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Member Interview - Project Management in the USA compared to India

The Diversity and Inclusion Director recently held an interview with PMI Rochester Member Hem Pandey. Hem is currently a Global IT Project Manager at Xerox, and is originally from India.

Wendy: I see you earned several degrees in India, including a Master’s of Science. From what you've learned about USA colleges, can you tell me how your education differs from an education in the USA?

Hem: India was ruled by the British for decades, therefore there are many similarities between India and USA/British culture. When I was in school high school in the 1990s, high school was grades 9 through 12, as in the USA. Students attended Junior High school before that. If it remains the same today, in the North, there are two sessions: grades 9 and 10 are called high school are focus on common students, and grades 11 and 12 are called intermediate and focus on the stream the student has chosen for undergraduate education. After grade 10, students can choose to take a break before intermediate school, or can change to a trade school.

After graduation, students enter college for in the chosen undergraduate stream. Depending on the major, it takes 3 or 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree.  I chose the science stream.

W: What if a student who went to trade school wants to switch to college? Does the student have options?

H: Yes, a student can examine into a college stream.

W: Receiving a degree in Project Management is becoming more prevalent in the USA, however many project managers are educated and worked in other fields, and later transitioned into Project Management. Would you tell me a little about how your education and first jobs prepared you for project management?

H: I studied life sciences for my undergraduate degree, and then computer science for a Masters. My first job was at an IT company around 2005. After Y2K, IT was emerging and there was much demand in the USA. I started as a corporate trainer is VB and similar, and then worked as developer. So many others were doing project management, so I learned about it and put it all together.

W: What made you so interested in project management?

H: I found it exciting because I am interested in management and strategy. Over time, the company recognized my interest and talent and within 2 years I was a PM in software / implementation projects. At the time, PMI was just picking up in India. I got involved there and took PMI training and sat for the PMP.

W: Like in the USA, is there an emerging education for project managers?

H: 10 to 12 years ago, there was no PM education at universities, but that is evolving. Most private schools in India now have a PM stream.

W: In 2009 you began a position in California. What made you decide to move to the USA? What were the biggest changes for you personally and professionally?

H: My move to the USA was not because I had dreamed of coming here. I was working in a tech role and performing some PM tasks when I was picked up by Microsoft India. For that role, I was sent to Seattle many times. The company invested in me and I had global clients. Later I was picked up as Delivery Manager to spearhead eCommerce IT Transformation for couple large Mergers & Acquisitions, and asked to work in Bay area.

W: Since then, how did you decide which positions to take and in which cities?

H: In 2014 I was still working a permanent position. I saw contractors lead & manage themselves and get to travel more with flexibility to make exciting career choices. I decided to leave the permanent position and have been consulting for 5 years.

My family also supported my decisions. Because especially urban India has adopted so much of the British culture, my moving to the USA was not so difficult to my family. When still in India, I worked for Italian and Germany companies, and was offered a position in Berlin. My family was not so supportive because of linguistic differences.

W: Did you have to adapt your leadership and communication approach when you started working in the USA? Are there noticeable differences between how projects are run in the USA compared to in India?

H: Actually, because of the influence of British and US culture in India, there are not many differences.

W: You moved to Rochester, NY in 2018 and joined the Chapter soon after. How long have you been a PMI member? If you were active in Chapters in other cities, how does our Chapter differ?

H: PMI in India was much different when I was there because it was emerging to become mainstream project management framework, but so much has changed over time. In addition to PMP certification, the UK and South Asia has PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments). It is a structured project management method and practitioner certification program that is more dominant than a PMP, and includes multiple levels and certifications.

W: One of the main goals of the PMI Rochester Diversity and Inclusion program is to bring awareness to its members of how each of us can be more accepting and accommodating of differences in the workplace. What advice could you offer USA-born project managers to help embrace our colleagues from foreign countries and make transitions easier?

H: Again, for me coming from a similar background, I don’t have specific recommendations other than remember that Americans can speak so fast, and for anyone who speaks English as a second language, you might consider slowing down a bit as needed.

Most importantly, I think project management is more emotional than technical. PMs must have that emotional intelligence to get people work for you and in your favor. Most anyone can do the technical aspects of project management. How you can connect with people, when you work with teams of different ages, culture, or language, you have to deal with understanding. You can learn theory and science of project management.  Can you learn the art of leadership?

W: Thank you for your time and willingness to help bring awareness on this topic.

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