Product Management: How to Make the Career Move
By Product School
If there is one thing that we have learned in Product School, it’s that a lot of people want to be product managers (PMs). Be it online or offline, our guest speakers get hundreds of similar questions every month: “What is the most important skill to become a product manager?” “Should I have a specific technical background?” “Is it better to start at a small or at a large company?”
The answer to all of these questions is: yes, no! What?
Well, it turns out that they can become a product manager through virtually any background: from engineering to marketing, including arts history or even music production! Product managers often find that they do not find their first PM “job.” Rather, they are found or discovered while working in a different position.
Of course, they must be able to justify substantial experience with one of the three key PM fundamentals: product development, user experience design, and marketing. From one or two of these, you can pivot with the help of a good training course.
Let’s see how this works, in practice.
You Don’t Find Product Management: PM Finds You
OK, this might sound very abstract or even a little bit blue-sky. But it’s true!
There are many well-known professions which require a high degree of commitment. Becoming a doctor, a musician, an architect or a professional football player demand equal degrees of effort (and luck!) And everybody is aware of this from the start because the content and responsibilities of each job are pretty understandable.
Now, who says they want to be a PM at age 7? It would be pretty weird, right?
Product management is no longer such a new discipline, but it does require a certain awareness of the tech world and its latest developments. From a personal level, it usually appeals to people who have often wondered about why products and services are delivered in a certain way. For instance: if, when you played video games while growing up, you couldn’t stop thinking about how levels were designed, you had some of the raw materials which make a product manager.
For most of us, however, it is pretty uncommon to wonder about any of these things before college. It’s usually during higher education or our first work opportunities when we find out about product and its ramifications. This is what is usually meant by product finding you. It’s easy to understand this with a typical career move.
What tends to happen with many of our students — some of them active contributors to the digital economy — is that they start noticing that they possess very special skills. It almost feels like they suddenly developed superpowers. They realize they are very good at solving conflicts, setting goals, motivating development teams, translating visions into practical applications … all in all, in making things people want and enjoy using.
Then, they come across one of our newsletters, or events, or books, or communities … or simply are lucky enough to meet one of our expert instructors or happy alumni. And they suddenly realize that their current skill set is practically that of a product manager, the coolest job in the industry.
Why not have a go at it themselves?
What happened is, the very needs of their career and of the evolving digital transformation made them gradually acquainted with products and their needs. It was not an abstract learning process, but something grounded in their professional advancement. Which is why transitions, even though they require considerable patience and effort, feel very natural.
Not One, but Many Obstacles to Make the Career Move
For those who arrive at that decision, there’s still a challenging time ahead of them. In fact, thinking of your main problem as “becoming a product manager” is often counter-productive. They should be unpacked into smaller, less threatening obstacles that can be avoided.
Let’s discuss the 7 most common obstacles:
Wrong reasons. First things first. You should not be in this for the money. You should not be in this for the fame. Yes, being on the cover of Forbes and speaking at packed conferences sound great. But remember: your main goal is to make things easier for users.
Misunderstanding the role. Again, this goes back to the components behind PMing. You cannot be a good product manager if you are simply good at coding. Or if you are the best telephone salesperson. You need a fine balance of skills and at least a superficial knowledge of what makes a digital operation successful.
Aiming too high. Hey, we all have to start somewhere. And we don’t mean the Google Associate Product Management Program! Be humble. Your first product opportunity could be volunteering at your local charity, helping them out with their website — or improving an online shop’s checkout process.
Refusing to engage the community. Are you a hermit? Then don’t go at it alone! Professional communities are not just job opportunity sources. They help you learn about your job, stay in touch with the latest innovations, and simply increase your appreciation for what is making you wake up early every day.
Ignoring the business sphere. Passion is great. Passion is even better if it can sustain you. You can have the best (or what seems the best) ideas in the world, but they have no future if the market is not ready, if investors are not interested, or if they offer no real improvement to what is already out there.
Avoiding getting your hands dirty. At the start of the digital economy, there were no textbooks or manuals. Innovators improvised as they went along. With the success of the Silicon Valley model, hundreds and thousands of books have been published on the subject. But you cannot just rely on others’ success stories; you need to practice your craft.
Not willing to put in the work. This applies to most life goals, but when you are seeking to transition to such a dynamic role, you’re signing up to much more than the first couple of months of training. This is a whole life’s commitment to solving people’s problems.
A good training program, like Product School’s, should help you make the career move. What about money? Should it not be listed as an additional problem?
This Is Why Money Shouldn’t Be an Obstacle for Aspiring PMs
Of course, you need to make sure that you can afford the Product Management Certification. It’s always great to save and be able to cover the costs upfront. But, in our fast-paced times, funding is not always available. However, there are options today that have made personal finances less of an upfront obstacle.
At the moment, Climb and Product School are offering affordable payment plans, allowing you to focus on studying and working on your immediate concerns. Finishing your project, connecting with the students and alumni community, attending events and conferences, browsing future job opportunities … There are so many things to be done during the eight-week Product School course that financial insecurity is the last thing you want to have in your mind.
Plus, you’ll be jumping right into one of the world’s most profitable career paths. Even if you don’t start as a product manager right away, you’re likely to find a rewarding tech position wherever you are in the world. You’ll pay for the course in no time, as you progress in your product career and build your professional profile. Of course, the benefits are exponential.
Just think about this. Product School graduates work at places like Amazon and Google. Will you join them one day?
Even if you don’t, taking care of business at a small but dedicated startup is more than enough for most people. Conducting research, inspiring teams, engaging stakeholders, delivering for management, and, most of all, making everyone’s life easier; well, that’s something to aim for. As more people get connected, new demands and opportunities will emerge in the digital economy: today, you can be a product manager from anywhere you are in the world.
Anyone who wishes to make the most of this market will have to work hard, train themselves, and learn as much as possible from current product professionals. Like those who teach at Product School.
But why should a temporary funding shortage stop you? Worry about your ideas, not about money. And make sure that you avoid the obstacles we listed above!