I'll directly answer the question, but then challenge it.
The most typical path that I've seen has been starting as an Associate/Junior PM after completing either a Computer Science, Information Systems or Business undergrad degree.
However ... in my opinion, PM is a craft that benefits more than any other from diverse backgrounds. I've worked with PMs who were previously marketers, project managers, engineers, business development managers and designers. In fact, due to the varied backgrounds from each of the PMs I work with, I learn about new ways to approach problems. All that to say, there is less of a focus on the typical path / background nowadays so that shouldn't stop folks from exploring PM if they are working in a different space currently. Google does a good job recognizing this with our PM Rotator program - employees can spend 20% of their time (with the blessing from their manager) working on a PM project from a sponsored team to see if the role is a fit for them.
Be your customer as much as you can. Try everything you make multiple times in different scenarios. There's a reason companies like Starbucks and DoorDash have programs in place that put their corp staff on the ground - it opens your eyes to things that you might not have otherwise spotted.
I'm also a huge fan having a regular forum for your teams to interact with your customers. In the enterprise setting these can be Early Access Programs that have select customers try out new products ahead of time for unfiltered, early feedback. In a more consumer world you can build the scaffolding for communities of users to come together. For example, when I was working on Google Maps, we had a high touch relationship with some of the top Local Guides that contributed to our map through UGC. Hearing their pain points and wishes helped shape our roadmap.
Without going into specifics, the biggest challenge has been cross-organization influencing. My time at both Microsoft and Google has exposed me to lots of intra-organization projects with varying levels of buy-in from each team. The level of effort and coordination required to pull not one, but two organizations in the same direction can be enormous.
As a PM - at any level - it's your role to effectively communicate why what you're trying to acheive makes sense for other teams, your company and ultimately your customers. Even if you're aligned on principles and strategies, there are dozens of other factors that you need to be able to navigate such as resourcing, ownership, tech stacks, recognition, branding, leadership opinions and timelines.
Great question! This is a fun one and something I could spend a lot of time talking about. Let's pick a trend in a few different areas; Job role, Job market, Strategy, Industry trend, Consumer trend.
[Job role] Collaboration in a remote world
Communication is the most critical skill for PMs and the shift to a remote-inclusive world has made that skill more difficult. I've found collaboration to particularly challenging. There are a miriad of online tools at our disposal and PM needs to get to grips with them and incorporate them into the new way of working.
[Job market] Faster turnover
Much has been said about jumping between companies vs. becoming a domain expert and leveling up for the same company. No matter your view on it, you will be impacted by the faster staff churn than in previous times. I've found this to be especially true for PM. Strong documentation and clear visions and strategies will help set teams up for success despite staff turnover.
[Strategy] Big picture visions instead of feature factories
Fewer companies are operating under the old feature factory model. Users will appreciate new features hitting them on a regular basis, but even more compelling is when companies land big-picture visions. Apple has done a fantastic job of this over the past years. They launch cohesive visions each year which pull together features from various teams across their organization. It's an incredibly effective way to mobilize your workforce, but it's very hard to pull off at scale.
[Industry trend] Personalization
Companies are quickly realizing that a single product won't work for everyone and the fastest way to an engaged audience is to tailor what you provide to them. This used to mean conducting marketing research and identifying your target audience to build for. While that is still important, machine learning has opened up the ability to hyper personalize your products to individuals. For example, in the smart home / ambient computing space that I work in, we know that every family behaves differently and we need to make sure our products flex to their needs.
[Consumer trend] New internet users changing how we build products
Over the next 5 to 10 years, a new generation of internet users will come online. These users will have an all-new baseline and appreciation for technology due to their exposure to it from early on in their lives. Thinking through interaction patterns, user education and willingnesss to learn will shift and companies are already bracing for what that will mean for their products. In the same vein, there are new users coming online in countries that are finding easier ways to connect to the internet.
Promotion readiness varies quite a bit between companies, but I think there are some common themes that most agree on:
There are so many great resources nowadays on what to expect for big tech interviews, so instead of reiterating they key themes from those, here's my not-so-common take:
Let's split evaluating the company and evaluating the opportunity.
When evaluating the company - or if it's a huge company like Google, the division - I like to think about three criteria first and foremost:
As for sizing up the opportunity within the company, a couple of key factors come to mind: