So where do you start?
If you don’t already have a certification in some form of agile, this is a great place to begin. The most popular certification is the CSM (Certified ScrumMaster) from Scrum Alliance. This course gives you an overview of how Scrum works, including the values, people, and framework. If you are currently looking for work, Agile Learning Labs provides a discount for job seekers.
“In my first job doing software development I got exposed to eXtreme Programming (XP). I was especially fascinated by pair programming, because I saw that it could help me with producing better quality code and learn more about my craft. I actually switched jobs just to work in an environment that practiced XP. Fast forward a number of years, and I found myself wanting to try out scrum “for real” in a team that I was part of. I gave an introduction to my manager and got approval to go to a Certified Scrum Master class. That was the start of me “wearing two hats” – being a developer on the team and being the scrum master.”
– Oluf Nissen, Agile Coach/Scrum Master
Revamp Your Resume
Just because you’ve never been on a scrum team doesn’t mean you haven’t already been practicing agile skills.
When I interview scrum masters, I’m looking for someone who brings a coaching mindset, facilitation experience, an understanding of different frameworks and practices, the ability to build trust and safety, and someone who can articulate what it means to have influence without authority. You likely have those skills already. They may not be in a traditional scrum role but they’re there. Highlight them. Go through the Scrum Guide and match up your experience to the accountabilities, and use that language on your resume.
Engage With The Agile Community
Meetups and conferences are great ways to keep up with what’s going on in the agile world, challenge your way of thinking, develop skills, and meet people (who might be hiring or open to helping you). Try searching Meetup using keywords like “scrum,” “agile,” or “tech.” You’ll find groups meeting in-person as well as online. One MeetUp I recommend is the Scrum Professionals MeetUp, which is supported by both Agile Learning Labs and the Scrum Alliance.
To find agile conferences, have a look at AgileConferenceList.com.
“In 2000, I convinced my manager that we should try Extreme Programming (XP), which is essentially scrum plus some technical practices. I became the de facto scrum master.”
– Chris Sims, Agile Coach and Certified Scrum Trainer
Find A Mentor
Take advantage of any mentoring opportunities available at your job. If your workplace doesn’t already have a mentorship program, you could create one. Initiative and the desire to help others with learning and development are highly sought-after traits in agile roles.
If you have an established relationship with an agile practitioner, ask if they are willing to mentor you or might recommend someone who could. If you’re not able to find a mentor where you work or through networking, there are some formal agile mentoring programs available. One example is the Women in Agile and Tech mentorship program which is open to everyone.
Connect With Intention
In the agile community we’re here for each other and want to help. That said, I — and likely many other agile practitioners — can get overwhelmed by the number of requests I get for virtual coffees, Zoom chats, or a few minutes of my time to talk about my experience in the field. As much as I want to help each and every person that reaches out, I’ve had to start setting some boundaries to take care of myself. If you reach out to someone and don’t get the response you’re hoping for, don’t be discouraged and don’t take it personally.
You can increase your chances of getting a response by really thinking about your intention in connecting with this person beyond just “help me get a job as a Scrum Master.” I’m more likely to respond when I’m approached with curiosity, especially about something specific in my past work, writing, or speaking experiences.
“I heard a presentation on Scrum and was really into it because it is more about implementing a philosophy (and I love philosophy) rather than some framework that doesn’t feel natural. I did a ton of research about best practices. That’s when a connection scored me an interview.”
– Oren Gotesman, Scrum Master
Volunteer To Get Experience
People often ask if they can shadow me while I work. Due to confidentiality, and other issues, the answer is almost always no. So how can you gain experience? Volunteer!
Agile community organizations are always looking for volunteers. It could be to review submissions for conferences, or to help with running a conference in exchange for free admission. You might write a newsletter or blog posts. You might run a local Meetup, host a podcast, or coach kids at a school.
Here are some places to look for volunteer opportunities:
- Agile Alliance
- Helpful Engineering
- Scrum Alliance
- Scrum Adventures
- Silicon Valley Project Management
- Women In Agile
Start Where You Are
If you are working, look for opportunities to practice being a scrum master by bringing agile practices into your current role.
According to a LinkedIn poll, 69% of respondents became a Scrum Master through an internal transition.
An easy place to start is by facilitating a team retrospective, or documenting your team’s work in a backlog. Perhaps you could facilitate regular demos of your work to incorporate stakeholder feedback (sprint review!). Meet as a team at some cadence to sync on your work, like in a daily scrum. This is all valuable experience you can bring to your next agile role.
If you’re not working, try making your own personal backlog using a tool you want to learn more about. Then prioritize your backlog. Use it to make a plan for the next week. Anything you can do to demonstrate the mindset and practices of agile – in whatever form they may take – makes you a stronger candidate in terms of skill and experience.
As much as we are here to help, the best way to get started is with you. Get out there, talk to people, work on yourself and your skills. Much like agile itself, you don’t have to be perfect. Start where you are today and iterate toward your goal.
Season coaches teams on finding their purpose and motivation to deliver customer value using agile methodologies. Her focus on team health sets the foundation for high performance.
“My first scrum master role came when I was working in SEO for a software company. I realized I was more passionate about facilitating teamwork than I was about the work itself. The head of another department noticed my skills and asked me to apply to be their scrum master (even though I didn’t know what that was at the time). I got the role and my first day on the job was taking my CSM class. I’ve had a long and winding career journey and I’m grateful to have finally found my fit.”
– Season Hughes, Agile Coach & Sr. Scrum Master
This article was first published on Season’s blog Awkward Agile.