Let’s be very clear: there is no degree for becoming a product manager (PM). There are engineering, marketing, sales, etc. degrees; there are certification programs like Pragmatic Marketing ( I am certified…), but for product managers, there isn’t a specific degree to graduate from.
Personally, I have been more than fifteen years a product manager but now more in a leadership role. I was not educated to become one: in fact, I have a computer science degree and I have been a software engineer and architect right from the beginning. I have never imagined that I would have become a product manager. I thought I was going to build for all my life lots of software and products. I do this today, but indirectly not as direct as an engineer or an architect does. So how did I ended up to “switch” to a product manager role?
When I was an engineer and later an architect, I started to be involved in strategic discussions about the future of a product, architectural roadmaps, selection of technologies, etc. During these activities, I came to know for the first time the product managers. Since that moment, I did not know what they were doing. It was too far for me and frankly, my world was in the software code. During several interactions, I was involved in explaining the technical feasibility of certain solutions, I was asked to give options, etc. But at the end of the day, I realized that the PMs were the ones who took all the feedback, combine with all kind of “other” data and make the decisions. Essentially they were the ones deciding the directions, whether we build a feature or not, etc. Even if as a developer I would have ignored and built what I wanted, I learned that the product would not have been successful (see blog 1+1=-1).
I changed my behavior and I started to collaborate and actually becoming more influential so that the product managers would choose my ideas, directions, etc. This is the period where I learned to create the best powerpoint slides, storytelling and sell anything to anybody. Until a day came, where I thought myself: I should go to the other side and then I can make all these decisions … and so I did.
It was rough: I knew about software engineering, but I did not know anything about product roadmaps, positioning, pricing, market analysis, product launch, speaking to customers, analysts, press, working with sales or consulting on a deal, doing demos (I will do a special blog post on demos), etc. I figured out that a product manager, a successful one, is a spider in the web. If you are a good PM, the network finds you and you are at the center or nexus of the product dynamics. Thanks to a couple of mentors, highly motivated as I am, I learned on the job.
In the next blog, more about the PM being the spider in the web.