How to Start a Career as a Scrum Master – Ultimate Guide




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While perusing through various job boards, it may be challenging to overlook salaries ranging within six digits. If a sharp increase in salary often catches your eye, then you may have noticed an abundance of listings for Scrum Master, with a salary ranging anywhere near $119,300. With numbers that gaudy, you may have subconsciously pictured yourself as said master of Scrum.

But what exactly is a Scrum Master? What does it take to become one, and are you the right fit for that role?

As a staffing agency that previously specialized in technology solutions, Tier2Tek Staffing has had a plethora of experience in hiring for roles like Scrum Master. 

To say we know a thing or two would be an understatement. 
If you are looking for a new career, we are here for you. We’ve broken down various other career guides in the past. Check them out.

What Is Scrum?

Firstly, you may be pondering the name of Scrum as a whole. What exactly is Scrum, and who decided that it was a good name for… well… anything. 

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland created the initial basis of the Scrum framework in the early 1990s to help company teams deal with intricate and grand-scale projects. 

Contrary to popular belief, Scrum is not an acronym. In fact, the initial term was based on the game of rugby, a team sport that involves brutalizing your opponent (American football without pads. It’s pretty intense). In rugby, a scrum is a stoppage after a penalty. Both teams get a chance to reconvene and prepare for the game to continue.

Despite sounding like a complex coding language or disgusting crust under your fridge, the name Scrum actually makes sense in interlocking concepts. 

Schwaber and Sutherland looked to create a framework that involved intermediate ‘sprints’ of work followed by team meetings, thus creating a more quality-controlled process. Instead of finding and troubleshooting issues at the end of a development cycle, corresponding teams can check in frequently, finding issues and solutions before they get buried down a chain of actions.

Laymen’s Terms, Please

Did none of that make any sense?

I get it. In fact, I had to spend an exhausting effort wrapping my head around the concept, as well. Overall, Scrum is more of a concept than a true checklist. It’s a framework, after all, not a step-by-step guide.

Basically, Scrum is a work and scheduling formula that a company or team can use to help them finish a project with efficiency. The key element here being ‘sprints’. 

For example, let’s say you decide to draw a portrait of your friend. After every feature, you stop to make sure it is correct. After drawing one eye, you check to see if that eye is correct. Nose, mouth, and so on. Therefore, you can fix issues in small increments instead of waiting till the entire picture is finished. 

If you notice an issue with a previous part, you can use the solutions you learned to help the next part go smoothly. 

Instead of learning from your mistakes at the end of the project and interjecting the lessons into your next endeavor, you get to learn throughout the first project.

A Real-Life Example

Here is a basic schedule using the Scrum framework. In this nondescript example, we will say that there is a software project due within a month’s time. There are three different teams working on the project with each team in charge of something different. This could be a Quality Assurance team, Backend Coding team, and Frontend team (or so on).

Week 1 –

  • Monday: All three teams meet and discuss the goals of that week.
  • Tuesday: Thursday: All three teams go off on their own, working on their specific parts of the overall project.
  • Friday: All three teams reconvene and show their work. This allows for the catching of issues or implementation of new ideas.

Week 2 – 

  • Monday: All three teams meet and discuss the goals of that week, implementing the things and new ideas they learned the week before.
  • So on and so forth.

This framework creates a development cycle based on small bursts of work. Not only does this improve the planning and efficiency of the teams, but it helps reduce the quality assurance needed at the end of the development cycle.

If something goes wrong, it can be caught before it’s too late. If teams do not meet regularly throughout a cycle, the source of a problem can be hard to pinpoint, causing a delay in production.

Scrum Versus Agile

When referring to Scrum, you may hear Agile framework brought up often.

Ultimately, Scrum is a more detailed version of the Agile framework. The Agile framework can also be referred to as Fail Fast. A production cycle is broken into small pieces. If a component isn’t working or doesn’t fit, it can be scrapped or changed in the moment, saving the production process from screeching to a halt at the end. 

Agile is the same idea as Scrum, just less detailed. It’s not necessarily an interchangeable term, but more of a subcategory. Scrum falls under the Agile framework. 

Due to its more detailed framework, you are more often to see Scrum Master jobs than Agile Master.

So… What Is a Scrum Master?

A thousand words later and we finally reached the meat and potatoes.

Sorry. I like the ramble.

Overall, a Scrum Master uses the implementation of Scrum and Agile strategies to oversee a team, department, or multitude of both during a development or production cycle. 

Since the role can fall into a variety of industries and companies, it’s impossible to list the exact duties of the role. Generally, the main tasks will include:

  • Leading meetings, reviews, presentations, and demonstrations based upon the intermittent Scrum schedule. 
  • Supporting team members in their tasks.
  • Coaching teams or individuals through their processes. 
  • Holding open discussions and conflict resolutions between members or teams.
  • Acting as a liaison between corresponding teams on one overall project. 
  • Identifying, troubleshooting, and resolving issues as soon as they arise. 
  • Updating activities in a project with a corresponding management tracking tool.
  • Updating higher-ups or shareholders of progress.

Is a Scrum Master a Project Manager?

Kinda?

Despite having similar roles as leaders in production, a company newly implementing the Scrum or Agile system can find itself in murky water if they do not clearly define the two roles.

Firstly, a Scrum Master is a leader that can only work in an environment that uses the Scrum methodology (duh). A Scrum Master cannot be hired by, say, a company using an Agile method unless new training or certifications occur.

Consequently, a Project Manager is more of an overall role. They can work in any type of framework. 

Basically, a Project Manager oversees all teams, project scope, budgets, and risk management. The Scrum Master oversees a team working within the Scrum formula. Therefore, the Scrum Master is more of a focused role, working with a smaller group of workers on project milestones while the Project Manager oversees the entirety of it.

A Scrum Master can also be a Project Manager
and a Project Manager can also be a Scrum Master.

What Degrees Should You Receive?

So, you’ve decided to become a Scrum Master. You’ve realized that the role is not some strange Dungeons and Dragons class, but a position with a bright future and potential for deep pockets. 

Let’s start with the basics. The fundamentals, if you will. Can you begin your Scrum Master path in college? 

Unfortunately, there aren’t any designated Scrum or Agile degrees (yet). Theoretically, this means that you could get a job as a Scrum Master without a college education. But, as with most white-collar jobs, getting into the role without a degree would be fairly difficult. It would require working from the very bottom and accumulating a variety of connections (we’ll get to that later).

If you do decide to get a degree, it would be best to focus on the field you would be managing for. For example, if you wanted to be a Scrum leader for a company that works in electrical engineering, you could get an electrical engineering degree.

While Scrum is an overall framework, the fields it applies to are not. Therefore, focus on that specific field.


According to Zippia, the most common degrees of Scrum Masters are:

1

Computer
Science

23.8%

2

Business

14.6%

3

Electrical
Engineering

7.5%

4

Computer
Engineering

7.5%

5

Information
Technology

7.1%

6

Engineering

4.9%


Where to Start?

In a sense, starting a career in Scrum Mastery involves not starting a career in Scrum Mastery.

Think of it this way: no one starts out by being a manager or supervisor in their field. If you want to become a supervisor or team leader in an IT department, you start as a member of the IT team. You begin with the intention of being an IT worker (say, a developer). Over time and effort, you rise up the ranks to manager.

Scrum Master is the same way. You start by working in the preferred field, then work your way up to Mastery and supervision. 

If you are starting your journey with the intention to just be a Scrum Master, you are heading down the wrong path. The job is vaguer than that. It completely relies on the field the master is placed in.

Start with wanting to start a career in something that uses the Scrum framework. Want to be a software developer, electrical engineer, quality assurance tester, and graphic designer. 

Work your way up to Scrum Master.

Certifications

Let’s say you are experienced in your applicable field and want to look into becoming a Scrum Master. You are not at the beginning of your field’s career journey but are looking for the next step.

Luckily, there are three certifications developed and provided by the creators of Scrum.

Scrum.org offers 12 certifications within the Scrum specification. With a test fee, you can take and pass any of the certification exams. While the organization does offer classes for each certification, they are not necessary for taking the exams.

Therefore, those that are self-taught can still become Scrum certified. 

If you are new to the frame, though, we recommend taking the applicable course. 

There is also a Project Management course offered by Google that goes hand-in-hand with the other certification. Too many certifications never hurt anyone!

Remember: These certifications will need to be updated every two years.

Build a Network

We can sit and try to tell you how to start a career in Scrum or Project Management all day, but like any career, it starts with who you know. Whether you are a fresh face or a veteran in the IT world, you need to meet useful acquaintances.

Asking others how to start a career in the field is crucial, too. Consequently, no one jumps into a career without knowing a few people. Networking is important for any profession.

Connect with other project management workers over social media and forum platforms, reach out to experts for advice, and send emails to other specialists for help or tips. Build a network of other people for education and advice. This networking may always lead to references, new skills, or potential job openings.

Furthermore, keep an eye out for Agile and Scrum conferences, workshops, and online meetings. There are always a ton of ways to meet other professionals in the field. Go meet people, ask questions and be pleasant. You never know where your new friends may lead you.

Soft Skills Needed

When deciding on whether or not the role would be right for you, you should understand exactly what makeup it takes to be a Master. Furthermore, these should be the soft skills you focus on in the resume for this role.

Obviously, this is an overall view of the position. If the Scrum Master role is in, say, Quality Assurance, there will be soft skills related to that industry that aren’t listed here.

Need more help with your resume?
Check out our article: 36 Resume Tips to Get You Hired

  • Leadership and Communication: The most important and obvious of skills. As a Scrum Master, you will be commanding a team. You will act as a liaison between departments and hold regular meetings. You need to be great in this department. 
  • Openminded: As a leader of multiple teams, you will be in charge of professionals that may know more about their specific skills than you. You must be able to listen and understand what others are telling you. Ultimately, you have to adapt to the issues and solutions that your team brings to the table. That’s the point of Scrum, after all. 
  • Planning Skills: The Scrum framework relies heavily on Sprint schedules. Therefore, you need to be great at planning and implementing said schedules.
  • Conflict Facilitation: As a leader, you will have to deal with a plethora of issues. Sometimes you may have to deal with conflict between employees. It’s your job to resolve these issues in a correct and responsible manner.
  • Lead By Example: Any effective leader shows their abilities on the field. You have to walk the walk to lead the walk (or whatever they say). Ultimately, you need to be a hard worker to be a great manager. If you spend your entire time delegating to others, you will lose the respect and work ethic of your team.

Basically, you need to have a plethora of management skills to be a great Scrum Master. You also need to have experience and skills in your specific industry. You have to have a wide range of knowledge on every piece of your sector and how they work effectively. We broke down other leadership skills here.

Conclusion

Ultimately, becoming a Scrum Master is the same concept as becoming a manager or supervisor (just with some added certifications).

If you want to lead a team, you have to start as a part of a team. Once you decide on your industry, work your way up through it. Keep dedicated and strong, exemplifying both communication skills and leadership abilities through your work. If your industry uses the Scrum or Agile frameworks, you may eventually be able to apply for the role.

If you are applying for Scrum Master roles elsewhere, make sure they are in the field you have experience. Also, get your Scrum certifications before applying. Be prepared to show both leadership skills and a full understanding of the aforementioned frameworks. Knowing every intricate detail of the Scrum formula is crucial, after all. 

You’ve got this! Keep positive and keep working.