Elevate Winter Summit has been announced (Fri, Dec 11th).

🔥


Don't have an account? 

Getting Your Foot in the Door - Product Management

Career Path
Personal growth
Product Team

23 January, 2019

Christian Hresko addresses those who are interested in moving into a product management role and actionable steps you can take to gain indispensable experience.

Problem

The, so to speak, classic definition of a product manager's responsibilities include finding out about the 'what' and the 'why' of a product, while leaving the 'how' to the engineering side. What a product manager does, of course, differs from one company to another and, thus, your view of product management will in some way be shaped and molded by personal experience. However, if you are looking to move into the role of product manager, what type of background and experience can you gain to ensure that you are properly prepared to enter the position at any company?

Actions taken

  • Product managers come from a wide range of backgrounds and just because you have an engineering background does not guarantee you a product management position. In fact, I have met product managers who have degrees in art & design, philosophy, law, and I, myself, have a degree in sound synthesis. Thus, your individual experience brings value to what you can offer a company so don't shy away from the position just because you think you don't have the proper degree.
  • Work on a side project. I am not advocating moonlighting (having a second job in addition to your regular employer), but find a pain point- a specific perceived or real problem that needs a solution, and individually work through that. It could be something that is personal to you or maybe it impacts a fairly large number of people. In either case, brainstorm and list possible solutions. Next, test your hypothesis. Instead of building something, create a paper prototype, go to cafes and ask customers if they've ever struggled with that issue, if they respond positively then show them the prototype and document if they think it would be effective or not. This is a great way to teach yourself about products without having to actually go to product school.
  • At your current gig, ask to be more involved with the product. One option is to take on more responsibilities on the product side. Another option is to sit in with the product managers to see how they prioritize their work, what point system they use with the engineering teams, and how they groom the backlogs. You could take this one step further and schedule a meeting with the design team to learn how they interact with the product. All of these aspects are going to vary from one place to another so it is a great opportunity to show your interest and become more involved.
  • Look for a hole that needs to be filled. For example, if there is no formal or well-documented process for collecting requirements between all of the teams, then put together that structure and bring it to your team's attention. Part of product management is process and structure so you would, essentially, be responsible for putting together that process and that structure. If you execute it successfully and get a majority to buy in, then you will not only build trust with the people you work with you will also have put in place a part of product management. This is also a good leveraging point moving forward when you request to take on more product-oriented projects.
  • If there is no product manager at your current company you could become that person. By jumping right into the position you are forced to learn quickly and efficiently. You can then build your own product team, especially with a scaling company, and learn not only the product side but also how to meet and manage people across different teams.

Lessons learned

  • There is no direct or correct path to becoming a product manager. Leverage your experience and your willingness to put in the extra work so as to land the position.
  • Product management is less about authority and more about influence.
  • The role of product manager is usually filled by someone who has a wide perspective of how things work. They have in their range of view the goals and operations of the entire company.

Related stories

Managing Managers: A Matter of Style
29 November

Sameer Kalburgi, VP of Engineering at Fieldwire, discusses how managing managers, unlike managing ICs is, to the largest extent, a matter of style.

New Manager of Manager
Career Path
Personal growth
Sameer Kalburgi

Sameer Kalburgi

VP of Engineering at Fieldwire

How to Transition Your Employee Into a Better Role
26 November

Kevin Perko, Head of Applied Research and Data Science at Scribd, discusses how he made his employee successful by helping them transition into a more suitable and challenging role.

Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Career Path
High Performers
Kevin Perko

Kevin Perko

Head of Applied Research / Data Science at Scribd

How Measurable Goals Can Help Your Employees Upskill
26 November

Raghavendra Iyer, Head of Engineering at ReachStack, discusses how setting up measurable goals and providing structured learning can help your employees expand their knowledge and skills.

Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Career Path
Raghavendra Iyer

Raghavendra Iyer

Head of Engineering at ReachStack

How Canada Became a Home for Tech Talent
26 November

Raghavendra Iyer, Head of Engineering at ReachStack, recalls how his recurring problems with securing a US work visa made him move to and continue his professional career in Canada.

Personal growth
Changing company
Cultural differences
Raghavendra Iyer

Raghavendra Iyer

Head of Engineering at ReachStack

Preserving the Startup Mentality After an Acquisition
26 November

Raghavendra Iyer, Head of Engineering at ReachStack, tells of his efforts to preserve the startup mentality of his team following the acquisition by a large company.

Company Culture
Personal growth
Raghavendra Iyer

Raghavendra Iyer

Head of Engineering at ReachStack

You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.

Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.