The product manager job is a dream job. You get to use your right brain and your left brain. You get to interact with people on a daily basis. You get to lead teams and build products that people love.
The product manager job is a high-growth job. You get paid a lot. The national average salary for a product manager is over $110,000 per year. Product managers grow to become CEOs, founders, and other executives.
The product manager job is an important job. Every software team has a product manager. Designers and developers depend on product managers for direction. Unlike visual design and software development, Product management is not taught in colleges nor universities. You can get a degree in Graphic Design and become a designer or a Computer Science degree to become a developer, but you can’t get a degree to become a product Manager.
How to get into product management?
There are 3 main steps:
- Learn the skills (hint: programming is not one of them) you need to become a product manager
- Work on side projects and build a product portfolio
- Build a digital brand focused on product management and apply jobs
So how do you get product management skills? Here are 3 common ways:
- Specialized product management training
- MBA program
- Learn on the job
Path 1: Specialized Training
The 1st path is to take specialized training. This is the fastest path.
You can take online product managment courses, like my Complete Product Management Course, or if you’re in certain cities in the US, attend a high tech trade school like General Assembly or Product School. This can be a great option because it is a fraction of the cost of an MBA program and everything you learn is directly applicable to the product management job. You learn the tools. You grow with other product managers. You leave the course with a product portfolio that you can show off at interviews.
The 2nd path is to go through an MBA program. People typically gather 3-5 years of professional experience, go through an MBA program, and land a junior product management role. MBA programs are great at building your product vision and leadership skills.
MBA programs are not so great at building your product management execution skills. You don’t learn the tools nor processes (Agile, Scrum).
My friend, who graduated from Harvard Business School, never learned how to create beautiful wireframes nor write concise user stories. He didn’t feel prepared for the job even though he went to one of the best business schools in the world. In addition, the MBA program is expensive. They can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Learn on the Job
The 3rd path is where you somehow land a junior product management role and build the skills and experience learning on the job. This is the slowest path. This is how I got started in Product Management. I went down this path because there was no specialized training when I first started doing product work. I had the opportunity to be the product manager of the NASA iPhone app because I came up with the vision and was able to sell the vision to NASA’s Executive Team.
I jumped into the deep end of the pool and just figured things out.
The opportunity to get into a product role with no prior experience is extremely rare. These opportunities come up when you work for an early stage startup company, start your own company, or work for a company that has an Associate Product Management program.
To my readers who are product managers: what was your path? Please share your story in the comments section below.
I’d love to hear about your journey.