Interview with Maria Cherkas and Katerina Bykouskaya, Project Managers from Customertimes, conducted by Szymon Pawłowski
What inspired you to pursue a career in project management within the tech industry, and how did you get started?
Maria: I worked as head of the supply chain management department for many years, enjoyed the profession, and found it exciting and challenging. The procurement function is one of the core areas in many companies, but people working closely in this field, consider purchasing as a thankless activity – when anything goes wrong or project deadlines are not met, the whole blame will most likely fall on the procurement department. They are people’s favorite scapegoats. With the responsibility level being so high, I think it was the best background I could have had as a project manager. In the early stages of my career development the Kaizen concept of continuous improvement left a deep impression on me, inspiring me to develop various skills such as communication and negotiation, stress and risk management, and how to keep team members motivated during difficult times but also celebrate our achievements. I had a wide network of contacts and friends who told me that I was a perfect fit for a project manager role in the tech industry, so I gave it a try. Soon I found out that it’s still complex and challenging but also brings so many positive emotions and a team spirit. Expertise and great teams are crucial in the IT industry, as they are the key ingredients that enable the creation of successful projects and companies which are highly recommended by customers and desirable workplaces for job seekers.
Katya: After graduating as a marketing specialist, I began my career as an assistant project manager in an advertising agency. However, I soon received a job offer as a marketer in a bank, which I saw as an opportunity for growth and more responsibility. After spending three years in the bank, I came to the realization that my interest lays in internet marketing. Unfortunately, the bank lacked opportunities for development in this area, so I made the decision to transition to a digital agency, to take on a project manager role. I enjoyed the diversity of clients from various business areas and believed that my marketing education helped me understand the objectives of both clients and my company. However, the demanding workload at the digital agency caused me to experience burnout and reconsider my career goals. I became interested in project management in a different format, particularly in the tech industry, as I wanted to learn more about this field. Though I only have a year of experience in IT project management, I am determined to grow and excel in this field.
In your opinion, what are some of the unique challenges that women face in project management roles in the tech industry?
Maria: I’ve heard about some gender bias, but I was lucky enough not to feel any prejudice based on my gender. The IT industry, in my opinion, is less prone to judge people by gender but expects a project manager to be a strong leader who leads the team, listens to what people say, and takes responsibility.
Katya: In my opinion, women in the IT industry may encounter similar stereotypes as in other areas that are considered male-dominated. There are some who believe that technical fields are more challenging for women and therefore, women are not suitable for leadership roles in technology. Additionally, there may be discrimination based on the assumption that a woman cannot balance her career and family responsibilities. For instance, some employers may be hesitant to hire married women or women with young children. However, I disagree with these stereotypes. In fact, I believe that women possess certain qualities that make them excellent leaders in the field of IT. Women tend to be more empathetic, efficient multitaskers, and highly responsible in completing tasks. They are also excellent communicators, proactive, and willing to take on additional responsibilities such as organizing team-building events, preparing presentations, and generating reports. These are all essential qualities that a leader should possess, regardless of whether they are a project manager or department head. Therefore, I remain hopeful that such stereotypes will eventually diminish from society’s mindset and I am happy that women play a vital role in this transformative process.
Can you share some of your personal experiences as a woman working in project management in the tech industry?
Maria: Upon joining the project management team, I experienced imposter syndrome due to not having technical skills and experience. I felt as though I should have had the same level of knowledge as my team members and been able to guide them through obstacles. Soon it became clear that that’s not what a good team expects. They needed someone who’s a great facilitator, who asks the right questions to foresee the risks, supports them, trusts their expertise and helps them discover their full potential. Someone who can communicate sensitive information to the customer in a diplomatic manner and build a partnership relationship with the customer. The advantage of being a female project manager in IT is that people expect supportive behavior from a woman and when they get it, it builds partnership within the team.
Katya: Luckily, I didn’t encounter any of the stereotypes described in the previous question, so I look at my experience as a woman in project management as a positive one. In my opinion, loving what you do is the most crucial factor. When you have a passion for your work, you naturally seek opportunities for growth and strive to improve constantly. For this year, I have set specific professional goals, which include obtaining certification. With the support of Customertimes and my own hard work, I hope to successfully achieve them
What skills or qualities do you believe are essential for success as a project manager in the tech industry, and how have you developed these skills over time?
Maria: Seeing a process development from a perspective is an essential skill – a project manager needs to foresee the situation 2-3 steps ahead – it helps with planning, risk management, and proper communication with all parties involved in the project. Good listening skills, focusing on detail, noticing bottlenecks, and being able to communicate complex issues openly and not pointing one’s finger at a person to blame but rather finding what lessons can be learned. Great project managers share the credit and take the blame. It comes with the experience, that successful project managers give credit to others – they don’t talk only about them but what ‘we’ as a team did. And one of the most important skills – great project managers should have a good sense of humour – so many things can happen in a project, that sometimes all you can do is laugh about it and move on.
Katya: From my perspective, the key skill that a good project manager should have is multitasking. Being able to have a constructive dialogue and being heard, staying focused in challenging situations, being able to end conflicts, and being a person both the team and the client trust. Many people mistakenly think that the project manager is just a ‘communicator’ role between the client and the team. Personally, I find it fundamentally wrong. If you want to be a good project manager, you must become a person who is trusted by all the interested parties – the client, the team, and the stakeholders. Your team should feel free to share concerns that arise during development, share their ideas for improving the workflow, or offer alternative solutions for the client. Clients, on the other hand, should feel at ease voicing their feedback and addressing any areas that require enhancement. And you should be able to process the information received, help find solutions or eliminate blockers on the project. Increase the value of the product being developed, the expertise of the team and your company in the eyes of the client, convey to the team clear goals and needs from the client, making the client in the eyes of the team your friend, not your enemy. Only a clear joint understanding of goals, a common vision, and teamwork will help achieve the desired result. And the PM should be that link that connects and brings everyone together.
How can companies attract more women to pursue careers in project management in the tech industry?
Maria: Most women migrate to project management rather accidentally. Project management was not a popular career choice among female university graduates. Most of us began our careers as technical experts, HR experts, and QA engineers and over time progressed into the role of project manager. This progression in perspective and responsibility is generally accompanied by professional development opportunities. As women begin to assume responsibility for projects, they also focus on obtaining professional qualifications, for example, through certification programs. Or, as my path was, women in managing roles in other industries might find a personal interest in diving into tech industry and find this job extremely satisfying.
Katya: If we talk about working conditions, I think that many women can be attracted by flexible working hours and the possibility of remote work if desired. This flexibility it’s very important for us in Customertimes and we are happy to provide it to our employees. Some women may find it challenging to enter the IT industry, due to various reasons. But I think that the company’s willingness to provide training in information technology can be a strong draw. This could include internal training programs or external opportunities such as paid courses, invitations to attend conferences or other professional events that offer a chance to learn new skills and gain knowledge. Another way is to highlight interesting and meaningful projects, it may pique the interest of women and encourage them to join, especially as project managers.
What advice would you give to other women who are interested in pursuing/starting a career in project management in the tech industry?
Maria: Online courses can provide an excellent introduction to the world of project management. If you find the process intriguing and enjoyable, do not hesitate to pursue project management roles. The tech industry is a welcoming environment with highly skilled and knowledgeable professionals, where teamwork and collaboration are highly valued.
Katya: For those who would like to start a career in project management in the technology industry, I would give two main pieces of advice – do not be afraid to try and learn English. The IT is an industry where you can face a lot of rejections before you get a long-awaited offer. So, my first piece of advice applies to that. Never get discouraged or lose faith in yourself. And never be afraid to try different things, even if it means changing a familiar position, field, or place of work. Change can be intimidating, but how wonderful it is to pursue one’s passion and have no remorse when the decision is made. As for learning English – if you want to work in an international environment and move up the career ladder faster, this is a must.
For those who are already in the industry and want to continue their career as project manager, I advise them not to stand still and constantly develop. Don’t turn down new opportunities or interesting projects, get professional certificates, learn new project management methodologies and new tools that will help you improve your workflow. As for advice specifically for women – remember that women are superheroes among multitasking. Do not let anyone tell you that you can’t do something or that certain fields are inaccessible to women. With determination, you can learn everything you need, master new tools and handle difficult clients with ease.
The tech job market is the employee’s market. Why did you choose Customertimes as the company you want to grow your career with?
Maria: I had a positive experience during the interviews, with managers in various positions demonstrating a friendly attitude. Speaking with a few Customertimes employees confirmed that the company values building trustful relationships, maintaining openness, providing various opportunities for career growth and development, and establishing clear processes and regulations. Working alongside skilled professionals motivates me to continually improve my own abilities while also supporting less experienced colleagues. Collaborating with diverse teams towards a shared goal and producing tangible results is an incredibly satisfying experience.
Katya: To be honest, I was lucky, and I did not spend much time looking for a company. Upon realizing my desire to shift from working in a digital agency to the IT industry, I decided to update my LinkedIn profile. It was then that a recruiter from Customertimes reached out to me. Upon researching the company and its work with various technologies, significant projects, and social contributions, I decided to give it a try. Following an interview, it was apparent that Customertimes aligns with my career goals and values. I was impressed by the opportunities to work on innovative projects. Joining CT provided me with the resources, challenges, and opportunities necessary to advance my career.
Customertimes is a global IT consulting company headquartered in New York City with offices in 16 countries, including Poland since 2022. We specialize in the development and implementation of cutting-edge technology solutions for business transformation. Our international team includes 1800+ skilled professionals. We have more than 15 years of experience in the Salesforce ecosystem, and our portfolio includes 4000+ completed projects in more than 65 countries. Our company works with major corporations throughout Europe and North America, including industry leaders in healthcare, life sciences, CPG, manufacturing, financial services, education, and the non-profit sector. Our clients include companies such as IQVIA, UPSA, L’Oreal, Dyson, Philips, Sharp, etc.
Maria works for Customertimes as a project manager, where she utilizes her extensive experience to lead and manage complex projects. Maria is a certified Scrum Master, showcasing her diverse skill set and dedication to professional development. Prior to becoming a project manager, she spent nine years as the head of the Procurement department. In addition to her procurement expertise, she also has five years of experience in project management, with a focus on projects built on Salesforce.
Marketing specialist with a passion for project management. With four years of experience in the field, she has worked for both digital and IT companies, honing her skills and expertise along the way. Katerina joined Customertimes in March 2022, in August of that year, she made the move from her hometown of Minsk to Warsaw, where she continues to excel in her role as a project manager.
[PL] Redaktor naczelny Strefy PMI. Konsultant, trener, mentor i kierownik projektów z wieloletnim doświadczeniem we wdrażaniu rozwiązań z zakresu zarządzania projektami, portfelami, PMO i ryzykiem. Obecnie pracuje jako PPM Architect w PeopleCert, rozwijając standardy zarządzania spod znaku AXELOS (PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, MoR itd.) Pasjonat zarządzania projektami, ciągłego doskonalenia i dzielenia się wiedzą. Prywatnie – miłośnik górskich i leśnych wędrówek, żeglowania, książek, czarnej kawy i czerwonego wina.
[ENG] Editor-in-chief of Strefa PMI. Consultant, trainer, mentor, and project manager with many years of experience in implementing solutions in the field of project management, portfolios, PMO and risk. Currently works as a PPM Architect in PeopleCert, developing AXELOS’ PPM suite of standards (PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, MoR etc.). Passionate about project management, continuous improvement and knowledge sharing. Privately – a lover of mountain and forest hiking, sailing, books, black coffee and red wine.