Non-Obvious Paths to a Career in the Tech Industry
At Viget, we build digital products and websites for clients. The work is done by a team of people, and the most obvious roles involved are developers and designers. People in those roles often have obvious majors, like computer science and design or fine arts. If you’re looking to get into the tech industry, those are solid degrees to pursue.
I want to shine light on a less obvious, but key part of that team, and the less obvious academic backgrounds that can prepare someone for the work. As Kelly wrote recently, the Digital Project Manager role at Viget is key to the success of our projects. She highlighted the ways DPMs collaborate closely with designers and programmers, solve problems in ever-changing contexts, feel a strong committment to serving clients, and thrive under the pressure of deadlines and a final launch. It’s a demanding, but rewarding position within a very dynamic environment.
But how would you know if you’re well-suited to being a DPM? It’s unlikely that as an 8th grader you were staying up all night to figure out how to translate complex ideas into discreet to-dos, the way some of our dev and designer friends were building their first applications and customizing their Neopets profiles. And, if you’re new to even knowing the DPM position exists, how likely is it that you studied something at all related to the role?
You might be surprised. We’ve noticed some interesting trends in terms of what our DPMs studied and what early jobs they took, long before they ever knew they’d be on a team of people building digital products.
Several of our DPMs studied foreign languages in college alongside another major. In college they were adept at learning new words, syntax, grammar, and pronunciations; and they were comfortable with the uncomfortableness of being “foreign” to a subject. Now, they exercise those same strengths professionally. The hurdles of technology jargon, the cultural differences among teammates, the persistence required to make sure you really understand what everyone’s trying to communicate -- these are daily features of a DPM’s job and, for the right people, they are welcomed challenges. In case you’re wondering, the favorite foreign language among Viget DPMs seems to be French (mais bien sur!), but German is a close second (jahvohl!). (Side note -- DPMs are often over-achievers. It’s not surprising we have seen so many double majors.)
Over the years we’ve had a handful of people with majors like Statistics and Economics. The DPM job involves budget and hours tracking; knowing your way around web analytics; and large-scale data organization like content audits and site QA testing. More generally, the ability to be systematic in thinking through a huge problem, and breaking it down into in parts is an essential aspect of the job. An affinity for the practical application of information also comes in handy. The digital products we're building often exist to turn complex data into something useful that can be acted upon. For the statistics-lovers I know, this type of work is right up their alley.
This is the most common degree we’ve seen on our DPM team over time, specifically with a specialization in journalism. My sense is that would-be journalists fall in love with project management for a lot of the same thrills as journalism: the pace is fast, resourceful problem-solving is essential, and there’s a continual changing landscape -- one week you have to become an expert on one subject, and the next week it’s something completely different. Are you thick-skinned? Will you relentlessly pursue the information needed for a story? When you’re building digital products, there’s no byline; but there’s plenty of hustle, lots of need for a fine-toothed comb, and a huge rush when the thing finally launches.
If you’re drawn to this industry and excited about digital products, but aren’t inclined towards deep expertise or creative design challenges, give the DPM role a close look. Do your interests and talents align with the core traits in the job description? Could you see yourself as a DPM Apprentice? Get in touch! We want to hear all about your background, your major, and, of course, the talents that will carry you forward. The industry is growing and there is a need for more than just developers and designers to evolve the field.