I am a Software Developer and want to move to Product Management role
Congratulations. If you are reading this blog, then it means that you are serious about your career progression. Reading this blog is your step 0 and hopefully it will help you find the next 4 steps to plan your career progression.
Too long to read, you can watch this video instead. After doing so, scroll to the end of the blog.
Here are 4 levels or steps that you can consider taking to move from software engineering to product management. These have worked for few software engineers, and I hope these help you as well.
Step 1 — Stop looking at products as a consumer, but instead look at them as a product manager
Select a product that you use often. Start looking at the product as a product manager instead of a consumer. E.g., when you click on the search bar in Amazon.com, take a deep breath and question yourself, how did the product managers envision these features?
- Why did they put the All with a drop down to the left of the search bar? Would you do it?
- Wonder how many people will click on the All drop down?
- When you type and search for text, how does the autofill drop down appear?
- How is the autofill so fast and performant?
- What must be the back end for this autofill?
- How did Amazon figure out that suggestions for the text “product managers” should include interview, gift, books, mug, etc.
- How many items appeared in the drop down. Why only 10? Why not 5 or 14.
- How & why are categories such as Books and Kindle store appearing?
- Why is there a magnifying lens for search? Why not a microscope?
- What happens when you press the right arrow, down arrow, up arrow on the keyboard when you are on the search bar?
- What happen when you go to the last suggestion and press the down arrow?
- What happens when you press tab?
- What happens when you press Esc?
- After you press Esc and start typing, does the autofill drop down appear?
- What happens when you change your display settings to dark theme. How does the search bar appear?
- If I am visually impaired, how would I use this search bar?
- If I do not have fingers, how would I use this search bar?
- What if I don’t know English? How can I search?
- What if I don’t exactly know what to search for? E.g. the circular light that I saw in my neighbor’s house. How do I search for such items on Amazon?
Level 200 — Start critiquing / improving the products
Now that you are looking at these products with a magnifying lens or under a microscope, start asking yourself the quintessential question. How will you improve this feature of the product?
How do you improve Amazon search bar? Would love to hear your thoughts?
Or else, unlock your phone and see the application that you use the most, e.g., WhatsApp, Outlook, Messaging, Phone Calling. Write down all the problems that you are facing with that product. And try to articulate possible creative solutions for these problems.
If you are unable to find any problems with an existing application, then maybe it satisfies the requirements for your persona. In that case, change the persona. Think, how will you build WhatsApp for front line workers? How will you build Teams for small scale entrepreneurs? How will you modify edge for the education industry? How will you optimize messenger so that you don’t lose important messages amongst forwards and OTPs?
This exercise will help you think creatively and improve your intellectual horse power.
Level 300 — Find a mentor
Connect with other product managers in your organization or elsewhere. LinkedIn is a great source to find good PMs. Try to follow some of them. Try to read what they are writing about. Try to understand what are the skills required? What are the capabilities that you need as a product manager?
If you are in a product firm, try to find a product manager who is willing to mentor you. A good mentor is one who is invested in making you successful therefore spend some time finding a good mentor.
What do you do once you find a mentor? Work with your mentor on a plan that can help you to hone your skills of product management. Maybe you can assist the product manager for customer researches. Maybe you can be a fly on the wall for customer conversations. Maybe you can help with a small product spec. Try to understand the whole 9 yards of what the life of a product manager is.
Level 400 — Build something
So far most of your knowledge is theoretical. You cannot learn how to ride a cycle by reading about it. You have to put your own foot on the pedal, therefore build a product.
If you are already employed and are from a product firm then simply reach out to PMs and work with them. If you are not from a product firm, then try to find a startup that needs product managers. Reach out to the leadership of those startups and see whether they would like to recruit you as a product manager (for free/ stipend). Work with them over the weekend as a moonlighting project. I had an acquaintance who worked free for a startup as a product manager for few months and learnt the traits of the job. She was hired as a product manager in one of the top product companies for her sheer passion to learn this space.
I hope these tips help you to learn the traits of product management and enjoy the exhilarating life of building your own products.
Congrats, if you are reached the end of the blog. Stats show that only 1% of the readers will ever read the end of the blog. If you are reading this, then you are an outlier and outliers make it big in life. This deserves a clap for you and this blog :)
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