Today, it’s often taken for granted that a quick computer search will easily yield the answer to virtually any question. Yet, it takes a lot of hard-working professionals to make all of this data available. Information technology (IT) is the field that is concerned with the creation, processing, security, storage and transfer of information, and there are many career options within this field.
If you’re fascinated by technology and interested in a high-tech career, perhaps a career as an IT project manager would be right for you. But what exactly is an IT project manager, and what’s the process for how to become an IT project manager? This detailed career guide explains the IT project manager career path and offers actionable tips to get started.
What Does an IT Project Manager Do?
The IT project manager career path lies at the intersection of business and information technology. In broad terms, an IT project manager is responsible for planning, organizing and executing IT projects that further the organization’s IT goals and overall strategic vision. These professionals can work in any sector and industry, including the healthcare, retail and education industries, as well as in nonprofit or government sectors.
An IT project manager is the leader of a multidisciplinary team of professionals. They use their unique blend of leadership skills and technology competencies to chart a timeline to project completion, develop a budget, allocate resources, delegate tasks and motivate their team. The ultimate goal is to get all projects completed on time and within budget, and with an eye toward furthering the overall mission of the organization.
On a typical day, an IT project manager may perform any of the following tasks:
- Define the objectives, purpose and scope of a new project, and identify stakeholders and expectations
- Develop a comprehensive and continually evolving project plan that considers factors such as budget, resources, timelines, quality control and communication
- Delegate individual tasks to the IT team members who are best qualified to handle them
- Troubleshoot project issues as they arise, answer team members’ questions and keep the team motivated to work toward a timely project completion
- Monitor the project’s progress, budget and performance, and make adjustments as needed
- Maintain open lines of communication with internal and external stakeholders, such as by advising them of the progress of the project
- Conduct a post-implementation review of completed projects to evaluate performance, ensure that outside vendors have been paid and close the project
As you might expect, the process of becoming an IT project manager involves cultivating a blend of technical skills and soft skills, such as communication and leadership abilities.
Understanding the Typical IT Project Manager Career Path
Now that you know what these professionals do, you may be wondering how to become an IT project manager. If you’re still in high school, talk to your guidance counselor about the typical IT project manager career path. Your guidance counselor may be able to help you adjust your course load to reflect your career goals.
Take as many technology-related classes as you can, such as computer applications, computer science and coding, if they are available at your school. You should also take advantage of any business-related classes your school may offer. In addition, it’s a good idea to refine your communication and critical thinking skills with courses in the humanities.
After high school, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree in a technology-related field. For instance, you might earn an applied technology degree. It’s not necessary to earn a master’s degree for this career path, although this may prove worthwhile if you want to pursue a senior-level position later in your career.
Expect to work at one or more entry-level jobs to gain at least a few years of work experience. Then, you may be qualified to pursue a role as an IT project manager. You can also work on earning one or more voluntary certifications to further your career goals.
How to Become an IT Project Manager With an Applied Technology Degree
After graduating from high school, your next step in becoming an IT project manager is to pursue an undergraduate degree. In this field, bachelor’s degrees are greatly preferred over associate’s degrees.
There is considerable flexibility regarding the specific type of bachelor’s degree you can earn for this career path, although you should definitely choose a technology-related degree. For instance, you might earn a degree in information technology, computer science or software development. An applied technology degree is also a great choice for future IT project managers.
The curriculum will vary, depending on the school and specific program you choose. For instance, if you choose to earn an applied technology degree, you may study any of the following topics:
- The design, development, implementation and maintenance of relational database structures
- Concepts and best practices in cybersecurity
- Fundamentals of IT project management, with a look at managing IT teams, mitigating risk and adhering to best practices in outsourcing
- The life cycle of information systems development
It’s ideal to choose an applied technology degree that not only instills technical skills, but also teaches important soft skills. Your curriculum should cover business ethics, decision-making, communication, servant leadership and similar competencies that will be essential for your career success.
Remember that the role of an IT project manager combines the fields of technology and business. Because you’ll be earning a technology degree, it’s a good idea to use your electives to learn more about succeeding as a business manager. For instance, you might look for electives in topics such as entrepreneurship and technology management, organizational behavior and management, operations management, business finance or strategic management.
After graduation, you’ll be prepared to pursue an entry-level career in the field. It’s not necessary to earn a master’s degree in order to pursue a job as an IT project manager. However, you might at some point decide to go back to school for your master’s degree so that you can pursue a senior-level position.
Land an Entry-Level IT Job
It’s common for companies to prefer to hire IT project managers who have at least a few years of relevant work experience. In other words, you might not become a project manager right out of college. Instead, you should expect to work your way up to this role.
Start by looking for an entry-level job in information technology. Some examples of these jobs include:
- IT technician
- Help desk technician
- Web developer
- Systems administrator
- Database administrator
- Systems analyst
- Software developer
- Information security analyst
After you gain some work experience, you may qualify to pursue project management-adjacent positions. For instance, you might work as a project coordinator, reporting to the project manager. After proving your competencies in real-world contexts, you may then be able to pursue your dream job as an IT project manager.
Earn a Professional Certification for Your IT Project Manager Career
It’s always a good idea to look for ways of improving your career qualifications in order to pursue your dream job or transition to a higher-level position. There are a wide variety of professional certifications that are relevant to IT project managers.
Some of these certifications may require that applicants possess a certain amount of full-time work experience. You may also be required to show proof of your academic credentials, and you can generally expect to take an exam and/or course(s). Consider pursuing any of the following certifications:
- Project Management Professional (PMP®) – Project Management Institute (PMI)
- Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) – Scrum Alliance
- Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) – Scrum Alliance
- Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) – PMI
- Project Management in IT Security (PMITS) – EC-Council
Are IT Project Managers in High Demand?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the agency responsible for tracking employment data in the U.S., does not track data specific to IT project managers. However, these professionals are grouped together with other related professionals in the general category of computer and information systems managers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for computer and information systems managers to increase by about 10% from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than average, accounting for an estimated increase of 48,100 jobs in the field.1
The demand for qualified professionals is predicted to be particularly strong in cloud computing companies. It’s expected that various organizations will continue to shift from having in-house IT departments to outsourcing their IT needs to external IT firms.
Do you envision yourself as a professional project manager working in information technology? You can begin your IT project manager career path at Grand Canyon University, which offers a broad array of undergraduate technology degrees such as the Bachelor of Science in Applied Technology program. This applied technology degree includes coursework in IT project management, business case planning and other core competencies.
Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to learn more about joining the supportive learning community online or on-campus at GCU.
1 Covid-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on April 2022, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer and Information Systems Managers.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.