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Making Money Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
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LouieG Offline
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Big Grin Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
About two years ago, I founded a web dev shop that has since grown into a 10+ employee company and earns me six figures annualized. Starting out, I didn’t know more than a few HTML tags and I didn’t know anybody in the industry.

Luck had a lot to do with my business’s success. If I started over today, even knowing everyone/everything I do now, I still doubt I would come this far, this fast.

But it wasn’t all luck, and even if I only did 20% as well—I’d still be doing alright.

My plan for this thread is to explain everything I did. I think I'll post 4–5 times a week till I run out of worthwhile stuff to add. There’s a lot to say and, unlike 99% of how-to guides, I actually want to give actionable detail, so it will take me a couple weeks to write all the posts. Feel free to add questions about stuff I overlook.

Anyone who reads this shit will know 10x more than I did when I began, and should have no trouble succeeding in this industry—provided he’s got the smarts and the balls to hustle a bit.

Part 1

1.1 Thread Theme Song





1.2 Do Not Learn to Code

First, a little sermonizing.

The recent proliferation of programming threads (here & elsewhere), coding ecourses & bootcamps, and the “GET A STEM / PIPEFITTING DEGREE OR PERISH” hysteria in the wider world piss me off.

It gives guys a very narrow idea of how to make a living and become successful, and it’s what inspired me to share this stuff. So, indulge me a minute...

Seems you can’t turn around these days without someone telling you, You gotta learn to program. A smart boy like you would be a fool to do anything else!

$300 a day if you can spell SAP!

$100k annually if you’ve registered at Codecademy!

Learn to write Python or learn to suck cock under an overpass! And et cetera.

As someone who works in the industry, I support this.

Most of my employees are programmers, so I’ll stand behind anything that encourages a glut of programmers and diminishes the cost of an hour of decent development.

Same time, I find it kinda perplexing. Programming is honest work, but it’s no more stimulating than the mid-level white collar jobs that got pilloried on The Office and Office Space.

Starting salaries can be good, but they top out quickly.

The availability of part-time / flexible positions is way overstated, esp. at junior levels.

And what about personal development? Variety? Adventure? Fulfillment? Good joke—programmers spend 8–12 hours a day staring at computer screens.

If I knew a smart, ambitious 18-year-old with zero tech experience who was looking for a career, no way would I tell him to be a programmer.

Hell, if I knew a smart, ambitious 18-year-old with advanced mastery of the ten most marketable programming languages, I still wouldn’t tell him to be a programmer.

Programming is a fine job, and somebody has to do it. But it’s insane to tell talented young men that they should aspire to be cogs coding away in the bowels of some corporation, or dev shop, or grungy co-working space. Which is where most programmers end up.

If you have the smarts to code, you also have access to far better choices than coding—choices that offer more money, more freedom, more interesting challenges, and more room to grow.

And—this is big—choices that don’t require you to spend months/years learning programming languages while not getting paid.

So, my first piece of unsolicited advice to anyone considering a career in tech is: Do not learn to code. Look for a better way to spend your working life.

Unless you are convinced you were born to program, try something else before you invest the time required to learn a language. Programming jobs aren’t going to disappear. You’ll always have that route as a fallback.

My second piece of advice to anyone interested in tech is…


1.3 Become a digital project manager (PM)

Below, I’ll give more detail about what exactly digital project managers do. For now, it’s enough to know that PMs oversee the work that produces a digital product: an app, a website, a graphic design, a piece of code… the list goes on.

There are PMs who work for themselves, and PMs that work in-house.

The greatest benefits of being a PM, money-wise and lifestyle-wise, accrue to those who run their own businesses. A year or two as an in-house PM provides excellent (tho non-essential) training to become an independent PM.

(Side note for the uninitiated: 'project manager' is a job title that’s used across many industries. There are PMs in power plants, hospitals, universities… and there are probably commonalities, but I can’t speak to being a PM outside the tech industry.)

As the owner of a small web dev shop, I’m basically a PM. I oversee the development and sometimes design of websites.

Like most PMs, my involvement in a project is limited only by the project’s scope. I handle anything from sales to contracts to requirements analysis to business strategy to quality assurance.

Essentially, I employ programmers to write code for clients. As with any entrepreneur, once my employees go home, everything they leave behind falls to me: all the other work, all the other responsibilities, and—most importantly—all of the profits.


1.4 Do the math

What I find funniest about this wave of programming boosterism, is that I never hear anybody asking why companies are paying 24-year-olds $150k to code.

People go gaga over these salaries, like it’s unfathomable how companies can pony up so much.

But, of course, it’s really easy to explain how they do it—

Goldman Sachs can pay its analysts $100k because the bank (and its management) earn far, far more.

An NYC law firm can pay its starting associates $160k because the firm (and its management) earn far, far more.

Random web companies that you and I have never heard of can pay junior developers $100k+ because… you guessed it, they and their managers earn far, far more.

Knowing that, why the hell would you aspire to be a programmer instead of a manager?

Why work for somebody else, when the tech industry makes it incredibly easy to work for yourself, and keep all the profit for yourself?

Why be a serf, when you can choose to be king? Not to put too fine a point on it...

Here are some typical numbers from my business to drive home this point. I share these partly because I’m an arrogant prick, but mostly to drive home the point that it’s way better to employ and manage programmers, than to become one yourself.

1) At any given time, I have the equivalent of 8–10 full time developers on contract.

2) Most make $30 to $40 per hour (equivalent to $60–80k annually, assuming 40 billable hours per week; web developers generally make less than other programmers)

3) When pricing projects, I shoot for a blended rate of $90 to $120 / hour

Now, take the most conservative ends of those ranges, and figure how much the business nets in a single day:

1) 8 developers * 7 hours per developer = 56 billable hours / day. Shave that to 50 so I don’t have to take out a calculator.

2) 50 hours * $90 / hour from clients = $4,500 gross

3) 50 hours * $40 / hour developer wage = $2,000 payroll

4) $4,500 gross – $2,000 payroll = $2,500 net / day

5) $2,500 / day * 250 business days / year =

But anyway.

Some caveats— of course we don’t get paid daily by clients. We get paid in large chunks for hitting project milestones. Income ebbs and flows.

The business has some other expenses: a lawyer on retainer, a couple accountants, a development server, some subscription-based team management softwares.

Still, overhead and expenses are extremely low. I work from home or the library. Developers provide their own machines. Client meetings are mostly over a free conference line.

Point being, this is a very lucrative business.

Companies that pay their programmers exorbitant salaries do so because the programmers earn them racks on racks on racks (or might eventually earn them those racks, in the case of startups).

However valuable coding skills are to programmers, they are vastly more valuable to the people that employ programmers.

So, my suggestion is that you become one of those people.

Setting up shop as an independent PM seems—from my perhaps limited vantage point—the easiest and most accessible way to do that.


Upcoming

That’s all I got time for tonight. Assuming this is interesting / valuable to others, I plan to keep going.

Here’s my preliminary outline of additional topics to cover...

—What is a digital PM / wtf does a PM do
—Requirements (knowledge / skills, personality)
—Perks of PM work (money, lifestyle, career)
—Day in the life
—Project lifecycle (Sales, Contract, Discovery, Design, Development, Ongoing Maintenance)
—Basic Principles: Macro
—Basic Principles: Micro
—Breaking In: Your first job
—Breaking In: Selling yourself as a newbie
—Breaking In: Finding developers
—Breaking In: Newbie mistakes to avoid
—Tools of the trade: task tracking, time tracking, bug tracking, sales tracking, client communication
—Staffing up, staffing down
—What to do in lean times
—Necessary expenses: Support staff, technology
—Other services: design, copy, strategy, content insertion
—Digital specialties: Web dev, software, systems work
—10 point plan to starting your biz
—Why good PMs always have work

…but I wanna keep this flexible. Let me know if there’s something else worth covering.

Or if you’d rather pay me than compete with me, and you got $30k sitting around for a flashy new website, drop me a PM. Wink

More tomorrow.
11-06-2013 02:40 AM
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LouieG Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
Two other things—

1) No disrespect to coders. Seriously.

Via osmosis, I’ve learned to code a bit, and I enjoy it alright. I can see why some guys are into it.

My point isn’t that programming sucks, even if I come across that way sometimes.

I do think positioning yourself as a project manager, not a coder, will provide more…

—variety & excitement
—creative outlets
—independence
—career flexibility
—money
—upside potential

But obviously programming is a good job that beats the hell out of pushing paper in HR or stocking shelves at your neighborhood Best Buy

2) A lot of this will apply to any service biz you might choose. EOD, my job is more similar than not to the guy who manages a staff of eight plumbers.
11-06-2013 02:41 AM
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speakeasy Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
Great thread man. Looking forward to more of your posts.
11-06-2013 03:20 AM
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elabayarde Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
Yeah keep this comming...

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but its like soon as I cum... I come to my senses."
11-06-2013 03:35 AM
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AmoAsBundas Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
This sounds interesting. I'm a dotNET developer myself.
Would be interested in hearing more!

Thanks in advance for your time and insight!
11-06-2013 04:45 AM
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FunctionalPsycho Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
Great thread. I'm trying to set up a web dev. and graphic design company of my own. Thanks for your advice. Waiting for more.
11-06-2013 05:43 AM
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Handsome Creepy Eel Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
Quote:Learn to write Python or learn to suck cock under an overpass!

Laugh Laugh Laugh

Excellent post! I'm well en route to this sort of work.

"Imagine" by HCE | Hitler reacts to Battle of Montreal | An alternative use for squid that has never crossed your mind before
11-06-2013 08:01 AM
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roid Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
I am a developer and I sign this thread Smile Programming is fine and dandy when you're young, but as you get older, you want to go more into business executive rather than just a cog in a big machine.
(This post was last modified: 11-06-2013 08:04 AM by roid.)
11-06-2013 08:03 AM
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cpred Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
Great post! You make some spot on points in the industry. I am a programmer/PM in the healthcare industry. Being in-house and only having one developer under me to work with, it still gives me the experience to move to the next level when ready.
11-06-2013 08:17 AM
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one-two Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
(11-06-2013 08:03 AM)roid Wrote:  I am a developer and I sign this thread Smile Programming is fine and dandy when you're young, but as you get older, you want to go more into business executive rather than just a cog in a big machine.

Same here. This thread is gold and I am subscribed.
The OP's first post is right on the money.
11-06-2013 10:42 AM
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Virtus Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
Thank you!

"Virtus"
11-06-2013 03:09 PM
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saeta119 Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
I have tried this on the spanish market at one point but was not so successful. My roadblocks were how to get the initial funds since you get paid on milestones and the other was trying to figure out competitive prices. But i maybe im part of doing the common pitfalls so this is very interesting
11-06-2013 04:14 PM
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Genghis Khan Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
A couple of questions to OP:

what kind of websites do you build? Are they mainly static websites for small business or enterprise level websites with a CMS, integration with 3rd party software, CRM, etc.

I know of some people who besides having a web dev shop also still do the coding. Though they're not coding just websites. For example, one guy is writing code to extend the framework of an open-source CMS. These guys are not cogs in the system, they're building the system and that seems like a lot of fun to me (quite stimulating work really).

I can definitely see if you make websites that are similar in functionality day in day out, it can get boring. I'm just wondering, what if you're for example building the modules for Drupal or addons for WordPress, things that are quite abstract (e.g. Views or Entity API for Drupal). Does that get boring too?

Not happening. - redbeard in regards to ETH flippening BTC

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11-06-2013 10:03 PM
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Saladin Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
Very interested in this OP. Look forward to reading more.
11-06-2013 10:39 PM
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LouieG Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
Glad to hear folks might get some use from this.

This second post is going to be remedial for anyone already in the industry, but my experience is many people have trouble envisioning what PMs do or why they’re necessary, so I wanna put some meat on those bones before I start talking about landing clients or project life cycles.

Part 2

2.1 What does a digital PM do?

[Image: HWEVoOk.png]

My mother asks me this all the time.

The answer is, a lot of different shit, but I’d distill it down to three points:

1) Cut deals with clients, which consists of...
—Finding clients and convincing them they need a new web site
—Determining high-level site goals, features & functionalities, and page templates
—Agreeing on a price & payment structure

2) Creating project plans, which consist of…
—An hours / dollars budget ("XX hours for design," "YY dollars for coding," etc)
—A timeline ("design will finish January 1, coding finishes February 29,” except in far greater detail)

3) Making sure the goals are met within budget and on schedule, which consists of…
—Monitoring designers / coders, prodding them or getting them help as needed
—Requesting more time / money from the client, as needed

Running my own shop means I also handle general administrative tasks that would apply to any small business owner (invoicing, payroll, ordering business cards…). Since they’re not particular to a PM’s job, I’m leaving them out of this write up—but if you’re considering this path, bear in mind those things do eat a sizable chunk of time.


2.2 I still don’t know wtf a PM does (A Day in the Life)

That’s fair. Until you actually do the job, it’s hard to picture what “determining high-level site goals” or “prodding coders” means on a day-to-day or hour-to-hour basis.

To give a more concrete idea, here’s a rough “two days in the life” which are based on how I actually spent yesterday and today:

Tuesday

9 am - Log onto Skype, which I use to chat with developers. Bullshit a bit, then get updates on progress since I went offline Monday evening. Give some instructions: “Finish the bug queue by 2pm so we can launch the test site by 6pm”; “Client emailed about an issue with Drupal's Twitter module; look into it and estimate how many hours to fix it; ping me when your estimate's ready”; “Today, make these adjustments to the checkout page…”

10 am - Review development and test sites. Pass notes and ideas to developers.

11:30 am - Presentation at client’s office to show latest round of wireframes (outlines of page designs).

1 pm - Gym

2 pm - Lunch with Creative Director of an agency that might hire us to code a project they’re designing

3 pm - Back online. 30 minutes of chatting with developers and reviewing their work

3:30 pm - Call with designer to ‘kickoff’ a new project and give direction for first wireframe concepts.

4 pm - Call with a client to discuss a written ‘design spec’ for their web app. Once finalized, the design spec will guide our design process.

5 pm - Head to another client’s office to discuss a ‘ballpark proposal,’ — essentially a preliminary estimate to see what they’re willing to pay. This client's business hinges on a proprietary web app that has great features, but late-90s UI. They want us to use the API to redesign the UI from scratch. Their budget turns out to be… whatever it costs. Banana

6 pm - Leave their office in a great mood. Read some blogs, chat with devs, start drafting R2 of that design spec. Email client to tell them their test site is ready for review.

7 pm - Sign off Skype. 90% chance my day is over; 10% chance a client emails with something urgent.

Wednesday

9 am - Log on. Morning chat with the developers.

10 am - Rewrite the previous day’s ballpark proposal into final format. Create a week-by-week schedule for the entire project, estimating hours and tasks per week. Call my lead developer to double check estimates. Obsess over my spreadsheet for 30 minutes to make sure I didn’t miss anything—I’m flat pricing this job, so underestimating could fuck me. Increase price 20 percent to be safe. Send to client.

Noon - Miscellaneous emails and roast beef sandwich

12:45 pm - Swing by bank to deposit a $12k check. Still makes me giddy. I can tell the teller thinks I’m an office boy running an errand for some Lord of the Universe (in fairness, I look 14).

1 pm - Gym; gotta be quick today, because...

1:45 pm - Call with client to discuss the status of their Magento project.

2:30 pm - Developer interview. He seems reasonable. Set up a time for him to meet the contractor I hire to vet potential devs.

4 pm - More client emails, more chatting with developers

5 pm - QA on small WordPress site that’s nearing launch.

6 pm - Pruning Asana (task management software) and checking Harvest (time tracking for contractors). Yell at devs for inputting crappy hours summaries (You spent two hours doing… “Drupal” ? C’mon son, the client is not paying us to “Drupal.”)

7 pm - Small project we’re launching today is running late. Cook dinner (chicken) while waiting for final update from dev.

7:30 pm - Call client to review & okay launch.

7:45 pm - Approved, launched, and verified that everything’s in order. Swig bottle of wine & out the door—girl from last Saturday’s party waiting for me in the West Village. Age 24; good ass, middling tits.

11:45 pm - Back home & all by my lonesome. Can’t win em all.

Unlisted but peppered throughout the working hours are quick calls / chats / emails with clients and designers / developers. When there’s a free moment, I try to squeeze in some paperwork too.

Two very typical days. Lots of talking, lots of writing. I might’ve looked at code for 10 minutes? I forget.


2.3 TLDR

At the risk of veering into complete bullshit... as an independent PM you’re trying to balance four quantities:

1) your personal management capacity (factoring in both ability and time of day)

2) your devs’ / designers’ productive capacity

3) your devs’ / designers’ actual output

4) your clients’ cumulative expectations

Meaning, if you’re exceeding client expectations, get more demanding clients who will pay you more.

If your team’s output is exceeding their capacity, then it’s shitty output and you’re pissing off clients.

If your personal management capacity is underutilized, then staff up or take on more complex jobs.

I know it sounds wishy-washy, but this four part framework governs 95% of my business decisions—the other 5% is me hiring designer chicks because they’ve got thigh gap—and I think it’s at the crux of being a PM.

I worry about the overall balance more than any particular deliverable or project goal—especially when making big decisions like hiring new devs or going after a client or expanding the scope of a big proposal.

You strike the right balance as a PM, and you can make great money and build cool shit and not stress too much.

####

Anyhow, that’s my best attempt to encapsulate what the job entails.

Next post I’m going to talk about how I broke in and what it takes to get your first job. Here’s a teaser:

[Image: jwlN6S6.png]

Wink
(This post was last modified: 11-07-2013 03:24 AM by LouieG.)
11-07-2013 03:00 AM
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LouieG Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
(11-06-2013 04:14 PM)saeta119 Wrote:  My roadblocks were how to get the initial funds since you get paid on milestones and the other was trying to figure out competitive prices.

Both points I'm gonna cover in more detail. The abbreviated version:

1) I started doing this while working an unrelated job full-time. That helped.

It's also common practice to get a big chunk of the money upfront (like 40-50%), especially when you're starting with a design phase where the client could conceivably jack the JPGs, have some kid on Fiverr turn them into PSDs, and never talk to you again.

2) Don't compete on price. In fact, I compete on price by charging more and then going after the clients of cut rate shops who I know are receiving terrible customer service.

Genghis Khan Wrote:I'm just wondering, what if you're for example building the modules for Drupal or addons for WordPress, things that are quite abstract (e.g. Views or Entity API for Drupal). Does that get boring too?

Like I said, I don't mean to talk shit about programming. In reality, my job—which I love—is only one small step removed from coding.
11-07-2013 03:15 AM
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Saladin Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
Thanks for the information.

I'm in a position where I can basically do this.

Our company has access to clients who want web design or graphic design done. Me and my partner are more specialized in the SEO field but many clients are interested in design work as well. Me and him have basically no coding/design abilities(other than extremely basic photoshop, and Wordpress). We've done one basic design job for a client that we're still finishing up(low end Wordpress site) but as we learn more about the industry I see that rates for quality websites are usually in the 3k-20k range depending on functionality and features. Right now we have a couple of potential clients interested in graphic design and web design.

I know a couple of good designers we use(based in India but they're excellent), so doing something like you do shouldn't be too hard.

Why do you do hourly rates instead of fixed rates. How do you justify hourly rates?

Also, do you have the ability to be location independent at all?

In the case of our business, once we have an established group of steady clients we plan to hire a manager and a couple of good salespeople to keep the business expanding and growing. The product and service fulfillment part of digital services can be done from anywhere in the world, as well as emailing/skyping clients. Its pretty much acquiring the clients that requires you to stay in one place and build a network. Even network building, once we have it set up, can probably be taught to a couple of employees whose jobs would be client acquisition(not sure 100 percent, but I think a competent people person can easily do that if you give him a blueprint.)

Once again, thanks for all the information. Greatly appreciate the massive amount of value you're dropping here and if we're ever in the same cities I owe you a dinner at the finest restaurant in town.
11-07-2013 03:35 AM
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Hotwheels Offline
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Post: #18
RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
What are JPG's and PSD's?

Using acronyms confuses those not in the biz...

Otherwise, very good thread so far. I actually thought about doing something similar at one time. Sell the projects and farm out the heavy lifting.

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When you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat.
11-07-2013 03:37 AM
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Lights Offline
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RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
JPG & PSD are picture files, not really relevant to the info though.
(This post was last modified: 11-07-2013 03:47 AM by Lights.)
11-07-2013 03:42 AM
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saeta119 Offline
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Post: #20
RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
Nice, Yes I'm currently a project manager working for an online auction house in Germany, and your day to day activities are what I would also do (of course in this case, it is one single project and my clients are other departments within the company). But what I've come up to realize is this, that for my knowledge and effort that I'm putting on this job, the rewards (money) is quite low, as you're pointing out as well, there's more money to be made out there as a PM working for multiple clients.
11-07-2013 06:06 AM
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saeta119 Offline
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Post: #21
RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
As I see from your typical day, you are working on being a PM full time, I can't see how you could have a full time job and doing this on the side.

this was also one of my pitfalls, when I attempted at starting something I just had no time (working full time, I was exhausted getting home). But I guess you will explain this on how you started your gig where you probably had enough projects that justified you working full time on this.

Also, most of your clients you meet them in person? How's your experience with clients in other countries? say you found them on elance, etc?
11-07-2013 06:16 AM
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Brisey Offline
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Post: #22
RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
I'm also a PM (IT), majority of the projects were waterfall based so PMI/Prince2 methodologies were used but lately i'm swaying towards more Agile methods (particularly Scrum/Lean).
Did you study or do any courses on stuff like this prior to getting in to it?
11-07-2013 06:28 AM
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bojangles Offline
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Post: #23
RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
I'm trying to get into Digital Project Management right now, I was a PM in an investment bank but I want to leave that industry, I've got a PRINCE2 Practitioner, I've applied to a few contracts but no luck, but it be better for me to spend some money creating a website and say that I worked on building that digital project?

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11-07-2013 07:09 AM
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Brisey Offline
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Post: #24
RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
(11-07-2013 07:09 AM)bojangles Wrote:  I'm trying to get into Digital Project Management right now, I was a PM in an investment bank but I want to leave that industry, I've got a PRINCE2 Practitioner, I've applied to a few contracts but no luck, but it be better for me to spend some money creating a website and say that I worked on building that digital project?

Loads of dough in banking isn't there mate? It seems extremely difficult to get into. I've applied for a few contracts over the years but didn't get anywhere due to having no banking experience.
(This post was last modified: 11-07-2013 08:23 AM by Brisey.)
11-07-2013 08:05 AM
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the_ox Offline
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Post: #25
RE: Digital Project Management: Programming for hustlers
Interesting thread, I'll follow it!

Ps.: I'm a software architect
11-07-2013 08:21 AM
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