Question: How can I transition from software engineering to product management?
As a software engineer by trade, I am dying for get my hands on an entry-level product management position because I know that this is what I want and that I will be good at it.
However, product management positions typically all require experience. This is also not some kind of experience you can get by cutting your teeth at some non-profit as a volunteer. I suppose no for-profit will ever give some random guy a chance at managing their product even if the guy was working for free.
How does someone with my background break into product management? I just need an opportunity to prove myself. I am hungry and eager. My current employer has ruled my candidacy out, as they prefer people with 20+ years of experience.
Any advice on crossing that first bridge? I would swim the channel if I have to…
Answer from Derek Morrison of All About Product Management: I think that the best course of action is to analyse your skill set against the skills required for a typical product management position – try using a job description either one from your own company or pick one up from the web. Be your own worst critic. You could use a SWOT analyses coupled with ranking yourself High, Mediums and Low for each bullet point the job description. This will give you a clearer picture of the gap that exists between your skill set as a software engineer and that of a product manager. Next, I would recommend that you, come up with an action plan – your own road map on how you plan to turn your weakness into strengths and minimise your threats and take full advantage of any possible opportunities that may come you way.
- You may be weak or lack experience in interacting with customers — if this is the case, look out for opportunities to attend meetings with project or product managers to discuss the clients requirements. When you feel confident and have gained the trust and respect of the project or product manager, ask if you could lead out on a particular agenda item.
- Look for opportunities to step in for the product manger — for example, when they are on holiday or away sick. Your company may re assign the product managers work load to another PM – be sure to step up and offer your help and assistants.
- You may find it hard to explain technical concepts to business people (if so rank yourself as low) — practice explaining various technical teams to a business person (as opposed to your technical colleagues). Write out a script and remember that you talking to someone who will not be acquainted with or be fluent in the deep technical terminologies. Business people love individuals who can (a) quickly assess what level they are at and then (b) explain technology in a non-threatening and humble way and (c) be able to use (suggest) technologies that will solve business problems.
- Hang out with the product management team — be the guy who is able and willing to give advice and help them out.
Assess your progress periodically and then make your move to becoming a product manager. Broadly speaking there are “Two possible routes to landing your 1st Product Management job” — read How to get into Product Management.
Many have made the transition in the past, many will make it in the future, and there’s no reason why you can’t be one who make a successful transition. Read How others have moved into Product Management to see how others have done it.