Getting started in product management requires both technical skills and customer insight: You’ll need to understand the nuts and bolts of creating a product, as well as how to connect to users so you can best serve their needs.
But how, exactly, do you get that experience?
To learn more, we sat down with five product managers and got the scoop on their career paths. Some started in customer-facing roles, some started as web developers, and some took different paths entirely. But they all landed in their roles for the same reason: They love pulling all of the pieces—from design to development to marketing—together to create an amazing product.
Product Manager, HowAboutWe
A history and music major, Ruti moved to Israel after college and worked as a landscaper. Thinking she wanted to start her own business, she decided to go to business school in Tel Aviv, where she got involved in the city's tech startup scene.
The rest, as they say, is history. Over the next few years, Ruti worked for startups as a writer, an advertiser, and an account manager. "I entered product from the background of an account manager—really being the person who was most in touch with our end user," she explains. "I started working more and more with product in order to communicate feedback to bridge that gap between the end user and the product team, and I really enjoyed that."
Product Manager, Birchbox
David went from web development into electrical engineering before returning to web development and eventually making his way to product management.
Why the change? He was interested in business needs and user experience, which he wasn't able to do much of while in engineering. Still, that tech background is useful thing to have when you’re working with the tech team—which David still does every day.
Lead Product Manager, Livefyre
Natasha majored in urban studies with the intention of becoming a city planner, fueled by her passion for people and for building cities. Her interests expanded, however, when she realized she could also apply her skills to building virtual spaces and creating experiences on the web.
Out of college, she found herself with an opportunity to work at a startup. While there, she fell love with web and online technology—and that led her to a job at Livefyre. "I love being a product manager not only to work with super talented people, but to solve really tough problems," she says.
Rachel Aubrey Morris
Director of Product, Pose
Like many cinema and theater majors, Rachel moved to Los Angeles after college to work in the entertainment industry. But she soon realized that it wasn't quite the path for her, so she quit her job and started writing a blog.
In the process, she taught herself about web design, which she loved so much she decided to go into tech. She landed an entry-level gig at a company that blended entertainment and technology, which soon turned in to a product manager position. And along the way, an old contact introduced her to fashion startup Pose.
Product Manager, Kiva
"In college, I had no idea what I wanted to major in—I was one of those kids who took classes in everything," Jackie explains. She eventually realized that her coursework in mechanical engineering, computer science, and philosophy was a great match for a major called Science, Technology, and Society (which exists in some form at many schools). "It's bascially like training you to be a Product Manager," she shares. "To be just technical enough to understand deeply technical people, and... to look at things through a historical perspective, an ethical perspective, a design point of view."
Jackie landed her first job as a Product Manager at Location Labs and, while she was there, discovered microfinance organization Kiva.