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WIT Interview with Kim, Senior Digital Project Manager at FIFTEEN

Women in Technology WNY is here to feature the stories of women in our local community and the various technology roles they fill, traditional and non-traditional. TechBuffalo is here to highlight these women to encourage others to not only explore technology opportunities but to take advantage of them. Kim joined me to discuss her love of theatre, all things Halloween, and managing chaos.

Would you care to share a little bit about yourself and your background?

I have been working in Project Management for over 10 years. This is a little bit tricky because I started my professional career as a project manager working at the Apple retail store in the Galleria Mall. Everybody automatically thinks you’re in retail/sales by working there, but I was a Genius Administrator, which is a very different type of role. The term “Genius” sounds so self-important so I don’t like using it, but that’s what Apple called their tech department. As a Genius Admin, I would manage all the computer and mobile device repairs that came into the store. A huge part of this was filtering them through the repair system using criteria such as; the availability of the techs who could work on the repairs, level of difficulty, and if we needed to order additional parts to fix the device. All of this was put into a project management system so that we could manage the timeline, who it was assigned to, and update customers to let them know how quickly we could get their device back to them. The average timeline was 3-5 days turnaround, so it was very fast-paced. When I think back about my career background, this is where it started.

After Apple, I left to go into marketing and advertising. I started working at Local Edge, working as a website project coordinator. That’s where my love of websites started. I started to learn the basics of websites and the inner working of coding. I had a lot of good teachers there that knew that I had come from a different background, so they spent time with me teaching the ins and outs of what goes into good UI/UX. That lead me to another digital marketing agency, Mainstreethost, where I helped manage all the digital marketing projects within the Enterprise department. These clients had bigger budgets and did everything from full website re-builds to full marketing strategy projects. My path is a little unorthodox, but I feel lucky to be where I am today and thank my past for how I got here.

A little bit about myself as a person. I love Disney. Before the pandemic, I would go to Disney World a couple of times a year with my husband. Halloween is my favorite holiday and I go all out with gory special fx makeup every year (see my Instagram for references). My husband and I have been married for 4 years now and we had a Halloween/Haunted Mansion-themed wedding. We’ve been together for almost a decade which is crazy to think about. Time flies when you’re having fun.

Can you elaborate a little bit on what a digital project manager does like on a day to day basis?

My role at FIFTEEN consists of managing mostly website projects that are coming through the agency and managing the day-to-day with the client so that they stay informed.  I am high touch with them from the start, beginning with the project quoting process to after the website goes live making sure every aspect of the project is completed efficiently and in line with client expectations. Very much like working at Apple, there is a lot of processes that need to be followed to ensure everything gets done. I assign creative pieces of the project to designers and copywriters and, from there it goes to our development team to bring it to life.

I also manage the Web Development Team and their day to day workload. Since I am part of that team, I end up taking on some of the website project tasks myself. This includes testing websites and making sure that there’s good quality assurance. We test everything on multiple devices, multiple browsers, we make sure that the UI and UX are making sense so that the end result is a state-of-the-art website that works for all audiences and the client.

We’re a smaller agency, so we tend to wear many hats. Sometimes this includes doing things out of my comfort zone. I’ve worked on video production, print pieces, and photoshoots. I prefer working on websites but sometimes it’s fun to step outside your typical day and work on something new.

What skills do you think are necessary to be a successful project manager?

First and foremost organization. You have to be organized. My position manages a lot of different projects all at once, so there are a lot of things happening simultaneously. You need to be able to organize what you are working on and what needs to be completed by certain deadlines. You also have to be organized for each team member you are giving tasks too so that they’re not just getting a jumble of information that makes no sense.

Clear communication is also important. There is a lot of verbal and written communication in this business. You have to know what type of communication works for your team and clients. For example, some clients are better on the phone while others are better at communicating via email.  Either way, you need to adapt to this and make sure that you are clear and direct in all your communication. If you end up being vague you will just have people who are left with uncertainty.

Prioritizing the work. Make sure that you have a good idea of when things are due back to the client so that you can give it enough time to get through your internal process. Identifying which projects are more urgent vs the ones that you have more time with is key here. Since we have a lot of projects going on at once, you need to stay in-tune to where each one is so if you run into any roadblocks, you can deal with them immediately and shift tasks around so that things keep moving.

You did mention a couple of soft skills. Are there any hard tech skills you feel are necessary to complete your job every day? Whether it’s an understanding of different platforms or you know different user interfaces.

That’s a tough one. I don’t know if I necessarily have hard tech skills. I mean I have some sweet Microsoft Word and Excel skills! However, I think that I have a pretty good understanding of the back ends of websites. Not really the code part of it but the content management systems. We use a CMS called Craft CMS that I have become a bit of a wizard at. When we take over different sites with other CMSs, I’m pretty good at going into the back end and learning how it works pretty quickly, whether it be an ECommerce or WordPress or some random obscure CMS that somebody might be using. I can pretty much find my way around it just from working in them regularly. I don’t know if that is considered a hard tech skill, but it’s definitely something I can do.

I’m currently trying to teach myself how to develop websites. That’s been a slow process. I started learning basics back at Local Edge, took a break, and then recently within the past year or so I got back into it because I think that that is a very valuable skill, especially for the position that I’m in. I’ve been trying to grow that skill so eventually, I’ll be able to build my own website. I really want to understand the coding part of it. Creating a website from scratch is pretty awesome, so hopefully, someday I’ll be able to do it. For now, I rely on my team members to have these skills.

How does one become a project manager? What are backgrounds that you guys typically look for? Any certifications?

Fun fact, I went to college for theater. I always like to tell people I have a degree in jazz hands. I went to school for theater, and I ended up being a stage manager. I worked professionally in Buffalo for 10 years as a stage manager for a lot of different local theater companies like Buffalo United Artists, Road Less Traveled, Alleyway, and so on. It’s funny how I ended up on this path. It started with stage management, and then Apple, and now here I am in the advertising world. All of my past contributed to my skill set and led me to where I am now. I didn’t have a traditional background in marketing or business like many of my colleagues did. I was a theater kid with a real knack for organizing and getting things done.

As for backgrounds, there isn’t a specific background we look for. We do look for people with good verbal and written communication skills. Having some relevant work experience is great but it’s not 100% necessary for entry-level positions since you will have an account director to oversee and train you. Having a good head on your shoulders, and being able to adapt to different personalities is important but I don’t think you need to be certified in Project Management to do this. You learn more by being in the day to day and growing from all of your experiences.

After migrating on from theater, how did you know this is what you want to do for the next 10 plus years?

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after college. All I wanted to do was be a stage manager on Broadway, but let’s be real here, that wasn’t going to happen. I honestly never thought that I would end up where I am. I think back about it a lot, and it just makes sense because of what my skill set was. When I was in college for theater, I remember being a performer on stage and having a professor say to me, “I think you would be a great stage manager.” Honestly, I felt like he gave me this insight into what I was good at that I don’t think I would have found myself if I wasn’t pushed in that direction.

I think that even though my career path is very nontraditional, it made sense because this is what I’m good at, and when I’m good at something, I excel at it and love doing it.  I love the process of being a project manager, but once the process is complete, once it’s opening night and the show is on-or, in the case of my day job, once that website has launched – I feel great! It’s very satisfying to complete a project and not only is the team excited but the client is pleased as well.

I chose marketing and advertising because I’ve always been a bit of a creative soul (see also theater). Even though I’m not great at drawing, I’ve always had a creative flair for things. Being able to be part of that creative process that happens in an agency is exciting. It’s a bit chaotic but when organized properly, the chaos becomes a play and all the pieces fit together. My job revolves around organizing all the chaos and I love it!

What advice do you wish someone gave you when you first started your career?

I feel like some of the best advice that I have gotten that I wish someone gave me sooner was to have confidence in my own skillset. I think that through this process and still to this day, I doubt myself and I’ll doubt decisions I make even though they end up being the right call. I wish somebody would have told me that “You’re going to do it and you’re going to be OK, trust yourself”. Also, always prioritize the fire drills first. Even if you don’t want to deal with them (nobody does), always prioritize them first. Don’t let them burn down the building and if you see something starting to catch some sparks; put it out before it gets worse.

Do you have any advice for women who are interested in pursuing a career in project management?

The project management field is growing in many industries, which is opening up opportunities everywhere for organized individuals to shine. If you know that your strengths align with what it takes to be a good project manager, consider previous professional experiences and determine if this can overlay into a project management position, just as my experience at Apple or in stage management did for me.

Thank you Kim for virtually sitting down with me for our Women in Tech WNY series. If you would like to learn more about Kim, visit her LinkedIn page! Also, check out FIFTEEN and all the cool projects they have under their belt.