How did I get into product management? Take a seat, dear readers...
10 years ago I had just returned to the States from many years abroad.
I graduated from college at the ripe age of 20, and thus I decided to be an aspiring-worldwide-legend-and-vagabond-extraordinaire rather than to leap straight into a career right after graduating from college. While abroad, I made ends meet teaching English and taking other odd jobs I found by checking out job boards in cafes, and talking to people. (This was before the days of more sophisticated online job boards available today.) I taught at summer programs in England, worked at an English school in a small seaside town in Greece, and landed a job as a communications trainer at a pharma giant in Japan. I trotted to various countries in between; I was living my best life. I had a lot of fun. A lot of fun.
I do not come from a wealthy family; to the contrary I grew up in a very (very) blue-collar household. 'Tech' wasn't something I ever saw as a career option for me, let alone was encouraged as a viable option for me. I meet so many people in tech who tell me one of their parents was a programmer; this was definitely not the case for me. No one in my small Ohio farm town worked in tech.
It was only when doing my Masters degree in Argentina with a Rotary scholarship (after long jaunts in Spain, Czech Republic, Greece, England, and Japan) that I met another Rotary scholar who was a software engineer. He had in-demand skills and could easily earn side money working remotely because of his programming skills, even in 2006 when we met. He (unknowingly) opened my eyes to the possibility of working in tech. We created a non-profit together; we built computer labs in schools in very remote corners of Patagonia. (I know, this is a little nuts. It's another story for another day.) This was my first (very unconventional) foray into a tech career.
I took a few beginning programming classes, but I knew my strengths were strategy, connecting people, and project execution. Through working with my engineering friend on our non-profit, I learned what he brought to the table as an engineer, and how I complimented those strengths. Together, we were an unstoppable team.
The following years brought a leap into owning my own business, and I learned a little SEO and web dev in the process. That led to building an ecommerce business at a Chicago-area non-profit, and moving to Denver to work in project management and business analyst roles, before becoming a proper product manager building a TV app at Charter.
I love being a product manager, and when my friends complain about loathing their jobs, I feel so fortunate to have fallen into a line of work that I truly enjoy.
So what is so great about product management? Why do I love it so much?
Here are 5 things I love about being a product manager.
1 - I love to create.
Some people build houses, roads, or cars, but as a product manager I get to build digital products. This is still a form of creating, and it is still magic to me that with a few lines (ok, a few thousand lines) of code, we can bring new experiences to life.
2 - There is always a new challenge and no day is the same.
Scrum ceremonies may be consistent, but the challenges you face as a product manager change daily - or even hourly. For someone who bores easily (which I don’t see as a negative personal trait), I like going into work every morning, not necessarily knowing what to expect. I could be dealing with a complete outage (panic!) or a huge bump in usage - every day is a surprise!
3 - I love learning new things.
Wow, that sounds super cliché, doesn't it?
To be fair, some people do not like learning new things. They want to learn a skill and stick with it until they retire. I am excited to take new classes, learn new technologies, or have a data scientist explain new terms and concepts to me. As a product manager, I know I will always be learning.
4 - I love the excitement of product launch.
There is nothing more satisfying than working your ass of with your team for months to build a product you believe in, and then watch customers use it for the first time. Yes, there are always issues and problems, but the excitement of product launch is unlike any other experience. Everyone is working together to make the product successful, and I love the team camaraderie.
5 - I love working with engineers without having to be an engineer.
Engineering isn't my calling, and while I dabble with code, I'll never be a professional developer. However I love working with engineers, and my skill set is complimentary to that of an engineer. I always learn from my engineering teams, and I really like working with people that have different strengths than me.