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Smart Move: How to Become a Product Manager Chapter 1

1 Introduction

Product Manager is one of the most desired roles in technology companies. It is uniquely positioned at the intersection of business strategy, product, technology, sales, marketing, and customer experience. Product Managers are mini CEOs of products they manage. Because of the cross functional and general management nature of product management, many product managers advance to senior executive and CEO roles in high tech companies or start their own companies.

If you’re smart, ambitious, have passion for both business and technology, and want to start a company or fast-track your way up the corporate ladder, product management can be a great stepping stone.

However, most people don’t start their careers in product management. They start in functional areas such as engineering, QA, marketing, sales, sales engineering, consulting, user experience design, customer support, etc. Eventually they make a career pivot to product management that is not easy to pull off. In fact, many professionals tried very hard for many years but still couldn’t break into product management. I also know many professionals who finally broke into product management, but soon realized they didn’t like the stress and political nature of product management. It’s like finally reaching the mountaintop but realizing it is the wrong destination. What a waste of valuable time and energy!

I decided to write this book because I have seen enough of both scenarios. My career has progressed from software developer to junior technical product manager to post MBA product manager to GM and EVP positions at publicly traded companies. I had the personal experience of pivoting my career from engineering to product manager to general manager to executives. I had worked at Silicon Valley startups, medium sized high growth companies, as well as Fortune 50 corporations. Over the years I have also mentored and advised many young, ambitious professionals.

I want to help you determine if product management is the right role for you and your career. You need to know what you want and what you are getting yourself into before putting in the time and effort to move into product management.

I’ll provide you a proven strategic framework to pivot your career to product management. I’ll give you specific examples of how other people made the smart moves to become product managers. These examples will provide you the models and best practices. I’ll give you an action plan that you can implement now to quickly pivot to product management in the next 6 to 12 months. I’ll also share you many challenges a new product manager will be facing. I’ll give you tips on how to navigate your new job environment and move up the ladder.

I have personally experienced everything I’m sharing with you. I’m not your typical career counselor who has never done the real job.

2 Who Is This Book For?

You’re an engineer who wants to expand scope of your work beyond technical tasks. You want to leverage your technical skills to make a career transition to product management.

You’re currently an MBA student. You want to get into product management.

You’re a college senior or recent college graduate. You have heard that some companies hire product managers directly out of undergraduate or graduate programs. You want to find out how you can become a product manager with little or no work experience.

You work in customer support, but you feel that customer support is a dead-end job. You want to leverage your understanding of customer problems to move into product management.

You work in sales or sales engineering, but you’re tired of frequent business travel and constant pressure of meeting sales quota. You want to leverage your rich customer facing experience and product knowledge to become a product manager.

You’re a technical consultant. You’re tired of moving from company to company to implement projects. You want to make a transition to product management.

You’re ambitious and you want to run a company one day or start your own company in high tech. You recognize that Product Managers are mini CEOs of products, and the experience will prepare you well for becoming a CEO or starting your own company.

Anyone else who wants to become a product manager.

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