Engineer to Product Manager: The Decision

The first step in becoming a product manager is deciding you want to be a product manager. It’s not worth pursuing something if you don’t want to actually do it. Personally, I love being in the center of a product. I need to know everything that is going on with a product/business and want to have major impact in the outcome. That is what a product manager does and I felt like it was the one job that was going to make me happy and something I could do for a long period of time. Below are some of my go to resources to learn more about product management:

  1. Ken Norton
  2. First Round Review
  3. Product Management Insider

Engineer First

For me, I took a job as an engineer I knew that it was just a stepping stone to product management. I am a big believer in that the best product managers have been an engineer at some point in their career (Not just an engineering degree). The goal was to be the engineer that brought a product from ideation to prototype all the way to market. In addition, I wanted to improve my engineering/technical skills and be apart of The Bay ‘engineering community’. Is there really a community? I don’t know, but to be honest, it was always pretty cool saying I was an engineer when people asked what I did. For some reason people thought I was super smart and was the most marketable person in The Bay. Joke was on them 🙂

To be honest, I was a good engineer, not a great one. I knew that I wasn’t going to be the engineer that builds the next generation thing. However, I thought that I could be a great product manager (Well, in time, I am cognizant of my strengths and weaknesses) and why do something that you’re only OK at? A general rule of thumb, you have to be honest with yourself with it comes to your strengths and weaknesses. If you aren’t then you’re lying to yourself and it will be hard to improve on your weaknesses or find something you are truly exceptional at.

So, I started as the sole electrical engineer at a cool start-up in San Francisco that was making brain stimulation devices (wild, I know). It was a fantastic experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. To save you the details, we launched the product and I found myself doing many product manager related things. I was working with our front-end engineering team to improve operational tasks for orders and returns. I worked with our marketing team to work on webpage improvements, documentation, collateral, do A/B testing, and more. Not many people were focused on analytics, but I dove right in and did analysis on support tickets, facebook ads, website traffic, etc. I even made support videos (still one of the highest viewed videos to this day!). All the things a product manager should be doing to help drive the product forward. But, I was still an engineer and that is what my company saw me as.

Looking for Opportunity

The company was great, but I didn’t see the opportunity to become a true PM there and I wasn’t well aligned with their strategy and roadmap. I woke up one day and went to work really uninspired. I didn’t see a path for me to become product manager and I lost the desire to do engineering as the next product we were looking at was just a different form factor of what I already designed. Sure, there would be challenges, but not like the first time around when we built it from the ground up.

Forward Looking

I decided it was time to touch up the resume and start searching for some product jobs. I knew it was not going to be easy because companies don’t reach out to engineers and be like ‘Hey, come be a PM!’ but most wanted PMs with engineering experience. Who was going to take that bet on me and help me take the leap? One of the best parts about my experience was that I had two other friends looking to become product managers at the same time, so it was fun (at times) sharing ‘ware stories’ about resume tweaks, networking events, and interviews.

Step one was making the decision. Step two was making myself marketable so someone would read my resume and actually respond to me. Stay tuned for that post.

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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