Product managers are curators of cool. Essentially the ‘CEO’ of a given product, they set vision, product strategy and go-to-market strategy and coordinate the teams building the tech. Within the business, they are cross-functional, bridging the gaps between new products and other key business goals like customer growth, revenue and marketing. This article attempts to dissect the life of a Product Manager, in the hope that we might learn the secret to their swagger.
So what do they do?
These skilled professionals are the masterminds behind taking an idea from executive level, refining it into something tangible, and guiding it through its development life cycle. The success of a product relies on a whole host of different specialities – software engineers, UX designers, marketer – and it’s the job of the Product Manager to bring them all together into one seamless union. They spend a lot of time strategizing, and can often be found alone in front of expansive whiteboards studying a labyrinthian of mind maps.
What skills does a PM need?
In order to bring so many vastly different aspects of production together in one neat package, they must be well-versed across several disciplines.
It is often said that Project Managers have the brain of an engineer, the speech of a diplomat, the imagination of a designer, the swiftness of a bald eagle, the strength of a raging typhoon, and the heart of a lion.
It’s important to note that while PMs have a foot in each of these fields, they must be able to resist the urge to get too bogged down in one specific area. Their job is to break down and isolate the problems; it’s the engineers’ jobs to solve them. They don’t ask “how,” but rather “why.” This mentality of focusing on the bigger picture is what often leads to Product Managers rising to senior executive levels.
Booming. According to LinkedIn, Product Management is reported to be one of the most promising jobs for 2018 and beyond, with job opportunities for Product Managers increasing by 30% YOY. This is certainly impressive, but hardly a surprise given the increasing reliance businesses across all industries are having on technology. Furthermore, the relatively recent spawning of the job means that companies are struggling to find adequately qualified candidates for the role.
“Our data shows that Product Managers are in the top ten roles which are hard to fill across Information Technology. It’s a relatively new career path so businesses are struggling to fill the roles with Managers that have the right technical background, but also the experience behind them.” – SEEK Insights & Resources.
However, this does depend on which area you’re working in. The average product manager in Silicon Valley, for example, makes $133,000. It’s also worth noting that this figure is 11% higher than the average software developer.
What majors are ideal for people looking to break into the field?
iXperience offers Product Management in multiple cities
While the majority of people looking to break into product management study business, lifetime PM Dan Schmidt suggests mixing courses in computer science with whatever humanities you are passionate about.
Ideally, you want to be taking courses that foster the right mentalities you’ll need to become a product manager. You can always pick up the business skills along the way.
“If your school offers it, a multidisciplinary major like cognitive science might be perfect since it bridges computer science, neuroscience, linguistics, psychology, and philosophy. It would force you to reconcile radically different ways of conceptualizing the human mind", says Dan.
Typically you’ll start off as a Junior Product Manager, Product Analyst, or Associate Product Manager. This allows you to strap on your water wings and splash around in the shallows a bit. Rather than working on the entire project, you’ll be focusing on particular features within it.
Once you’ve proven that you are capable of sound strategy and execution, you’ll move up into the ranks of Product Manager. Here you really dive in head first, and become responsible for the delivery of the entire product.
If all goes well, you’ll eventually be promoted to the captain of an entire ship. As a Senior PM, you take charge of an entire product team, and work on one really big project, or a couple of smaller ones simultaneously. What’s new at this level is to make sure that parallel projects are consistent and standardized.
Jason Toff is a great example of how Product Managers can move up through the ranks. Formerly a PM at both Google, Twitter and Youtube, he is now a partner at Area 120 at Google – where he helps entrepreneurial Googlers build world changing, experimental products.
The bottom line
Product Management is basically a selective breeding program for hugely successful people. Jason Toff was a Product Manager. Marissa Mayer started out as a Product Manager. Aaron Fuchs, CEO and founder of iXperience…was a Product Manager. It’s a great way to climb the corporate ladder but, above all, it’s an opportunity to shape the products that will define tomorrow.