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Switching Career From Engineering to Product Management

New PM
Personal growth
Career Path

4 June, 2021

Astika Gupta, Sr Product Manager at eBay, recalls her transition from a software engineer to a product manager detailing her own path into a new field.

Problem

I completed my B.A. in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering, but my first job was in a software engineering role where I stayed for almost four years. A year into a role, I realized that software engineering might not be the only thing I wanted to do. Back then, I started to consider other opportunities that would allow me to take care of the entire product life cycle, make decisions on multiple aspects of the product, and work with various stakeholders.

More and more, I was not finding myself to be a good fit for a software engineering role, and I was seeking something more product-related. But, at that time, I didn’t know how to proceed with it -- should I change the company, change the team… I was even unsure what the role of a product manager was.

Actions taken

First and foremost, I wanted to understand what product management is all about. I studied online resources and took several online courses to better grasp a product manager’s day-to-day life, their core responsibilities, and what my life would look like once I became a PM. I wanted to understand how being a PM would be different from what I was doing at that time.

While online resources helped a great deal, talking to a number of product managers across the company was tremendously valuable. I could understand much of the company context that was shared by both engineering and product management, which gave me a solid understanding of what to expect in my new role. That helped me realize that I would probably be a great fit for a product management role.

At that time, I was not considering switching the company. On the other hand, changing the team looked like the lowest hanging fruit that I was ready to try. I had an open conversation about my career plan with my manager, and they were quite supportive of the idea. They proposed that I shadow a PM, start to prepare PowerPoint presentations, and use any opportunity to engage in conversations with various stakeholders. I did as advised. By doing so, I got some first-hand experience of what product management looked like. But that also demonstrated my willingness to switch careers and convinced my manager and peers that I was capable of the transition.

After discussing it with my manager, I slowly drifted away from my original role and moved closer toward product management. At first, my work ratio was 80/20 in favor of software engineering, but then soon got to 70/30. Finally, when my product-related responsibilities reached 50 percent, my manager proposed that I be formally given a title.

I talked to many people embarking on a similar journey. From what I heard, gradually switching from one role to another within the same company is the most convenient and frictionless way to transition. I am glad that I was given an opportunity to do that. Other people were taking six-week or longer online courses that would result in certification or include hands-on experience working on a project that could be later added to their resume.

Lessons learned

  • There are many paths to product management. Each individual may find themselves in their unique situation where different opportunities may unfold on that path. For me, the shortest and most convenient way was to stay with the same company and gradually build my product management competencies. For others, that path may be different. But, where there is a will, there is a way.
  • Most companies want someone with prior PM experience. It doesn’t have to be a full-time job, though. That experience can include passion projects, side hustles, anything that can demonstrate your skills and competence.
  • One of the available options is to apply for an associate PM role. Many well-established companies run programs welcoming people switching careers or coming from non-traditional backgrounds and do not expect a person to have prior PM experience. As long as someone has some technical background, they could be a good fit for a PM role in a tech company.

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