My response to an email I received from someone interested in product management

On Nov 19, 2015, at 11:45 PM, xxxx wrote:

Hey Bryce,

I am a Senior at the University of Minnesota who is soon to have B.A. in Computer Science with minors in Interdisciplinary Design, Product Design, and Linguistics this coming spring. Since I am somewhat multifaceted, I have been a little hesitant to apply to “just” software engineer jobs and I have been looking at other roles at agile, tech-focused companies that I may be interested in as well. Product management stood out to me especially because I feel like I have a lot to offer on a team in terms of technical skill and knowledge, but UX is an intense interest for me as well, and I like the idea of working with a team to keep shipping a better product.

However, I realized that I’ve never actually met a product manager before and that it may be ideal to talk with someone who is a product manager before I put stake into it as a career path.  So, I have a few questions for you. What should I know about being a product manager? What does your typical day look like? What makes a good product manager? Is this something that I should be looking at out of college or is it not feasible to become a product manager straight out of college?

These are still things that I’m a little curious about that I am hoping you will be able to answer or at least give me some new insights on. Thank you so much for your time, and I am very excited to hear back from you in the future even though I know you are probably quite busy…

Hi xxxx,
To be a product manager does require a bit of experience, either in management or engineering, or even marketing and support. Basically you’re going to be a leader for a group of people that will need to trust your guidance and insight so the more experience you have in the area everyone is working in the better and faster decisions you are able to make. Its really all about people trusting you. If people trust you then when you set team priorities (which impact not just the team but the core business) then what you’ve prioritized has a better chance at being successful.

I think its a common misconception that being a good manager requires you to be the best at whatever your team is doing. For a PM, thats not really true. I’m nowhere near as good of a developer as xxxx and the other devs on our scrum team, nor am I as good of a tester as our QA people. But thats actually a good thing, because this means I can focus on prioritizing the work we are doing in the current sprint (sprint backlog) and prioritizing the work we could do in a future sprint (product backlog) and they can focus on what they are good at.

I’d say the best path to be on to be a product manager is to become as well rounded and knowledgable about a particular industry or even service offering by one of your favorite companies. Learn organizational theory, financial management and planning, and take some leadership training. The hardest part of my job, but also by far the most rewarding, is learning how to work with all kinds of people with all kinds of work habits and social skills. I’m not saying be a social “butterfly” but learn what it takes to get respect from people – and in turn respect all people regardless of their opinions and backgrounds, and you will be seen as a leader.

Product managers are like the restaurant owner who has many different responsibilities and works with all parts of the restaurant, and pitches in when necessary to make the whole thing work. Most of the time this means being confidently humble and working really hard to set an example for your team.

Product management is part Business Analyst, Quality Assurance, Project Manager, and Release Manager all combined into one role. You get to decide on what the company is to spend its Dev and QA investment on, so its a big responsibility. You have to take requirements from Customers, Finance, Senior Management, Support, Development and at the same time plan a 6-12 month product roadmap with future Epics and Stories. You can’t just fix a bug, you have to fix it in a way that will help push the product in the direction of the roadmap so that you get more than just making a few customers happy.

Hope you find this useful, and good luck in whatever you choose to do in the future!