One of the most popular questions I’ve been asked over and over again is “I am an engineer, how do I become a Product Manager?” I think a more important question to ask is not the “how” but the “why.” Why do you want to become a Product Manager? Why do you think you will be a good Product Manager?
I knew I wanted to be a Product Manager — and that I could be successful — when I was continuously validated by the universe that I have good product ideas. For example:
- I have been a user of Google’s photo organizing and editing tool, Picasa, for many years. I had been thinking for a long time that they should add in features to make photos more fun, i.e. adding frames and stickers. I knew my idea was good when Google acquired Picnik and integrated it with Picasa.
- I have been a long time user of Blogspot, Google’s blogging tool. I used to have to use Google Analytics separately to track the activities for my blog and wanted an easier solution to manage my blogging needs. When Google integrated Analytics with Blogspot I knew my idea was good.
- I have been wanting to make YouTube videos to supplement my blog posts, but the thought of video editing seemed so daunting that I never got around to dedicating time to making videos. I hoped that someone could make video editing easier to do, and have the ability to automatically make a good video. When I found out about Magisto, an app that automatically edits video clips and photos and turns them into beautiful videos with music options, I knew that my idea was good. This idea of mine again was validated when I learned that Google released their Auto Awesome feature for Android to automatically create short films from videos and photos.
Once the “why” is established, we should talk about the “how.”
It’s almost always easier to become a Product Manager within the same company. Work on building a relationship with your Product Managers. Ask if you can shadow them for a day and see what their day-to-day is like. It’s important that a Product Manager knows how to talk to customers, so ask to listen in on customer phone calls. Talk to Product Managers and see how they made their transition into product management.
I developed an interest in product management as an engineer when I would form product ideas in my head. After talking to other Product Managers who were able to transition from engineering, I worked up enough courage to convince my manager and the Product Manager Director to let me try the Product Manager role. My first tasks were to execute QA scripts to learn the product from end-to-end, and then write requirements documents for smaller features. Once my managers saw that I was able to learn the product, write requirements documents, and able to present and communicate the requirements to upper management and engineering, they officially changed my title from Engineer to Product Manager.
But I didn’t stop at dreaming about new products and features — I actually tried my hand at building a product. At the time — when Facebook first released their API — I decided to build a Facebook application (with the help of a couple of friends) where I wrote the requirements (Beautybook Functional Design Document) and the code as well. Even though my application did not take off and make me a millionaire, I was convinced that Product Management is the career that I wanted because I have good product ideas, the drive to make things happen, and — most importantly — I can establish good relationships with people to help me make things happen.
Another important tip is to never give up. I once interviewed for a Product Manager job but was denied because I didn’t have enough experience. The hiring manager liked my personality and told me that I shouldn’t give up. A few months later I applied for the same job again proving to him that I gained more experience and I was able to land the job at the end.
In summary, here are some tips to become a Product Manager:
- Determine why you would be a good Product Manager.
- Find out in detail what a Product Manager does.
- Try to actually write a requirements document for a product.
- Show that you can communicate well.
- Show that you have the drive to make things happen.
- Don’t give up.
Nancy Chu is an Axcient product manager by day and a beauty blogger by night: http://www.msnancysfancies.com