Building zero to one NLP products for growth.Always a techie.Love communities, sports & open spaces
Over the last 2 weeks, 7 friends have asked me how they can break into Product Management. Additionally, I have got an opportunity to interview several people from product management roles over the last year where I see first time candidates making the same mistakes over and over again.
Hence, I have decided to jot down a guide on landing your first PM job. Its made up of 3 parts, answering three important questions -
Is Product Management right for you?How to land a Product Manager job?How to spend your first 90 days as a Product Manager?
This is a summary of my key learnings and aims to give you a framework to think about making the switch. These are not general and not facts. I have tried to not reinvent the wheel and give links to the right resources wherever I could. Hope it helps!
This is the first step. I remember searching across the internet trying to understand what a PM does and landing onto this universal representation of a PM role -
The problem with this is it’s too superficial and does not tell much about what qualities, characteristics, traits, or interest will really help you excel as a PM. In this post, we try to explore that in detail.
A product manager’s role is to define a product (or a product line, in some cases) and do whatever it takes to make it a success. Success is broadly defined based on the business impact created by the product which could be measured in different ways based on the type of business.
At a very high level, a business either sells to consumers (B2C) or enterprises (B2B). The key difference is that in the case of B2B — your buyers (decision-makers) are not actually the users of your product. So, subscription, retention, and reliability matter more. Whereas in B2C, your buyer is your end-user (may not be if e.g., you are selling dog biscuits, but the buyer is still in very close contact with the end-user), hence scale is huge and virality, user retention, and UX are the prime focus.
Lean Analytics has a pretty detailed description of various business models and the key metrics that matter in each. Summarising briefly below -
So, as a PM, your success will be measured by how your product(s) impact the above metrics based on the kind of business that you are in, and your role will be to drive all stakeholders across marketing, sales, engineering, customers, users, etc. to -
Since you have seen enough Venn Diagrams on PM already, here is a breakdown of Automattic’s design process which I think is quite relevant to the product development process -
Four Planets by Automattic
Looking at the above Venn diagram, a lot of beginners feel that PMs need to be great at design, business, and tech before they even start their journey. However, that is usually not the case. A lot of PMs have T-shaped skillsets which means they are great at one thing and good enough in several others. I personally think that it’s important to be deep enough into one of these three to be able to make a mark in the interviews. See 10–30–50 rule .
In this section, we will break down PM skills into soft and hard skills and list down some of the top skills that make good PMs.
Shreyas Doshi has created this comprehensive mindmap listing all possible PM skills -
I learned a lot about this from Todd Jackson’s post. Would highly recommend .
Do I need to know to code to be a PM?
You don’t need to know how to write code. However, if you are working on a tech product, knowledge of the basic principles of computer science is essential, so that you can communicate effectively with developers. Having said that, you should definitely aim to learn the basics of programming and computer science over time as it’ll help you get better at solving issues and removing tech blockers. It also depends on how technical the product is, e.g., a PM at a cloud storage company needs to be much stronger at tech than a PM at a mobile gaming app company. Cole Mercer’s course on Technology for PMs is a good start.
Do I need to learn how to make wireframes to be a PM?
You don’t need to create beautiful designs, however wireframing is an essential skill that helps PMs communicate their ideas visually. So, would highly recommend getting your hands dirty on Sketch, Figma, or whatever your tool of choice is. More than design, it’s important to develop user empathy and a great UX sense. Try solving Artiom Dashinsky’s design exercises . More resources in Part 2, where we talk about how to prepare for the interviews.
Do I need to do an MBA to get into Product Management?
No, and if you’re looking for a PM role in a startup, absolutely not! If your long-term goal is to continue down the PM/founder (builder) path and not go into consulting, investment banking and other traditional MBA pursuits, I would highly recommend to save those 2 years and spend them learning about building better products by grinding with a good product team.
Is the PM the CEO of the product?
I literally cringe when I hear someone say that.
IMO, PM is not the CEO of the product, because while PM gets to decide the product strategy, they do not have any say in how the engineering or growth resources will be used and their success solely depends on being able to convince the leadership and other teammates to go that route and take specific tradeoffs.
So, when someone says this to you, it usually means, “we would like you to take as much ownership of this product’s success or failures as a CEO would.”
How to build credibility in my resume?
By building stuff or having strong opinions about how something can be made better. We will talk more about this in part 2.
What is Product Management not?
This deserves its own thread because a few companies rebrand multiple roles as PM to attract quality talent. To keep it short. -
Career progression in Product Management
This is what a typical PM career path might look like. Each PM starts off as an individual contributor. However, just to emphasize, PM is by definition a fairly senior role (even if you are an IC). Based on how the company is structured, you may or may not be given P&L responsibility as part of the role.
However, since you learn a variety of skills as a PM, you actually don’t need to follow this path. A lot of PMs end up becoming CEOs (Susan Wojcicki, Youtube) or founders (Ivan Zhao, Notion) themselves.
The tough parts about being a PM
Like every other role, PM has its challenging bits as well, and while there are ways to deal with them, it's extremely important to know what you’re getting into before making the choice. Here I mention a few things I have experienced and validated from other PMs as well:
Disclaimer: These have a lot to do with the company that you work with as well. Have seen it happen a lot lesser in companies with mature product orgs.
Here is the visual description of what the journey of building any venture/product is like :
Why did I become a PM?
If you’re reading this, you are probably looking for an answer to whether you should give up whatever you’re doing and switch to a PM career. It’s hard for me to provide a generic answer to this. However, I can share my story of why I decided to give up my high-paying software engineering job at Arcesium (DE Shaw & Co.) to take up the role of a PM :
That’s how I figured that this was the role that excited me the most and here I am! I hope this post helps you get some more clarity as well in terms of what future might look like if you do opt for a PM role.
We will follow this post with Part 2 and 3 where we talk about how to land a PM role and what to do to make the most of your first 90 days, respectively. Stay tuned!