When I got my undergraduate degree in English, I didn’t have a clue what I was looking for in a career. I took a job at a restaurant to get by while I considered my options. I had worked there as a teenager as a dish washer and they were happy to have me back. I had grown up considering becoming a chef and it seemed like a good time to explore the culinary world.
Learning to Cook
Getting into the rhythm and lifestyle change was difficult. Late nights, busy weekends, the work was exhausting, but exciting. Within a few months I was promoted to Pantry Lead. It meant that I was in change of my own line. (Sure making salads, sandwiches, pizza, and desert, but it was mine). Chef Paloma was constantly helping me learn more. However, at some point she got hurt and had to leave for some time
I didn’t last very long after that. The restaurant was losing money and I found myself in the role as an untrained pantry chef constantly bumbling my way through each week. I was offered a job around the corner at a pub, one with better hours and the promise of benefits.
I lasted 3 months at that job. They had hired me to be a prep cook, but really needed a floater (someone that can do every position) and thought I could be it. I still have burn scars, cuts, and bad memories (including one instance were some coworkers threatened to sexually assault me in the walk-in fridge). I was quite glad when they reduced me to zero hours. That was their way of asking me to quit.
Learning to Tech
Skip to today, I’ve been working with LexBlog’s Sr. Project Manager Andy on implementing syndication portals for bar associations and some really big law firms. I’ve been in charge of training clients to use their new portals and completing a laundry list of small tasks. Andy has been going the extra mile and has turned much of my work into training.
My weeks have now been filled with corrections, encouragement, and work-study. “Consider doing [blank], instead of [blank]”, “Did you see what I did there? Here’s why I did that”, “You did great in that meeting, keep it up”. It’s been refreshing to get constant feedback and direction as I step into the potential role of Project Manager.
While the last couple months have been a great learning experience, last week was brutal. I was getting bombarded with emails, asked to join meetings last minute, and given urgent task after urgent task. I was also getting tidbits of wisdom from Andy throughout the day that I wanted to remember. It all felt vaguely familiar.
Grok the similarities
After reflecting on the stressfully busy week, I realized that I had these feelings before. The constant exigence, the exhaustion, the stress of learning while doing, this was all familiar. I realized that becoming a project manager was like becoming a kitchen’s floater. I needed to jump in where ever I was needed.
Cooking is just like Project Management.
- Getting tickets
- Constant Communication
- Holding a role and expecting others to hold theirs
- Fulfilling expectations
- Keeping Consistency between similar projects
The skills I had learned once before came in handy. I know that a kitchen needs constant communication. The same is true of a tech company. There are a slew of status updates you need to know at all times: where you’re at, what you are doing, what the expectations are, and when you should be done.
Sure, with the tech company the client has some responsibility for the end product, but the same is true for the kitchen. A customer tells me they want a little pink in their steak is the same as a client telling me to change the link to read “contributors” instead of “Publishers”. My point, the devil is in the details. While “a little pink” usually means medium to medium-well, making the assumption that the customer doesn’t care because they don’t know the language would be ignorant. The same goes for assuming that the client is being nit-picky about “contributors” and “publishers”. My point, don’t assume the customer/client knows or doesn’t know what they are asking.
I’ve learned to ask for clarification if I don’t know.
Anytime that you can compare two seemingly different jobs try it. If you look for similarities, you’ll find them. If you can’t find them, you haven’t learned anything from your past experience. As I progress in my knowledge of what it means to become a project manager I’ll try to connect as much of my understanding as possible. That’s just a good learning strategy in general.
Thanks for reading. I hope you found something to add to your everyday rhetoric repertoire.