How I became a technical project manager
Music, people and project management—it’s a perfect blend and what Corey Apar loves about her job.
As the person responsible for overseeing the processes and schedules of live radio programming, podcasts, custom music stations and many other projects, Corey Apar, 33, a technical project manager at iHeartRadio (you might recognize the company from your Snapchat Discover channel), lives and breathes organization. And she wouldn’t have it any other way—that’s because for Apar, working cross-department and getting the right people together for the project is what she enjoys most about her job.
“I like that no two days are ever the same,” she says, “it keeps things from getting stale or boring.”
With an average annual salary ranging from $55,000 to $133,000, according to PayScale, and a field that is set to grow 15% by 2024, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s looking good for those interested in a career in technical project management.
We spoke with Apar to get an inside look at what being a technical project manager is like.
How she got into the field
After holding editorial positions at AllMusic.com and About.com, Apar was hired at iHeartRadio as a content manager. She had been looking for a job in the music industry and learned about the open position through a former colleague. “After covering music and entertainment for several years, I found myself in a role that had taken me off that path,” she says. “I missed music being a big part of my working day.”
She continued to take on more project management roles with new teams at the iHeartRadio and was later promoted to her current role. “Being open to these new opportunities allowed me to learn new things and get exposed to different parts of the company,” she says.
What her typical day is like
One of Apar’s main tasks is timeline management. Apar monitors her external teams’ progress through daily scrums (the agile terminology for managing product development). Daily filing of JIRA tickets (an agile work methodology for project management) and checking her personal project tabs across the content, web and mobile development teams helps her stay on task.
She also manages internal content projects and product-oriented projects, clarifying what features must look like, updating documentation and ensuring that all involved teams are aligned and have what they need.
What skills she says are important
Apar says you can’t work in technical project management without communication and organization skills—not to mention patience. Since she works with people from various backgrounds, clearly mapping out each step of a project is crucial to success.
“I use a notebook for daily to-do lists and a basic Notes app to organize outstanding questions and issues related to different projects, each in their own tab,” says Apar. “The ability to clearly articulate ensures that everyone understands the ultimate goal,” she says, “thus empowering the entire team to make the best decisions to accomplish the tasks at hand.”
What she says is the biggest challenge
With so many projects competing for her attention, figuring out what’s most important is what Apar says is the toughest part of her job. “Prioritizing happens through conversations with stakeholders, identifying dependencies and talking with the team about their capacity in each sprint,” she says.
This process is also a time-consuming one, to say the least. “I find time wherever I can—during my commute or at the end of the workday,” she says. “I take a few minutes to take stock, tie up any quick loose ends and update my to-do list for the next day.”
Her career advice
Above all else, Apar suggests those interested in project management work on their people and communication skills, even more so than their technical skills. She also recommends prospective project managers be able to think about the big picture and round out their writing skills.
“You might not always understand every detail of how a development team is going to complete a task,” she says. “That’s fine, as long as you have a firm definition of the project from its key stakeholders, and you understand the intended outcome and any risks.”
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