There's never been a more exciting time to be a product manager. Leading tech companies have written strong playbooks over the past decade on how to successfully market and sell new products, sites like Product Hunt share developments in web and mobile applications every single day, and the tech industry is booming with more access to venture capital than ever before. If there were ever time to learn, grow, and innovate in the product world, it’s now.
Not surprisingly, all of this energy has left a lot of people wondering, “how can I get into product management?” The good news is, you don’t need to have a technical background to be an amazing product manager. Some of the best PMs at HubSpot came from marketing, support, and beyond. The only real requirement is that you’re passionate about building something from nothing and evolving it into a product that users depend on. If that sounds like you, then you’ve come to the right place.
If you’re thinking about kickstarting a career in product management, these four ideas will help you think outside the box on getting there:
1. Build SomethingThe first way to get into product is simple: build something yourself. All too often people say they’re interested in product management but can't point to a URL of a project they worked on. This might sound daunting at first if you aren’t a designer or developer, but anyone with a computer and an internet connection can learn to build a web or mobile application. There are countless resources out there (free ones, too) to learn how to code, design, tackle customer development, validate your idea, and ultimately launch a living, breathing product.
Even if your product only reaches a handful of users, building something from scratch sets you apart drastically. Don’t worry about how complex or marketable the end product is- the goal is to get your hands dirty with product development. The advice that I often give people, particularly those who want to learn to code, is that you must start with something you’re passionate about building. Without some North Star, learning new skills will feel like a chore and eventually your drive will fizzle out. Focus on finding a problem that’s important to you. Maybe it has to do with travel, cooking, or sports; wherever your passions lie, let that spark your project and start building.
2. Work With MakersYou can’t launch a product without inspiring people to build it first. That’s why being a great PM largely depends on how well you work with developers and designers. Learning how to communicate with creative makers is key, so even if you don’t work with product talent in your current role, find ways to start flexing those muscles.
Reach out to developers and designers at your company to start a dialogue or keep an eye out for local events where you can network or collaborate with makers. By spending time with people behind products, you’ll develop your own perspectives on problem solving and understand the process better. You might even discover a project to work on together; collaborating will help you understand first-hand how PMs empower developers and designers to make the biggest impact possible.
When you are ready to roll up your sleeves, hackathons are one of the best places to experiment with leading a group of makers. The resources and timelines are constrained, putting a lot of pressure on you to inspire the team, clearly define the goals, and navigate them through challenges. Not only will you learn a ton about what it’s like “on the job”, but you’ll build valuable relationships for future opportunities. Whether you go to an event or grab coffee with a Tech Lead from your company, connect with makers to start opening new doors into product.
3. Make (Internal) MovesThe third way to get in product management is near and dear to my heart. When I was trying to get my first job out of school, my sister gave me great advice: focus on the company, not the role. I listened to her and ended up becoming a junior marketer at a company in my hometown that looked like a fun place to work. After awhile, the CEO decided to take a chance on me and let me try my hand at the product side of things. The rest is history.
Recruiting from the outside is a tried and true way to fill a position, but a lot of companies will look for candidates internally first. If you’re driving results and have built trust across the organization, you have a good chance of being considered for a role in a new department. Even product. Roughly half of the PMs at HubSpot came from other departments; this route has worked well for us because they bring a well-developed perspective of the customer and product to the table.
Your product team might think of you for a new role right off the bat because they’ve worked with you in the past, but often times, you’ll need to reach out to the hiring manager to let them know you’re interested. Either way, keep your eyes and ears open for PM openings within your organization.
4. Find an APM ProgramSome companies have an Associate Product Manager program for folks who are entirely new to the world of software development but eager to dive in. Google started doing this awhile back and we’ve developed a similar playbook at HubSpot that’s resulted in some of our leading PMs. Employees that demonstrate key qualities of a PM, like being results-driven and adaptable to a fast-paced environment, have the opportunity to become APMs; think of it as an apprenticeship in the product realm. They get to own real parts of the product at HubSpot and have access to 1-on-1 coaching to help them navigate the process. APM programs are an incredible way to jumpstart a career in product. If you’re company has this available, sign up (right now!) If not, think about how you can learn these skills and get access to PMs at your organization to give you a glimpse into their world. My guess is they’d be happy to do it. And of course we'd love to hear from you as well.
These are just a few ways to think about finding your spot as a product manager. Whether you build something, learn from makers, or connect with your own product team, it’s important to get your hands dirty first and foremost. If you have more questions about product management (or want to share how you became a PM), feel free to leave a comment or check out more information here.