Product Management: A Breakdown Of The Most Important Career In Tech

Product managers are some of the coolest people around. They have their own parking spots, their instagram selfies rarely dip under 140 likes, and they frequently spend Saturday afternoons cruising around town in Chevrolet pickups blasting G-Eazy. This article attempts to dissect the life of a product manager, in the hope that we might learn the secret to their swagger, and so that one day we too might get to sit at the cool table.

So what do they do?

These skilled professionals are the masterminds behind taking an idea from executive level, refining it into something tangible, and guiding it through its development life cycle. The success of a product relies on a whole bunch of different specialities – software engineers, UX designers, marketer – and it’s the job of the product manager to bring them all together into one seamless union. They spend a lot of time strategizing things, and can often be found alone in front of expansive whiteboards studying labyrinthian mindmaps.

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What skills does a PM need?

In order to bring so many vastly different aspects of production together in one neat little package, they must be well-versed across several disciplines.

It is often said that Project Managers have the brain of an engineer, the speech of a diplomat, the imagination of a designer, the swiftness of a bald eagle, the strength of a raging typhoon, and the heart of a lion.

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It’s important to note that while PMs have a foot in each of these fields, they must be able to resist the urge to get too bogged down in one specific area. Their job is to break down and isolate the problems; it’s the engineers’ jobs to solve them. They don’t ask “how,” but rather “why.” This mentality of focusing on the bigger picture is what often leads to Product Managers rising to senior executive levels.

How’s Business?

Booming. According to the widely-recognized “Product Blog”, job opportunities for product managers rose by 53 percent year on year to June 2015.  This is certainly impressive, but hardly a surprise given the increasing reliance businesses across all industries are having on technology. Furthermore, the relatively recent spawning of the job means that companies are struggling to find adequately qualified candidates for the role.

“Our data shows that Product Managers are in the top ten roles which are hard to fill across Information Technology. It’s a relatively new career path so businesses are struggling to fill the roles with Managers that have the right technical background, but also the experience behind them.”

What kind of salary am I looking at?

$111,650

However, this does depend on which area you’re working in. The average product manager in San Francisco, for example, makes $114,762. It’s also worth noting that this figure is 11% higher than the average software developer.

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What majors are ideal for people looking to break into the field?

While the majority of people looking to break into product management study business, lifetime PM Dan Schmidt suggests mixing courses in computer science with whatever humanities you are passionate about.

Ideally, you want to be taking courses that foster the right mentalities you’ll need to become a product manager. You can always pick up the business skills along the way.

“If your school offers it, a multidisciplinary major like cognitive science might be perfect since it bridges computer science, neuroscience, linguistics, psychology, and philosophy. It would force you to reconcile radically different ways of conceptualizing the human mind.”

What does the typical PM career path look like?

Typically you’ll start off as a Junior Product Manager, Product Analyst, or Associate Product Manager. This allows you to strap on your water wings and splash around in the shallows a bit. Rather than working on the entire project, you’ll be focusing on particular features within it.

Once you’ve proven that you are capable of sound strategy and execution, you’ll move up into the ranks of Product Manager. Here you really dive in head first, and become responsible for the delivery of the entire product.

If all goes well, you’ll eventually be promoted to the captain of an entire ship. As a Senior PM, you take charge of an entire product team, and work on one really big project, or a couple of smaller ones simultaneously. What’s new at this level is to make sure that parallel projects are consistent and standardized.

Jason Toff is a great example of how Product Managers can move up through the ranks. Formerly a PM at both Google and Youtube, he is now the GM of Vine. Past projects he’s worked on include the Google initiative “Teach Parents Tech,” a sleek self-learning product has made the lives of technologically-disadvantaged family members infinitely easier. The youth has also benefited immensely from this, as they now have free time which ordinarily would have been used explaining what a Hashtag is.

The bottom line

Product Management is basically a selective breeding program for hugely successful people. Jason Toff was a product manager. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, started out as a Product Manager. Aaron Fuchs, CEO and founder of iXperience… Was a Product Manager. It’s a great way to climb the corporate ladder but, above all, it’s an opportunity to shape the products that will define tomorrow.

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