Thriving at Product School with former Topology Eyewear Product Manager

Editor’s note: this content was updated in 2021 as part of our 7th Anniversary celebrations. That’s right, 7 whole years of Product School! Come and celebrate with us…

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After gaining her certification at Product School, Natasha Rogen went on to become a Product Manager at Topology Eyewear. Now studying for her Disaster Risk Management master, she shared her experience as a student with us and talked about how it prepared her for her flourishing career.

Natasha Rogen

“I started my career as the only member of the Customer Experience team for a small startup. They were a team of 14 when I joined, crafting custom eyewear with the fit parameters derived from machine learning models and the iPhone’s depth sensor. All orders are placed through the app and made in our office in the Mission. My favorite part of that was being able to help package the final pairs of glasses — it was fantastic to see the final product customers will get to love for years to come.

I developed my desire to help the customer and create a truly amazing product after speaking to all of the customers who put their faith in our process. Product School helped me realize how valuable a skill that really is. Through the exercises in class, I was able to start refining my experiences into concrete ideas that could improve our product.”

Topology Eyewear

Career Impact

She also touched on the job selection process, a serious consideration for anyone thinking about investing in a certification.

“I was able to move into a PM position at my company from the Customer Experience position, which was a strong motivating factor in taking the course. Though I was always interested in doing product work, watching the team grow made it clear how necessary it was to have a product person — we didn’t have one before I transitioned into the role.”

This is not an uncommon phenomenon, to have the importance of Product Management roles be so critically misunderstood and underused, even by companies whose focus is to build products! Thankfully, the culture is shifting towards realising the need for knowledgeable product people.

The Product School Experience

One of the things we pride ourselves on the most is the quality of our instructors, a quality which was absolutely reflected in Natasha’s experience.

“My instructor was incredible, she has offered to be my mentor and she has always been available to answer all my questions. She has over 20 years of experience in product roles, spanning all types of companies and teams. The stories she’s shared about prepared me to start working closer with my team.”

But that’s not the only trick we have up our sleeve. The diversity and size of our community, the passion of worldwide community organizers, and the enthusiasm our students bring to their classes are all boons. So what does this mean for the classes themselves?

“I was surprised by how engaging and fun the class was. My peers came from a variety of industries and backgrounds, and we were all excited to come to class each week. I credit our instructor, Maureen, for creating a positive and welcoming class environment. I really enjoyed getting to know my classmates and am happy to cheer them on!”

Students in class

Specialised Course vs Formal Education?

There are a lot of online qualifications out there, plenty of them coming from specialised schools who claim to offer everything you need for a completely new career. Not only does this mean you have to do some serious research to ascertain quality (don’t worry, we have solid references!) but it also means that some students still prefer to choose formal education from a Brick-and-Mortar University.

In terms of Product Management, are such institutions equipped to educate the new generation of Product professionals?

“I think traditional universities lay a great foundation for entering the tech sector. I attended the University of San Francisco where I was able to take classes with inspiring teachers and have a great introduction to San Francisco. However, they are unfit to specialize in each role the tech sector demands, and that’s where programs like the Product School are so helpful.”

Perhaps things will change in the future as formal institutions start to recognize the need for specialist tech training.

“I think traditional universities programs are adapting to tech, though my experience was in the middle of San Francisco so I have a very different perspective than others. Current university programs don’t ignore it, they just aren’t focused on it especially at the undergraduate level.”

How to Thrive as a Student

  1. Have a clear timeline and understand what’s expected of you. This will help you to organise your time and prioritise tasks. When you know exactly what you need to do and when it needs to be done by, it’ll give you total control of your studies.
  2. Immerse yourself in the online community. Not only is this beneficial for your learning, but it’s a great way to start networking and will help to keep you motivated. Try our Slack community for starters.
  3. Build a study space. If you have a desk at home, try to set it up as your dedicated study area, or find a place to keep all of the materials you need together. That way when class is about to start, you won’t be running around trying to find that notebook!

And Natasha’s advice for being a Grade A student?

Do the readings and talk to your instructor any time you need clarification. Get a head start on what you want to do for your final project and just have fun! It turns out that’s also the attitude you need to succeed as a product manager!

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