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What's the best way to break into the tech industry as a product manager?

7 Answers
Anton Kravchenko
Anton Kravchenko
Carta Sr. Director of Product ManagementFebruary 2

There are different paths that each product manager takes, but the common ones I've seen are:

1. Joining a tech company as an Associate PM or an intern straight from college.

For college grads, I suggest starting by connecting with other product managers (e.g. via LinkedIn) to better understand what we do. There are great books available on this topic as well -- "Cracking PM Interview" is among my favorites. I also created a series of videos explaining tech jobs and what do I do in more detail - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsAz_arwNkiPobhi09VrMFg

2. Transition from other roles e.g. Engineering, Professional Services, Support.

This path is easier, as it assumes that you are already in a tech company and can make connections with internal PMs. Picking a PM as a mentor or just becoming a friend with one is a great place to start. I also need to point out that PMs sit at the intersection of Business, Technology, and UX (Customer) -- that is why engineers who transition to a PM team will have an advantage as they understand the technology much deeper. On the other hand, someone in Support who wants to become a PM brings a much deeper understanding of a customer. 

690 Views
Natalia Baryshnikova
Natalia Baryshnikova
Atlassian Head of Product, Enterprise AgilityFebruary 16

Two ways. First sweet spot is to pick a mid-size startup (round B or C) that is growing. They need folks all the time, and they need folks who can roll up their sleeves and do things. The roles you join in does not matter as much - if you prove yourself as a doer, you can later transition into a different role, such as PM. 

Second is to look at established product orgs that have an APM program (we do have one at Atlassian!) This path is more suitable for recent grads that are embarking on a career journey. If that is you, search for "APM programs" and read up on which ones resonate with you, and apply.

600 Views
Louisa Henry
Louisa Henry
Gusto Head of Product for Mid-Market BusinessesApril 21

If you’re already working somewhere with a PM org, try to move into it. Getting a role at a new company as a first time PM is difficult. Most hiring managers want to see some product experience before making a hire. A lateral move within your company may not be as difficult as it seems. See if you can pick up a side project or do a 3-6 month rotation. Getting the experience will not only help you be considered & help you interview for external PM roles, but will also give you data points to truly understand if being a PM is the right move for you.

Another option is to look for companies who offer product internships (if you’re in school), or have associate product management (APM) roles. These programs are typically designed with support and mentorship to show you the ropes of becoming a PM.

386 Views
Rodrigo Davies
Rodrigo Davies
Asana Director of Product Management, AIMay 17

I transitioned from journalism to product management earlier in my career, and although it’s not a straightforward path, it’s actually pretty common for PMs to join tech from other sectors. An Asana PM teammate of mine, Ari Janover, actually has the best articulation of how to make the transition that I’ve ever heard. He says there are three common paths:

  • The Ninja: Join a small startup as another role and push to own PM work until you become a PM.
  • The Expert: Apply for roles where the value of your specific knowledge trumps your lack of PM credentials. Think Engineers for technical products or a real estate agent for a real estate tool.
  • The Hail Mary: Follow the few PM Apprenticeships that don’t require previous experience (learn more about AsanaUp here).

I followed the Expert path when starting out, and I’ve seen it work quite well in early-stage companies. One of the biggest challenges in starting in an early-stage company, though, is that you’re often the first or only PM, so although you have lots of things to learn, you may have fewer people to learn from. I spent a lot of time observing and learning from PMs at other companies and building up a group of folks I could exchange ideas and challenges with, and this is a practice I still find incredibly useful today.

3173 Views
Ajay Waghray
Ajay Waghray
Udemy Director of Product Management, Consumer MarketplaceAugust 25

I think the best way to break into the industry as a PM is to get after building tech products yourself. Personally, I left a well-paying job in the energy sector to work on a start-up with no reliable paycheck. Thinking back on that experience, it was crazy beneficial to learn how to work with designers & engineers to build a great product or feature. The act of building a product or feature is the best teacher.

I’m not advocating that you should quit your job and not get paid to build stuff like I did! There was a lot that wasn’t so awesome about that. 😅 But I definitely WOULD encourage everyone here to think about how you could do that in your spare time. What problems are you passionate about solving? What kind of product or feature could help you solve that problem? How could you bring that solution to life? How can you talk to prospective customers about it?

Even PM candidates that make wireframes or prototypes to show a product that solves a real problem have a leg up over most of the other candidates. I’ll take someone with drive, initiative and passion for the work 10 times out of 10.

1779 Views
Julian Dunn
Julian Dunn
GitHub Senior Director of Product ManagementNovember 7

In my opinion, it's best to land a customer-facing role (support, customer success, expert services, pre-sales/sales, etc.) and then try to make a lateral move into PM, at the same company if possible. That's because customer empathy -- or even more important than that, unique customer insights and a point of view about the customer and the market -- are the most critical skills I look for as a foundation for whether someone new to PM is likely going to succeed. While it's not impossible to start with a technical job like engineering and then move into PM, it's more difficult because there are fewer reusable skills (and frankly, there's an implicit bias in the industry that technical folks don't know how to talk or empathize with customers).

447 Views
Sandhya Rao
Sandhya Rao
Vera Solutions Director of Product ManagementFebruary 6

I am going to answer this with reference to few real-world examples that I have seen including my own. These are folks who begun their careers in a non-tech set ups and made it to the tech-world as Product people.

I am also tweaking the question a bit to answer - 'What are the key attributes or habits that could help you break into a tech industry as a product manager?' Here, are 3 key attributes that can help -

  1. Curiosity or a relentless pursuit to understand the 'why' behind everything is a key attribute that will shape your product mindset. When you consistently try to analyze the 'why' behind everything you experience, mostly the answer leads to user adoption, engagement, delight and retention. Businesses are motivated and thrive on these first principles and this is what mostly drives majority of their product decisions.

    Connecting the dots helps understand user-led design techniques, user interface theories and user experience logics. This is also true in any non-digital product set up.

  2. Efficient context switching or the ability to handle multiple streams of conversations/information from varied teams is another crucial aspect that prepares you for a product role in a tech industry. As a product manager one of the critical job requirement is to be able to process information flowing through various channels and compartmentalize it for everyone.

  3. People management or Stakeholder management is the last but a very important skill that helps keep the ship sailing. As a PM, the expectation is to connect and listen to every team and ensure all teams feel heard and inclusive.

I know of 3 people in my network, who belonged to various other streams like Growth & Strategy, Content Operations and B2C Marketing who have successfully transitioned into a Product role within the tech industry with these 3 attributes. Curious to know alternate views!

174 Views
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