Career change – how do I break into product management?

My journey into product

In 2019, I was fed up.

I’d been in marketing for about seven years and was not enjoying it anymore.

I’d learnt some great transferable skills but I just didn’t feel inspired by writing copy, creating adverts, monitoring engagement etc.

Instead, I wanted to be a part of a team that was building cool stuff and solving problems.

Without realising it, I’d always been trying to do product management by way of changing the website to better hit business goals (usually lead generation) and user needs (information, events, content).

Around this time I first heard about product management and it sounded like the exact thing I was looking for. I was fortunate enough to land my first role in product in 2020 and, four years’ later, feel settled in the profession. It’s been a good for me – I’m fortunate enough to say I enjoy going to work each day.

When I was trying to transition from marketing to product lots of people, in what I now know to be a deeply collaborative and helpful product community, were generous with their time; giving me a tonne of useful advice, guidance and encouragement.

Trying to give back

I’m now in a position in which people, looking to embark on a similar career journey that I went on, message me on LinkedIn looking for advice. Remembering how helpful people were to me when I was, I always make a point of trying to give back.

My recommendations for getting into product

So, what advice do I give to those people?

Get Connected

As mentioned earlier, the product community is awesome.

Since joining it, I really feel like I’ve found my tribe.

They tend to be people that enjoy their craft, are eager to learn new things, have no qualms sharing expertise and help and like to lift each other up.

Tap into that. Mind the Product run monthly ProductTank meet ups in pretty much every major city. Tap into that. Go an listen to what I can almost guarantee will be amazing talks but more importantly, meet some people and be open about your plans. I’m sure, along the way, someone will let you know about a job or introduce you to someone hiring.

Likewise, don’t be scared to add people on LinkedIn and ask for advice. It might seem scary but in my experience most people are glad to help as they remember others taking the time to help them in the past.

Look for associate roles

An associate product manager is like a trainee / apprentice product manager. Companies looking for people with good skills but no product experience will often hire an associate with a view to pairing them with senior product people so they can learn their craft. This was my route in and I couldn’t recommend it enough.

Consider an internal transfer

If the associate route doesn’t work for you, or you can’t find one, can you find a company that has a product function that you could, once you worked there, transition into? It’s a bit of a long game but I’ve heard of lots of people that retrain within their existing company into the product position.

Learn, learn learn

There are awesome resources available for aspiring product managers.

Mind the Product’s website is full of tonnes of free resources.

There are brilliant online courses where you learn the basics and get accredited.

There are great newsletters such as Product Breaks.

There are awesome podcasts out there. My personal faves include Lenny’s PodcastThe Product ExperienceProduct Thinking with Melissa Perri.

Some of the books I found most helpful for understanding the role of product management include Marty Cagan’s Inspired, Teresa Torres’ Continuous Discovery Habits, Matt LeMay’s Product Management in Practice, and Eric Reis’ The Lean Start Up.

I try to keep learning by co-hosting the Product Confidential Podcast with Evie Brockwell. We’ve recorded some episodes that I think give great advice to people at the start of their product journey which I’ll call out below

Adil Hussain on the associate product manager role

Susana Lopes on advice for people in their first product role

Don’t be intimidated

Doing recommendations 1-4 will give you a good grounding in the fundamentals in product and go along way to demonstrate your passion and determination for your planed career change.

Following these steps won’t make you an expert. And that’s okay. That will come with time in the role, good management or coaching, and putting theory into practice, but that’s not the problem you’re trying to solve right now.

When learning, try not to make the mistake I made of thinking that product is some kind of scary science that you will never be able to master. To be honest, a lot of it comes down to common sense, pragmatism and being nice to people.

If you are looking for a role in product, I hope this post has been helpful.

Good luck, and do feel free to reach out to say hi. I’d be glad to hear from you.

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Transitioning From Large Organisations to a Scale-up: Insights from Product Leader, Adam Warburton

Evie and I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Adam Warburton, a seasoned figure in the product world. Currently serving as the chief product officer at Vypr, Adam’s wealth of experience spans larger corporations, like Co-op, down to being a product trainer and organiser at ProductTank Manchester. Adam shared his perspective on transitioning from large organisations to a scale-up and the differences in product culture, providing valuable insights that can shape the trajectory of numerous professionals’ careers.

## Bridging the Gap

Adam’s fascinating transition from a large organisation to a scale-up, lent to intriguing insights about the dynamics of both scenarios. While many may romanticise the idea of working in a startup due to its dynamic nature, Adam clarifies that there are inherent challenges to consider. He explained that different roles come with their own unique set of challenges, and one must choose where they fit best.

In larger companies, the challenges lie in complex stakeholder management and the need to explain and uphold certain procedures and frameworks. The dynamics of startups, however, require a completely different skill set, emphasising concerns such as financial reality and the need for a high-performing, compact, and adaptable team.

## The Power of Flexibility and A Bias for Action in a Scale-up

Adam noted that his journey in a scale-up required a new approach, shedding formalities and relying more on quick, agile decisions. With the fast-paced nature of startups, frameworks that are deemed necessary in large organisations tend to be less rigidly implemented. Instead, companies place more value on achieving alignment on what is crucial and necessary for growth and success, which expedites work-efficiency. 

The need for swift, impactful actions necessitates a shift away from traditional work patterns. In smaller organisations, the complexity lies in delivering powerful products with limited resources, which requires flexibility to address and adapt to constantly changing situations. 

Notably, having a bias for action and being impact-obsessed sets the groundwork for a winning team. This does not imply excessive working hours but rather ensuring tasks are done productively – a recipe for work-life balance in a startup.

## The Influence of Leadership in a startup 

Nonetheless, Adam’s experience does not idealise working in a scale-up without acknowledging its potential drawbacks. The fast-paced environment can be intimidating for those who are more accustomed to methodical and slow-paced work patterns. Adam advises potential candidates to observe the behavior and ethics of the leadership of the startup they’re considering, as these are significant indicators of the work culture.

In summary, whether one thrives in a large organisation or in a scale-up ultimately boils down to adaptability, resilience, and the willingness to unlearn and relearn. One of the key takeaways from our conversation with Adam is that the measure of success isn’t necessarily based on conforming to a specific framework or practice but on the individual’s ability to understand, integrate and balance the demands of both efficiency and adaptability.

Listen to the show, here
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The truth about product management in big tech – insights from an ex-Googler

In our globalised world, we perceive Big Tech companies like Google, Meta, Amazon, and others as the ideal places to work.

Their aura of innovation, high technology, and competitive compensation attract professionals from all walks of life, especially those looking to establish or accelerate a career in product management. However, as promising as they seem, working at these tech giants isn’t always a walk in the park. 

In the latest episode of Product Confidential, Evie and I were joined by a special guest, Alex Rechevskiy, a former Google Group PM, and now coach to hundreds of PMs that want to get into Big Tech.

Alex, a product management veteran, lifts the veil on what it’s actually like to work at Big Tech companies. If you want to watch or listen to the episode, scroll to the bottom of this page or if you’d prefer read this breakdown of their tips for effective and sustainable career growth within big tech product management.

Behind the High-Tech Curtain

Many, if not all, aspiring product managers dream of landing a role at Google, Meta, or any top-tier tech company. These organisations are heralded as the penultimate goal, the embodiment of success in the field. But, like any organization, they have their ups and downs. Being aware of both can help in making an informed decision. 

At these companies, the potential for vast impact exists due to their global reach and resources. Also, working in such organisations opens the door to better compensation and career prospects. However, the opposite side of the coin reveals a slow and often bureaucratic decision-making process, potentially soul-crushing workloads, and a severe focus on quarterly metrics which can hinder creativity and long-term innovation. 

Shattering Hopes or Setting Realistic Expectations?

Although we’ve highlighted some of the challenges of working in Big Tech, we aren’t suggesting these companies are undesirable workplaces. Instead, we aim to set realistic expectations to avoid disillusionment and disappointment in the long run. 

The factors that make these organisations great places to work are real. They offer unparalleled learning experiences, significant career trajectory opportunities, robust compensation packages, and access to a network of brilliant, like-minded professionals. But, it is also important to remember that they’re large corporations, and the realities of corporate life apply to them as well.

Tips for Product Career Growth

Despite the challenges, a stint in a Big Tech company can turbo boost your product management career. If you’re considering that path, here are some tips to help you:

1. Understand the Interview Process: Each company has its unique interview structure. Familiarise yourself with the process, identify company-specific principles, and prepare accordingly. 

2. Time Management: Give yourself ample time to prepare for interviews. A three to six months preparation period is ideal as it gives you enough time to grasp the company’s principles, practice your interviewing skills, and get feedback from professionals in the field.

3. Be a Self-Starter: Success in these companies requires proactiveness and relentless pursuit of your goals. Take charge of your learning, identify your objectives, and stick to them.

4. Build Relationships: Foster positive relationships across the board. Seek mentors within the organisation and learn from their experiences.

5. Clarify Your Goals: Understand exactly why you want to work at these companies. Align your aspirations with your chosen company’s vision and make sure you have clear reasons. 

No matter where your product management career takes you, whether that’s Google, a mid-sized enterprise, or your own start-up, keep sight of why you chose this path. Work-life balance and personal satisfaction should be the baseline of your professional goals, wherever you may be in your journey. Remember to keep growing, enjoy the process, and celebrate each win along the way.

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