Engineer to Product Manager: Day 1

Do you know what is crazy? Typically, you spend ~6 hours of your time interviewing for a position. The interviewers have to get a sense of how good of a fit you are for this role in 6 hours. In reality, you’re going to be working with them for 40+ hours a week, and that decision is boiled down into 6 hours. What is even crazier is that after you interview for 6 hours, YOU have to make a decision if you want to work for that group of people and that company. It is just wild to me that each party has to make this drastic decision in such a short time period. You’re potentially going to work there for 4, 10, 20 years and it all boils down to that 6-hour interview session.

Day 1: It is Real

OK – Day 1. I was super excited… I ran that morning and did a power pose before walking to work with my girlfriend (now fiancé). We had new hire training for two weeks, so I wasn’t nervous, rather really energized. It just so happened that another PM started that same day, so we were given another office tour and were introduced to a few folks on the way. My manager made an announcement at the Monday sales all hands and it was time to go to training.

After training, I went to my desk and took the rest of the afternoon to introduce myself to other members of the product team. Also, went around and said hi to all the individuals who interviewed me. It was real. I was able to say I was a product (well associate) manager and it was a great feeling. I did miss engineering a bit and I knew I wasn’t going to be working on hardware for a little while, so I was having some withdrawals. Foreshadow, I ended up not working on hardware at all (which has worked out thus far!).

Well after all the new-hire training and whatnot, I finally started my job as an associate product manager. This is a great article by Ken Norton on what to do in your first 30 days as a new PM. Honestly, I just followed that. You spend your first weeks just meeting with people and learning everything you possibly can. You can’t start building a strategy, prioritize implement improvements until you actually know what is going on. So, I took the first 2-3 weeks just meeting with everyone on the team and our key stakeholders (ala customers).

Step One

I met with the engineers to understand the projects they’re working on, what they enjoy working on, challenges they’re facing today, what they would like to see, etc. I asked for access to the code base so I could understand how certain things work from a technical perspective and I could be more of a resource for engineering (if necessary). That proved to be very helpful to understand the scope of work (and to call out engineering when they overquoted you on effort!).

So 4 weeks in, I felt like I had a good lay of the land. I had met with all senior leadership for each department to understand their investment, their pain points, initiatives for their teams, etc. I did the same with the engineering leadership and the engineers themselves. From all this, I put together a high-level strategy to get the team on the right tracks in a short period of time and a longer-term plan of where I wanted to take the product. I presented to our COO and my manager got a thumbs up with some good feedback and started to execute.

Own the Transition

It is hard for a lot of engineering to make the transition because they typically just want to ‘do it themselves’ or know how to do it and try to tell the engineers how to do their job which is never great. The advantage that I had there was I came from hardware and embedded programming, I didn’t know much about Ruby or front-end development, so I couldn’t even do that if I tried ☺

Overall – Four weeks in, I felt great. I knew there were a ton of challenges in front of myself and the team, but they were interesting and ones that I wanted to solve. It was time to execute and prove to myself and everyone else that I was fit to be a product manager. There was a lot I needed to learn but had a great manager and great people around me to learn from and help develop my career.

More to Come

After I finish this series (Engineer to Product Manager), I’ll be writing more in depth pieces about Day 1, Day 30 and so on as a Product Manager. Looking back at the last couple of years and seeing new PMs enter the space, I have more insight that I would like to share.

I am writing a series of blog posts about my transition from engineering to product management. Click here to get the master list.

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