Recently, I’ve had a lot of wonderful conversations with new grads and young professionals that I’ve met through the tech/media communities that I’m a part of. A common theme I’ve observed is hesitations on whether to continue on their chosen career paths. I can certainly relate to that. I graduated with an English degree because I thought I wanted to be a teacher or a journalist. After college, and a few months of working as an editorial assistant, I knew that life wasn’t for me. If you’re in that liminal space between doubling down on your career and pivoting to something new, I would recommend looking into Product Management.
What is Product Management? Wikipedia’s definition: Product management is an organizational function within a company dealing with new product development, business justification, planning, verification, forecasting, pricing, product launch, and marketing of a product or products at all stages of the product lifecycle. But if you ask a PM this question, you’ll get a variety of responses because the PM role looks so different across organizations. That’s why the PM role could be a great opportunity for a career pivot. Some companies might need a PM with business strategy know-how (forecasting, revenue models, budgeting) while another business might have a need for expertise in a specific field (education, finance, media, biotech, etc). Either way, your soft skills are definitely transferrable, and your niche experience is valuable and needed. Now, you just need to figure out if you WANT the job.
Googling “product management” will only get you a barrage of paid services, courses, and certifications. I don’t want to diminish these options, because many of these are viable ways to introduce yourself to the PM discipline and learn the basics, but these programs can be expensive, anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. If you have an employer that’s sponsoring your learning, then by all means, splurge away! But I’m sure the majority of people reading this right now would probably need to pay those fees out of pocket. Before you do, I’ve collected a number of free resources that can give you a basic understanding of the role, as a starting point. This is enough information for you to make a decision on whether you want to continue to pursue Product Management.
Free courses via the library
It’s 2021 and people still don’t know about all the FREE resources that come with their library card. This includes free subscriptions to e-media, digital content, and learning courses. For example, a library card from the Los Angeles Public Library will get you free access to certificate courses from LinkedIn Learning that can help you quickly level-up your skills.
In particular, there’s a great Learning Path on LinkedIn Learning called “Become a Product Manager” which includes multiple courses that cover the basics of the PM role to help you feel prepared and ready to interview for the position. There’s also certificate courses to help you learn specific software like Jira and Confluence which are vital tools for PMs and important to understand before you start applying for PM positions.
Here’s a great Twitter thread with more awesome library perks:
The PM YouTube community
The Product Management community is alive and well on YouTube! You can get real specific with your search on YouTube and you’re guaranteed to find an answer to your question. The “Day in the Life of a PM” videos will help you take all the theory you get from the courses and translate that to the reality of the day-to-day. It will also help you see how different the role can be company to company. Some places might need a strategic PM while other places might need a PM that’s focused on operations. These videos are helpful for getting into the minutiae and hearing about things like work culture and work/life balance.
Types of PMs
Another area that’s ripe for research is the different types of Product Managers, as well as the differences between Product/Project/Program Management. Content like this will help you understand the differences to help you make a decision on which role will be a better fit for you.
The difference between design and product management: https://medium.com/axial-product-and-design/the-difference-between-design-and-product-management-9b8a1ec80b5
Different types of product managers: https://productschool.com/blog/product-management-2/types-product-management-roles/
Product managers for the digital world: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/technology-media-and-telecommunications/our-insights/product-managers-for-the-digital-world
Hard Skills for Product Managers: https://thesnippet.substack.com/p/hard-skills-for-product-managers
Join tech/product communities
This might be the most important one of the whole list. It’s imperative to join tech and product communities because these spaces give you an opportunity to interact with people that are already doing what you want to be doing. You can get advice, help, guidance, and get exposure to opportunities that might not be available elsewhere. And since these are private spaces, oftentimes you can get into real talk to ask questions about uncomfortable topics like compensation, racism, or sexism. Here are some of my favorites:
Latinas in Tech: https://latinasintech.org/
Women in Product: https://www.womenpm.org/
Research Associate Product Manager programs
Lastly, if all of this is sounding awesome and you’re wondering what might be a good next step, you may consider researching Associate Product Manager roles. You don’t have to be an APM to be a PM, but for many this is a comfortable stepping stone if they’re pivoting from a completely different field. I’d recommend taking a look at the APM List, an up-to-date directory of active APM programs for the 2021-2022 season: https://apmlist.com/
I hope this is a helpful starting point for your research and PM journey. Don’t hesitate to reach out or comment if you have questions. Best of luck, namaste!