Life of a Software Program Manager

A first person accounting of what it is really like to manage a commercial software product.

My Background

Posted by Program Manager on June 5, 2006

It probably makes sense to start out by introducing myself and my background

Resume Paragraph:
I have over 13 years of software development experience, ranging from custom development, enterprise development, enterprise application integration (EAI), ASP commercial software, packaged commercial software, architecture (software, enterprise, and infrastructure), SDLC (RUP, XP, Agile, SCRUM, MSF), and project management. I have held varying levels of leadership and management positions of groups sized between 5 and 40, and been responsible for communications at al levels within and outside the organization, including staff, executives, and board members.

How I got here…

  • Owned my own custom software development company for 6 years. This is where I got my start, made a tone of mistakes, and learned the value of customer service above anything else. If you've never interacted with your end user on a regular basis, you need to. It will be an very humbling, eyeopening experience
  • Fell into a very lucky opportunity and joined a global Fortune 100 company to help through ERP customization, Y2K readiness, CRM Global Installation, and lead a custom development and data warehousing team. This position lasted 2.5 years.
  • Then I moved on to a commercial software company focused on all sectors of the health care market, providing both packaged and ASP software. First, I ran a team that developed real time data extract and portable data warehouse product to the pharmaceutical industry. After the success of that project, I received my second lucky break. I was selected to run a new initiative for the company from the ground up. I hired the team, architected the product, and managed the relationships with key partners and customers. This position lasted 2.5 years
  • After that, I moved into my current position. Now, I am responsible for the strategy, development, and support of one of my company's products. We have two different generations of products, so I manage two teams, each consisting of anaylsts, developers, and testers. My company does have a separate product management organization, and there are two product managers dedicated to my product (I'll post about this later, but never agree to anything with an industry specific product unless you have dedicated product management with experience in that industry). Current tenure 1.5 years and counting

Current Technologies:

  • Microsoft .NET Framework (C#, VB.Net)
  • Java (J2SE, J2EE, Tomcat, Weblogic)
  • SQL Server (4.2, 6.0, 6.5, 7, 2000, 2005)
  • Oracle (7.1.3, 8i, 9i, 10g)
  • Data Warehousing
  • Enterprise Architecture

I won't pretend that i've earned my positions based solely on merit. While I do think I am very qualified for my position, and I've been successful in my previous positions, I did receive a couple lucky breaks. Everyone gets a few chances presented to them during their career, but it is a matter of timing and execution to make the most of those opportunities. The other key that has opened several doors for me is that I have a strong set of soft skills. This is especially key for engineers, and is one of the easiest ways to set yourself apart from the rest of the pack. Anyone who understands the technology behind a software solution, this could mean an analyst, developer, or tester, and this person can effectively communicate (written and verbal), concisely summarize technical information, and understand the relationship between technical and non-technical information has a very bright future ahead of them. The last key attribute, and this might be the most important, is the ability to inspire others. People talk about leadership, courage, and confidence, and there are shelves of books at Barnes and Noble discussing these ad-nauseum, but I believe that it all comes down to one attribute that makes the difference between successful and unsuccessful leaders. If you can inspire others, push them to do more than they thought they were capable of, make them believe in a common cause, make them want to help the team succeed, then you've got it. I don't think this is a skill that can be learned. It can certainly be honed, trained, perfected, but not learned. And you don't need to have a management position to start inspiring others, it just happens naturally. Do you notice that your peers come to you for answers? Are you usually the one persuading a group in a planning or design meeting? Do you find yourself worrying about how your peers are doing on their tasks, and want to help them to finish on time or overcome a difficult challenge? If so, then you probably have it.

Well, enough preaching for now, I know I tangent a great deal, but as I create more posts, they will be more and more focused.


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