Thoughts on the PM Role in Tech
I’ve been getting quite a few questions from aspiring PM interns and young professionals looking to transition into the PM role.
In a nutshell, Tech industry has 3 types of PMs — Program Manager, Product Manager and Project Manager. Program Manager handles the “when and the how”; Product Manager handles the “what and why”; Project Manager handles is similar to the Program Manager and works mainly on one massive project.
To further segment PMs in the Tech Industry, there are Hardware PMs and Software PMs. Hardware PMs tend to work on longer timelines that are consistent with how long it takes to produce a high quality physical product (6 months to 1 year); Software PMs tend to work on shorter timelines (3–6 months) since software feature launches can be quick and iterative. Fixes on the fly are also a lot easier to roll out for software compared to hardware. Product school has a great article on the differences between HW and SW PMs (Pandora Sr PM: Hardware or Software Product Managers? — — Product School)
There are also several Product Types that PMs can be working on which I extracted from PM School’s blog (7 Types of Product Every Product Manager Will Encounter — Product Schoo) that I found super helpful in deciding where I want to ply my trade in:
- Mass Consumer Apps
- SaaS or B2B Solutions
- Additive Features
- Transformation of Existing Products
- Marketplace Platforms
- Internet of Things (IoT), Physical and Machine Learning Products
- Startup Products
Each of these product areas would give you a different experience and require very different skillsets. For example, building a Mass Consumer App such as AirBnB is very different from building a Physical product like GoPro.
I am very heartened to see PM careers gaining popularity and also making inroads into schools as part of their curriculum. Stanford (https://canvas.stanford.edu/courses/52030/pages/ee205-product-management-for-electrical-engineers-and-computer-scientists) and Harvard (https://www.hbs.edu/coursecatalog/6701.html) have started offering dedicated classes for aspiring PMs and University of Michigan even has its own PM career club (https://www.mproduct.org/). There is also an upcoming book (https://www.amazon.com/Cracking-PM-Career-Frameworks-Practices/dp/0984782893)that talks about how to succeed in a PM career!
Overall, I think being a PM is a great way to have a broad overview of what it takes to launch an impactful Tech product (cost, market, timing) and to work hand-in-hand with the developers/engineers who make the products. The engineer in me sometimes misses my development days…but I do love having a forward-looking role that allows me to stay connected to my roots.
I see the PM role as someone who ensures the house gets built and that people actually want to buy the house. Imagine having a bunch of developers sitting around on an empty plot of land working on their own little pile of materials without talking to each other or even knowing what to build. The PM is the person who works with the various agencies to ensure that the land is safe to build on, gets funding from the head office to build the house, estimates how long the house takes to get built and works closely with sales and marketing to arrange for customers to view and buy the houses so that the engineers get paid. You aren’t the person who builds the house but you are the person who makes things happen and get to make someone’s dream comes true! That’s how I view my profession and I look forward to many more years of making the dreams of others come true!