EE to PM: Why would I do that?

photo by Areasuburn
photo by Areasuburn

The posts by Ed Gaeta this last week plus our most recent poll results reminded me of a mental image I developed years ago for why I enjoyed being a project manager so much. After many successful and rewarding years as an electrical engineer, why would I want to move away from hands-on technology to lead people and projects? Being an EE was, afterall, a dream of mine since I was about 10 years old. My father and grandfather were radio hams and my brother an ET in the Navy, so electronics was in my DNA. Why, then, with all the tough and fun challenges I had as an EE, would I ever consider becoming a project manager?

I knew there was something that kept me going, so I thought of a model most engineers could ‘resonate’ with…

Years ago, when I was an individual contributor electrical engineer, I would come to work each day and the circuit I was working on the previous night would still sitting there on my workbench, just where I left it. It still had that stubborn noise bug I was working on, the power supplies were still humming, the spectrum analyzer still monitoring for spurious signals, and the computer was still pumping the circuit full of commands. Nothing had changed. All my resistors were still resisting the flow of current, inductors were still inducting and capacitors still holding a charge. I could jump right back in and continue where I left off. All things were as they should be. Yes, just as they should be. Predictable. Comfortable.

Fast forward several years later after I had been ‘promoted’ to lead a new product development project. I would show up at work after having cogitated on a tough project issue all night in a sleepless turmoil, expecting to jump back in to implement my breakthrough plans for the day to solve all our problems.  Before I even had a chance to set down my briefcase I was immediately hit with a team issue:  John had ‘borrowed’ Mary’s voltmeter right off her bench without asking him.

And, there you have it…why I love project management so much.

As a project manager, things are a lot less predictable, and in so many ways a lot more challenging.  That person who, like an inductor, helped keep things moving forward yesterday, is a capacitor today and keeping things to himself. That ‘filter’, Sandy, who usually helps mold the ideas of others into something useful, is now filtering those ideas in strange ways..and cackling about it.  That rock of a team energy source, Bob, is now a very loud resistor, and overheating badly.  And, that wonderful source of creativity we all depended on for ideas?  Well, she just blew up and went home.

Welcome to the wonderful, unpredictable and incredibly challenging world of project management!  You never know what is going to happen. You really have very little control. But, isnt’ that great?

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1 thought on “EE to PM: Why would I do that?”

  1. Anuradha (Anu) Subramanian

    It’s true – there’s never a dull moment in the world of project management. It also has to do with having been in the trenches for several years and having had first-hand experience with the difficulties at that level. You can now see them from the 100-foot level and know, from experience, what works and what doesn’t. There are so many ‘Aha!’ moments where you feel you’ve seen something before, know how to solve it, and also know what the implications of your actions as a project leader could.

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