After a decade of an engineer, I decided I did not want to do the same thing when I was 50 years old.
When I started to consider different positions, I was continually drawn to the role of Product Manager (PM).
While engineers focus on how to build a product, the PMs focus on what to build. Their responsibilities involve a series of tasks that an engineer is not exposed to: collection of requirements, definition of functional priorities, product marketing and collaboration with engineers.
I've seen people make it easy to go from being an engineer to being a product manager, going from six months to a year. I have also seen people who have spent several years.
Personally, I spent a few years trying to move to a product management position. It was not easy, but with a lot of work and perseverance, I ended up in the role.
There is no way to make the change, but here is what it is useful to know from my trip and some advice I have received:
First of all, you understand if you really want to change the role.
One of my product managers asked me a question when I was thinking of becoming a PM. And I think it makes sense for anyone interested in the transition:
If you continue as an engineer, you could become a director of engineering in 10-15 years. Now ask yourself: "Would I be happy with this?"
If your answer is yes, then engineering is probably still right for you. If the possibilities and responsibilities of a PM are more attractive, if you're not sure you're enjoying the next decades in an engineering role, then it's worth making the transition.
Not everyone has an easy time with roles that change in technology, so it's important that you know that this is really what you want to do.
So, try not to think like an engineer.
Engineers love solving problems and building systems. However, they must always consider what the customer wants. Building a Ferrari is not the right way to go if a customer wants a Honda Civic.
Therefore, when roles are changed, one must learn to think from the client's point of view and be more empathic.
As a product manager, it may be tempting to enter a solution with engineers, but you need to stop after specifying the requirements. Let the engineers design and build the best system the customer needs.
One way to learn this mentality is to get a more customer-oriented engineer role. Technical support, solution architect, technical marketing, technical pre-sales and QA roles generally have more interaction with customers.
Once you know you want to move on, volunteer and help your current product manager.
Product managers always have a lot on their plate: it's just the nature of work. And this offers you the perfect opportunity to start learning what the role entails.
Participate in marketing and product launches. Ask your prime minister if he needs help with a competitive analysis or research assignment. Enter when a technical opinion is needed. If you have helped your PM and if you present an opportunity to your team or another team, your PM can consider you as a job.
But keep in mind that as an engineer, your interactions with customers are limited.
People often knock on engineers because they are generally not very empathetic and understanding. They are too focused on their work to be a voice for the user. But product managers have strong interpersonal skills to exert influence. Generate consensus and manage competing parties.
You will need to start learning and fine-tune your interpersonal skills because recruiters are not trying to play with someone without experience.
It's the classic catch-22 of anyone looking for a new job – you can not be hired for the position without working in it, but nobody will give you the chance to do it until you have experience.
Acquire skills and operational knowledge.
If you can not find opportunities to work with a PM, you can still refine your skills and demonstrate your skills.
One way to do this is by creating an app. It helps you overcome the dilemma of the experience because you are essentially working as a product manager. You must be aware of every aspect of the product. The design, the user experience, the functionality: everything under your control.
It's a good way to set foot in your door because you can put the app on your resume, and hiring managers have the opportunity to try it out and see how you can operate as a product manager.
Another hiring point is having an MBA.
An MBA is certainly not required in product management, but it helps your cause. It gives you a stamp of approval: "This person understands the business context, he or she is not just technical".
I received a certificate in business from UC Berkeley Extension – as a mini MBA – before moving on to the product manager, but it was not enough to make me overcome my lack of experience. In the end I went to the business school, but as I said before, everyone's path is different.
The degree in economics is an experience that changes your life and will open many other career opportunities. It is appreciated but not treated as something special in Silicon Valley, especially in startups. However, an MBA plus a diploma in computer science is a great combination for a PM.
Take the transition one step at a time, but completely committed.
It is difficult to move from an old company to a new company is get a different position in that new company.
Think of it this way: if you are an engineer in a big cloud company and you want to be a PM at Uber, you do not want to leave your current job and apply for PM's position there. Rather, you could work to get a product role in your current business, and then apply it to Uber. Or you could apply to become an engineer at Uber and then try to become a PM once you've already spent some time working there. Both of these options make you a less risky candidate for the hiring manager.
Whichever way you choose, remember that beyond a software engineer, a product manager is the coolest job at Silicon Valley right now. There is a good supply of candidates who come from a variety of backgrounds, and there will be a lot of competition.
So, if you have the chance to get a position of prime minister, you have to fully commit yourself to this goal. Do not be passive about it.
Take lessons and learn what you can from online sources and books. Talk to PM and recruiters and find out exactly what you need to do to make the transition successful.
It can be done, but it will take a lot of work on your part. If you know that this is what you want, it makes no sense to wait to start making the move.