How to Break into Product Management with Carlos González, CEO

Our community has shown a lot of love our ‘Ask Me Anything‘ session on our Slack channel. (In case you missed it, we host weekly chats with product managers from Tech companies all over the world.)

We thought we’d have a little throwback to our very first AMA, hosted by none other than Carlos, Product School’s founder and CEO, who broke into product management from an engineering background. During the conversation he shared his insight on tactics when working in product management, valuable skills and how to get the job.

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Then questions from our community started rolling in. Here are some key takeaways:

Can you describe some key differences between working on SaaS product targeting SMB vs. Enterprise Clients?

Yes! The biggest difference is the amount of potential customers you are targeting. There are way more small and medium businesses than big enterprises.

The bigger the user base is, the more you will want to focus on standard features that can be applied to all your customers so you can scale the product faster even if other clients won’t choose you because they need specific custom made features.

The smaller the user base is, the more you will want to focus on special features requested by your highest paying customers even if other clients won’t need them.

In both cases, your challenge as a PM is to identify and prioritize the features than can generate the highest impact to the largest amount of clients at the lowest possible cost for your team.

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“I was wondering if you had any advice about breaking into PM roles at the entry-level, besides just applying online to positions- these positions seem hard to find!

I’ve had software engineering, design, & front-end internships, along with some exposure to product management (I was at a really early-stage startup so I had a very fluid role, which included working closely with the product manager).

Having engineering experience will definitely give you an edge when it comes to working with other engineers. However, that’s not going to be enough. If you want to become a full-stack PM, you will need to work on your design, marketing and communications skills so you can feel comfortable working with different stakeholders across the board.

Here’s some examples of different career paths to break into product management from engineering:

Engineer —> Senior Engineer —> Technical Project or Program Manager/Business Analyst/ Engineering Manager —> Product Manager
QA Engineer —> Technical Project or Program Manager/Business Analyst/ Engineering Manager —> Product Manager
Startup Founder <—> Product Manager

One of the most common mistakes in landing your first PM job is to set too high expectations. Instead, you have to asses your current expertise and map out realistic career paths inside or outside your current company. Your ideal PM job will likely not be your first PM job but ensure it is relevant to your career goal, and you are surrounded by senior managers you can keep learning from.

“What are main traits of a PM?

I have a background in technical marketing and have experience in working with pre-funded startups. Would love to graduate to a junior PM role in the next couple of years.

There are a lot of product management jobs that require a strong technical background, but not all of them. It will always be helpful if you can pick up some coding skills not to become a software engineer, but to understand how things works from behind the scene. An excellent software product manager needs to understand the basics of software, and be able to have a conversation with the engineering team at a quasi-technical level.

I would definitely focus on companies that can appreciate your domain expertise while have to pick up some can definitely break do that in different ways.

  • Management consultant / Investment banker —> Product Manager
  • Customer Support —> Business Analyst/Project Manager or Program Manager —> Product Manager
  • Marketing —> Product Marketing —> Product Manager
  • Design —> Product Design —> Product Manager
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“How do you leverage an MBA and my work experience as a Business analyst for 4 years to become a PM? What additional things are needed to break into the PM world from a BA world?

Ultimately, an MBA is a great way to show recruiters that you have business acumen. However without practical experience, it leaves the question of ‘what have you built/managed?’ open to interpretation.

Here are my thoughts:

  • An MBA can be very valuable for networking, you can make good contacts and have fun. But, an MBA is usually best for banking and consulting. An online certification might be a more efficient – and cost-effective – way to get a PM job and meet aspiring and existing Product Managers.
  • MBA’s are best for gaining overall business acumen. While some programs may touch upon product management, they normally do not go beyond theory. You will need to find a place to apply your education.

There are a few things that will help you break into the PM world:

“How easy is it to move to a PM role without much technical background but being in technical sales for over 5 years?

It’s never easy, and that’s why it makes it so great when you achieve your goal. That being said, take a look at my previous answer about how to transition into PM from a non-technical background. Good luck!

“What conversion from application to company making contact should be reasonable, when applying for PM positions as entry candidate with QA Lead experience?

I’ve just calculated 7%, which makes me frustrated, what do you think?

It really depends on many variables such as your background, companies that you are targeting, location, etc. Getting a job is a job itself, so treat yourself as if you were the product and build a conversion funnel based on the variables that I mentioned. There are multiple steps in that funnel like phone screen, in person meeting, homework assignment, second in person meeting, job offer, etc. This way you will be able to understand your conversion rate in each step of the funnel, and where you need to focus now in order to ultimately get a PM job.

I would treat this job search process  The same way the previous question was about how to break into PM from a technical background, I can guarantee that you can also do it from a non-technical background such as marketing. Actually, a lot of our students do so

In New York for example we also have a lot of management consultants, MBAs and finance people who want to break into tech, and PM is a strong option for them.

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Want to join the next conversation? We’ll be having another Product Chat soon,  get your invite to our Slack community to get all the details. See you inside.

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