Engineer to Product Manager: The Search

Ok, so I thought my resume was crafted in a way that would attract recruiters and hiring managers. I got feedback from other PM friends, friends who were recruiters and from various sources on the internet. Now it was time to search for the jobs, tweak the resume, go to meetups and network. I knew from the beginning that just applying to PM jobs online wasn’t going to get me anywhere. Recruiters receive 100s of resumes a day and most of the time if they don’t see ‘Product Manager’ as a job title or something relevant, they will pass. I took the approach of networking to learn more about product management, different industries and to generally just meet more people.

Here are some of the best resources you can leverage to network and help increase your chances of making the switch:

  1. Meet-Ups
  2. Corporate Open Houses / Events
  3. Slack Channels
  4. LinkedIn Groups
  5. My Personal Network

My Initial Criteria

  1. Must be a hardware company – I was a hardware engineer (electrical) and I thought software wasn’t that valuable (stupid me). I wanted to build something I could hold and feel and see customer’s reactions as they opened the box. Also, my engineering experience would be most applicable here.
  2. Must be in San Francisco – I am pretty picky when it comes to job location. Time is the most valuable thing we have and I refused to spend 2-3 hours per day sitting on a train or in a car commuting. If you’re not from the bay area, commuting here can be a big time suck.
  3. Not an early stage startup — The company I was working at at the time had 15 people. I was the only electrical engineer on the team and there was one sudo-PM. I wanted to join a more established company that had PMs with years of experience I could learn from.
  4. B2B Company – I worked in B2B and then went to largely consumer with a B2B piece. B2C and B2B are two very different beasts. What I noticed was that most B2C companies or very small B2B companies strive to be B2B companies because that is where the money is at. As a PM, I didn’t want to focus on webpage layouts, changing colors and measuring customer acquisition on an hour by hour basis.

Interestingly enough, criteria 2, 3 and 4 were not that limiting. The first criteria was what made it very difficult. Hardware is not very popular in San Francisco, most of it is down South which didn’t meet my second criteria. And the hardware companies that were in the city were mostly consumer that were solving problems I wasn’t interested in solving (looking at you Jucerio).

My girlfriend (now fiancé) understood all my criteria except for the hardware piece. She kept asking ‘Why does it have to be hardware’? Looking back, I was scared about going into software because I wasn’t great at writing code. I understood it pretty well and could talk architecture, but when it came to actually writing code, I wasn’t as good as my colleagues. I was also ignorant in saying, software is too simple. Oh you forgot a ‘;’ in your code, simple, add it and rebuild, 1 minute. In hardware, if you make a small mistake like that, it costs thousands of dollars and adds weeks to the timeline. Foreshadow — I am happy I don’t have to deal with hardware and am glad I made the switch to software. ☺

Starting the Search

Now that I had the criteria down, I needed to start the search. Every night I would go on LinkedIn, Glassdoor or whatever job site I could find. I would search for entry level product jobs that were in the hardware space in San Francisco. Let me tell you – The options were next to none. The companies that were interesting wanted 5 years in product experience. I am sure everyone trying to make this transition faces this problem – Every company wants a PM that has engineering experience, but wants experience as a PM. How can I get experience as a PM if no one will give me the chance to make the transition!?

I was able to get in touch with a VP at a medium sized hardware startup in the city. We chatted via email for a little and then I sent him my resume. The response back was – Doesn’t look like you have what we’re looking for, sorry. I kindly responded asking what experience he was looking for so I could find areas to focus on or improve my resume to provide more clarity. No response. It is OK to re rejected, but it is nice to know why so you can learn and iterate.

I went to PM meetups (Product School puts on some good ones) and every PM that gave a talk was a software PM for a product that was not of any interest to me. The fact they got VC funding and had customers was beyond me. Every time I asked them about their background, they would say ‘Oh I was in consulting and then just got this job as a PM’ or ‘I decided I wanted to become a PM and then found this company and became one’. No one will ever tell you the details or the struggles, because they want to come off as some ‘strong’ individual who doesn’t face challenges in their careers. I call complete BS on that and that is why I am writing these posts. Long story short – I didn’t really get anything from these meetups rather than more insight into what PMs do. I was looking for more networking opportunities and since I was so closed off to software products, it was less valuable to me. If I was open to software, I would have taken a different approach and leveraged these meet-ups much more.

A Viable Option

After searching, talking with people and frustration, my girlfriend was like ‘Why not check out Meraki?. The PM team is great and they are looking to expand. It literally checks off every box for you.’. For those of you who don’t know Meraki… it is a start-up that was acquired by Cisco in 2011 and builds networking (think routers, switches and access points) and IT equipment that is fully managed in the cloud. Sounds like it checked off all the boxes, right? Well you know what the two issues were? 1. My girlfriend worked at Meraki. Could we keep it professional? Of course, but I was still a little skeptic. 2. It was a networking company. I didn’t know much about networking outside of setting a network up for my family and a few small businesses. It wasn’t the industry that was most exciting, but one that was growing and had a huge impact on the modern world. She assured me this wouldn’t be the case as Meraki has denied many significant others in the past. Interestingly – I recently interviewed a colleague’s significant other and ended up rejecting them.

Headed Straight to the Source

Meraki had an upcoming open house for engineering and product. I figured, why not? I went to the opening engineering talks and was pretty inspired by the technology they were building. Then, I went to talk to the engineering teams. The hardware team was interesting, but I knew a lot about their products already (My product line at Texas Instruments built custom chips for Cisco and Meraki). Then, I spoke with the individual software teams and they blew me away. What the engineers were doing was way more interesting and fascinating than what I was doing (brain stimulation). I felt pretty insecure as I was unsure if I could even work on products of this complexity.

Next up was the PM area. I was really nervous because I knew the VP was going to be there and from talking with my girlfriend, he was quite intense and very good at his job (youngest VP in the company). We spoke about product at Meraki, challenges they face, market outlook, etc. I expressed my interest in the organization and coming on as a PM. He asked more about my background, why I was looking for change and why I would be a good PM. It was a great conversation and he emailed the recruiter on the spot to ensure that we had a call set up to chat further. I ended up submitting my resume after meeting with him and didn’t have my girlfriend refer me as I wanted to do it on my own.

Other Options

I had talked to other companies and had a few coffee chats, phone interviews, etc. but most of them I was either not interested or they were looking for someone with more experience (go figure). That said, for upcoming posts, I am going to focus on my process going after the PM job at Meraki (spoiler — I got it).

This was the beginning of one of the most wild rides I have been on in my life. Emotionally and mentally.

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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