Digital project managers are often told “being technical” isn’t required and it can be picked up along the way. This topic was even debated at a recent Digital PM Summit with most panelists agreeing that technical skills weren’t an absolute necessity if strong project management skills existed. In my experience in the tech world, I have to admit it’s not fully necessary but acquiring technical competency can make a tremendous difference in the confidence level and trust-building abilities of a project manager. I have recently branched out and train new project managers that I run across when working with virtual teams who find their lack of technical knowledge to be a top stress factor in their new roles.
Over a decade ago, I decided to take the leap and go virtual! A virtual project manager then is NOT the same today. Not only do I highly recommend honing up your technical skills if you are a project manager that does not involve digital projects, the time is coming. I see technical literacy as foundational to almost any business management job today. Although I’m still (and always and forever) growing more in this area, here are some actions that have helped me:
HTML and CSS are the fundamental building blocks of web development. Although web development has grown increasingly complex, it has also become increasingly simplified. Sound conflicting? Sort of. Learning the fundamentals really helped me understand the job of the web developers I worked with every day. Treehouse is my personal favorite for learning coding skills online.
Learning theory and programming syntax does not equal experience or expert judgment. Just like any skill, sure, you can learn the basics, but it takes dedication and experience than applying it to challenging situations to ultimately become a master of a skill. I’ve done front-end development work now for dozens of websites which helped me apply my nascent coding skills. Even more so, it helps me gain the respect of developers and coders while it also makes me appreciate the challenge and intricacy of the decisions developers make every day.
I have worked in web development for over a decade, but working as an independent freelancer requires me to work closer with developers than in previous roles. This is a highly competitive field and requires excellence, so I had to go deeper in my understanding and learn more about development environments, branching strategies, integrations, and many other modern web development best practices. An extra bonus is developing great relationships with developers and being able to collaborate and to ask any and all technical questions I didn’t understand.
Learning “on the job” can be a great way to pick up technical knowledge, but can also be your worst nightmare. Supplementing learning “off the job” with my experience has been my best resource for staying current with new and changing technologies as active projects and expert teammates are a natural resource for that information. However, I have found that being comfortable and familiar with basic and some advanced tech fundamentals to be the most helpful knowledge gaps for me to fill. Some of my favorites are Harvard’s Introduction to Computer Science and Tech Tuesday articles.