Question: How do I get experience in product management?
I am about to graduate college with a degree in Managerial Economics and am very interested in product management. However, I do not have technical experience. Would you have advice on the best way to gain experience? Many of the product management positions require prior experience.
Answer from Saeed Khan of On Product Management: Ah yes, the perennial question…How do I become a Product Manager? You didn’t indicate which industry you want to work in? In non-technology industries such as Consumer Packaged Goods or Finance, being a Product Manager is primarily a marketing and business function. Typically those kinds of companies (e.g. Proctor & Gamble) look to hire MBAs for such roles. If you want to work in one of those industries, go for your MBA or find another position (e.g. pricing or business analyst) that can move you in the direction of a Product Manager.
Now, if you want to be a Product Manager in a technology company, then it’s a bit different. While I have seen MBAs and business grads as PMs in software companies, that is typically not the norm. There is no well defined path to becoming a PM in a technology company. Technology PMs need domain knowledge, need a good technical background, and need to be able to drive a product through from conception to completion and into the market. It is a multi-disciplinary role, and one that can be both quite frustrating and very rewarding at the same time.
Many PMs I’ve met became PMs in their companies after working for at least a year or two as a Sales Engineer, or as Support Lead, or in Product Marketing, or some other role where they could pick up product, customer, market and technical knowledge.
My own transition to product management came after having spent quite a few years in various roles in software companies including programmer, consultant, trainer and customer support manager. The first company in which I became a product manager was in a market that was very similar to my previous company, and thus I had domain knowledge. Even then, it was a big learning experience to transition into Product Management.
So, the best way to become a Product Manager? Be a Product Manager.