What Product School is really like, according to an alumn

Justin Fowler is a Product Manager for AC Global Risk. Rather than getting his job because of his Product School certification, he worked in Product Management for years and came to us to build up his skillset.

We got to chat to him about his experience and to answer the question “what’s it like to be a Product School student?”

Justin Fowler alumni

What got you started on your Product career? Is tech something you were always interested in? 

I started my career working for a large insurance company.  Out of necessity, I built my own solutions using excel and PHP.  I wasn’t interested in tech for tech’s sake, but rather on solving business problems quickly and efficiently.

For example, we can build an enterprise SaaS application to perform a certain business function – which will cost millions of dollars – or, I could create a simple app in excel that performs largely the same function in a few weeks.  The simplicity of solving real world problems using the right amount of tech is what has always fascinated me, long before I knew there was a job title called “Product Manager”.

Can you describe your current role?

Currently, I work as a Product Manager for AC Global Risk.  We have a voice technology that works over the phone and can alert users to the presence or absence of risk in answers to direct questions.  The technology is amazing and it works in very severe military and government environments.  My challenge as part of the product team is to bring this technology to business and consumers.  We built and shipped our first enterprise SaaS for the company and are working on a consumer as well as mobile product this year.

Microphone voice technology

In the past you worked in Sales Marketing and as a Business Analyst. What skills from these roles have helped your Product career? 

Dealing with disparate groups of people with competing needs and finite resources is squarely the intersection of business and technology that Product Managers find themselves in regularly.  Bringing people together and making difficult tradeoffs is one of the core functions that salespeople deal with daily. Understanding how to motivate people, how to test your messaging, refine your position statements, etc. are all experiences that I’ve brought with me from prior roles and recast into product.

What do you think are the major challenges facing Product Managers in 2020? 

This year started off with a bang and will end with a fizzle.  I think this job is a lot of fun when you are in growth mode, when VC money is flowing or revenue is up and to the right.  Just like other parts of the organization, the COVID pandemic has taken a huge bite out of the available resources to build new product.

Companies are now switching gears and revenue will be more important than ever.  Products that consume a lot of resources or have a long ramp-up to reach profitability will be shut down, postponed, or otherwise interrupted.  Its like doing the clean-up after a large party, not most glamorous but necessary.

What inspired you to pursue a certification in Product Management? 

I did things backwards.  I actually got the job as PM and then went looking for a place to learn the discipline.  My boss said “I wish there was a school I could send you to that could teach you product…” A few google searches later, I discovered Product School which was literally a block away from our office.  I immediately started attending your seminars and lectures and knew right away that I wanted to be part of this amazing community that you have built.

What was your experience like with your instructor? 

My instructor, Alex Shih, was extremely helpful and available.  As a PM for a large hospitality company, I know he is supremely busy, but he always made time for students outside of class.  He gave us real world examples from his working experience from most of the top tech companies.  The fact that he is currently in the position, doing this work daily, made the class much more like a group learning exercise than a traditional classroom environment.  The instructors are top notch product professionals and everyone affiliated with Product School that I’ve encountered have been exemplary.

Product School employees at an event

How did your experience with traditional education compare to your Product School experience? 

Between undergrad and business school, the teaching style was very much conventional.  We had lectures, quizzes, books, finals, etc., all of which emphasized theory vs. practice.  Most traditional educational experiences emphasize the individual learning component and if you are lucky, will include a few group exercises.  Learning in isolation may be a good idea for say, accounting or finance, but in a discipline like product, it’s exactly the wrong method to use.

Our jobs are infinitely collaborative.  PMs don’t really get to do anything in isolation.  Being part of a high-functioning team is crucial to building quality product.  Product School training and delivery put peer collaboration up front and all the theory behind where it belongs.

What achievements are you most proud of? 

I met an entrepreneur who built an app for the non-profit space, right before I started my program at Product School.  This gentlemen had a helpful idea, but was having difficulty raising money and rebuilding his app to make it profitable.  I asked him what he needed money for?  He needed funds to build a wireframe, an MVP, and eventually a redesign of the application that his business relied on.

As luck would have it, I used this as my class project which helped him get what he needed as well as provided me a real-world exercise to apply the lessons learned in the group.  The fact that I could use my experience and skills immediately to help a business prosper, even if it wasn’t my own, was immensely rewarding.  

Where do you hope your career will take you in the future? 

I want to work in all aspects of product.  Presently, we’re primarily focused on B2B space, but I would like to do something in the consumer marketplace.  I look forward to adding more tactical skills like data analysis, coding, and AI/ML libraries.

I would like to be functionally literate in technologies that hold tremendous promise for the future of work.  I also think voice is one of the last frontiers that has yet to be mastered. Hopefully, I will be able to contribute to the next generation of voice products now being developed.

If you had to sum up Product Management in 3 words, what would they be?

Cannon fire gif

Fire, Aim, Ready.

Future of Product Management banner

Enjoyed the article? You may like this too: