource some of the IT project management simply because they don’t have the resources to hire full-time staff and, even when they can afford a small IT department, they cannot expect the breadth and depth of experience that comes with outsourced consultants.
A greater threat, I believe, is the lack of interest among post-secondary students in the IT sector generally. Unless IT can attract good quality people, outsourcing will become even more important. Part of the lack of interest may be because IT is often considered “merely” technology without management and C-level career paths. In small business, that is far too often the case.
What factors can influence the average salary of a project manager or other IT professionals?
Education and certification are certainly factors. But the point of those qualifications is primarily to engender trust where people do not know you already. Certainly there are differences both demographically between larger and smaller markets as well as geographically between different regions in how well paid IT professionals are.
Certainly you can build a very successful consulting business with a minimal staff in which your opportunities to make more money than staff employees is virtually guaranteed. But be prepared to sacrifice vacations that last more than a week (and be ready to answer email whenever you are on vacation), attend fewer conferences and training sessions, and to spend a lot of money on benefits/health packages.
If security is important to you (including health benefits with short- and long-term disability), you might prefer working with other people in larger companies. If you prefer to socialize with other IT people and prefer to discuss technical issues with other people on a regular basis, then again consider working in a company. If, on the other hand, you don’t mind working alone and being the only “go-to” person, then consulting may be a good option.
I’ve done both. Consulting is usually the best way to earn more income, if you can deal with uncertainty and you are good with cash flow. Staff employment is usually the best if you need daily interaction with other people in the same technical field.
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