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How to Grow from a Software Engineer to a Project Manager

EPAMer Nanar Chahverdian shares advice and motivation

Nanar Chahverdian started her career at a healthcare technology consulting firm with management in New York City and developers in Yerevan (Armenia). 

"I was a software engineer who assisted a project manager," recalls Nanar. In 2014, when the company became part of EPAM, she received a proposal to become a project manager and has stayed with EPAM Armenia ever since. 

In this interview, Nanar highlights the advantages of the job, speaks about the qualities and knowledge of a good project manager and how karate has helped her.  

Nanar, you were a software engineer and are now a project manager. Could you please compare these jobs?  

A software engineer gets plenty of opportunities to expand technical knowledge, whereas the responsibilities of a project manager entail more communication. In my current role, I appreciate the chance to be a primary driver of change. Not only are you managing the project and delivery for the client's satisfaction, but you can also support your team with many tools. By no means is the task easy. It is one thing to say that I like my job because of these responsibilities, and it is another thing to say that I am always successful at fulfilling the exact plan. Still, having this opportunity is valuable to me.  

What would be your study recommendations to a software engineer looking for a project manager position?  

The obvious recommendation is to become familiar with the basics of project management. A scrum master course would be a good start. Besides that, there is one thing that a PM would need regardless of the project methodology— soft skills. When technical specialists consider becoming managers, they need to understand that their schedule will be full of meetings and correspondence, communication that many software engineers do not enjoy. Many tasks demand urgent attention, so you should be good at prioritization and time management.  

One more piece of advice is to stay humble and be a friend to your team.  Learn about stress management - there is a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of a project manager. It is slightly tricky to be responsible for everything while not doing everything. 

What is your strategy to tackle stressful situations?  

First, I utilize reframing, which means changing your thinking and seeing a problem as a positive challenge. In an emergency case, it is important to distract yourself from work for at least five minutes: drink water or look out the window. 

Do you have any helpful hobbies for these cases? 

In my case, it is sports. I have been practicing karate for many years and have a black belt. This activity has helped me discipline my work and suppress stress. I also love hiking; it recharges me when I feel drained. 

What is your career development plan?  

I plan to take the L3 assessment to ensure that I do not forget about the official side of career growth. I have also applied to the Delivery Managers' School. I do not necessarily need to become a DM in the future, but it is good to have this knowledge.  Overall, I am considering a career path that will lead me to more business and client exposure. I would be interested in managing bigger teams and contributing more to my unit's benefit.  

What is your experience in changing projects in EPAM? 

It has been easy so far if we speak about timing and finding a new project.  A colleague told me about an urgent vacancy on a project. I agreed to join and stayed for four and a half years. What started as a small team grew into several projects due to effective communication and relationships we built with the client, so the tasks were challenging and exciting.  

When I enter a project, the team starts to feel like a family. Everyone helps and trusts each other. Another point I love about being a project manager is the chance to build team spirit.  

Sounds fascinating! Could you please share your advice on establishing trust in a team? 

When you begin meetings with a smile, even without video, people feel it from your intonation. Another rule is staying honest and respectful with your team members. It is vital to create a safe environment. By this, I mean that a PM should concentrate on resolving a problem rather than finding who did wrong. It is an atmosphere of openness when everyone is not afraid to admit a mistake and learns to avoid it next time. 

EPAM has a supportive culture in every layer of the company. There is always help for you, regardless of your chosen career path or project. I suppose it is the main reason for me being with EPAM for all these years and still not thinking about changing employers. I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who helps build this culture and make it not just words but a reality. 

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