Updated: April 5, 2023 - 7 min read
The technology industry is one of the first that new Product Managers (PMs) target when trying to break into Product Management. The tech industry is experiencing consistent growth, according to CompTIA’s 2022 report. Yet it can be difficult to land a tech role, particularly if you’re new to Product Management.
Targeting a tech-adjacent industry can set you up for a career in tech down the line, but how do you leverage tech-adjacent experience to your advantage? And which industries should you set your sights on in the first place?
5 Industries to Consider if You Want to Break into Product Management
Let’s begin by taking look at five tech-adjacent industries that need PMs right now.
According to the US Census Bureau, the Covid pandemic inflated online sales, leading many eCommerce companies to invest heavily in their Product Management infrastructures. Since the start of the pandemic, my PM clients have told me that they have received tons of inbound messages from eCommerce recruiters.
To get a better sense of the post-pandemic retail industry, I spoke with Nikki Werner, who joined Walmart as a Principal Product Manager for subscriptions in late 2021. She explains that her transition into the industry felt natural, as she spent a good portion of her career in eCommerce and is passionate about saving users money, time, and mindshare by reimagining shopping experiences. She also happens to love shopping and found a fit in her current role.
Werner, who previously served in Product Leadership roles at REX and Hutch, now builds visualization tools that allow Walmart’s customers to see furniture in their homes before purchasing. Additionally, she spends time automating every day recurring purchases using personalization because, as she explains it, “no human has ever felt joy from ordering paper towels!”
“Reducing stress and friction for online shoppers makes me happy, even more so than getting a great pair of shoes on sale for myself,” adds Werner. Like the rest of the tech-adjacent industries on this list, every Product Management role looks different. The key is to find the right one for you.
The pandemic transformed how, where, and when people shop. Consequently, retail Product Managers – who focus not only on digital transactions but also on in-person and direct mail purchases – have had to keep up with changing consumer demands.
If you are interested in the customer experience, the retail industry might be worth considering. I spoke with Chris Brandsey, CEO and Founder of Frame and Flight, to learn more about the space. He says that the retail industry offers “countless opportunities to build channels with a goal of generating incrementality. More and more, you will see these types of industries leaning into newer tech such as Web 3.0, AI, and robotics, with a goal of creating incredible experiences for their customers.”
“There are some incredible technologies that are used by companies whose revenue is generated in ways other than through technology products,” adds Brandsey. “In these tech-adjacent industries, technology investments are focused on enabling commercial functions like sales and marketing.”
Brandsey, who previously held Product Leadership roles at Kitchen United and Starbucks, says that his former colleagues have gone on to work for major tech companies like Meta, Amazon, and Apple.
3. Food Delivery
Similar to eCommerce and retail, the food delivery industry has rapidly evolved in response to the pandemic and is now in need of Product Managers. While some companies have slowed or paused hiring as more consumers return to in-person dining, many are still hiring. And food delivery can support a natural transition into the tech industry, as the companies not only rely on technology products and services but also offer robust apps.
Peripherally, there are also growing cannabis, beer, wine, and liquor delivery services that can serve as initial points of entry into tech. Each of these industries is struggling to keep up with ever-changing local, state, and federal laws and needs Product Leaders to support them in this endeavor.
Ridesharing is another industry that experienced rapid shifts throughout the pandemic yet is now making a steady comeback. Akin to food delivery, Product Management roles at these companies are diverse and rapidly evolving and can support a tech career transition.
While Lyft and Uber currently hold the largest market share in the United States, there are smaller companies that are also worth pursuing. Further, you might consider exploring electric car sharing, eScooter sharing, eBike sharing, and related industries that are gaining in popularity as more consumers become eco-conscious.
Like retail and eCommerce, many PMs working in food delivery and ridesharing will secure roles at large tech companies after gaining valuable Product experience at these tech-adjacent companies. Importantly, as a career coach specializing in high tech, I find industry-specific experience is often less essential than job seekers make it out to be. The important part is gaining hands-on Product Management experience.
Lastly, many healthcare organizations are continuing to pivot in response to Covid and the looming recession.
I interviewed Nihal Naidu, a portfolio and Program Management leader at Kaiser Permanente, as in his current role he regularly partners with PMs to introduce new digital products. He talked about how Kaiser is improving the end user (patient) experience by introducing new digital products such as video and eVisits, which leverage technology and AI.
Notably, Naidu spoke about how various stakeholders across Product, Program, and Project Management, as well as numerous business liaisons, play a role in developing, releasing, and enhancing these products. If you are interested in healthcare Product Development, he says, “There’s nothing stopping you. The sky’s the limit.”
Within each of these tech-adjacent industries, consider the fact that Product Management is multi-dimensional and rapidly changing. PM roles often extend well beyond managing a single product. Some companies, for instance, are hiring entire teams dedicated to growth marketing or user experience, while others take a more traditional approach.
How to Pivot into a Product Management Role
Now, how do you land a PM role in a tech-adjacent industry? To begin, Werner recommends targeting companies where you are already using their products or you align with their customer demographic, as this will allow you to provide insights from your own point of view.
As someone who has guided dozens of colleagues through their initial years as Product Managers, Werner found that those with a non-tech background often found the technical orientation to be the steepest learning curve. She argues that gaining experience in a tech-adjacent industry can make the process much easier, especially if you are passionate about the industry.
Next, Werner suggests collaborating with the engineers on your team, as this is an opportunity to strengthen your understanding of their tech stacks, as well as how they evaluate new tools on the market. She says you can even ask to shadow the discussions where technical decisions are being made. “You will learn about what makes a strong technology product and can target tech companies you believe in in your job search.”
Brandsey adds that regardless of industry, you will need to educate yourself on customer behavior, Agile prototyping, and delivering a phenomenal customer experience via new technology. “The key is ensuring you are working for a business that values experimentation, teaches you to have a Product sense, and gives you a breadth of knowledge across engineering, marketing, sales, and operations.” You can then translate this experience and your new skills into a role in the tech industry, if that’s your ultimate career goal.
Naidu recommends reflecting on your natural talents, strengths, capabilities, and interests. He argues that taking time for self-identification and determining what it is that you really enjoy about the work will help you find the right career path. You’ve got this!
Updated: April 5, 2023