Getting started in Product is hard

How I got started in Product and what effective product training entails

By Dennis Krüger

Three years ago this month, I was fortunate enough to land a job in Product Management at Project A. Despite being generally curious about technology and software, I had no formal technical background whatsoever — I had chosen the path of least resistance and studied Business Management instead.

As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know “Product Manager” existed as a job profile, until I joined the startup ecosystem as an intern in the investment team at Project A. Even then, my perception of this space was entirely limited to what I read in books and blog posts, what I saw in youtube videos and heard/observed from Product Managers that I met.

I quickly knew that this is what I want to pursue as a career, but I was absolutely clueless about how to get the necessary expertise to actually get hired. I knew I had a lot of catching up to do, especially in terms of my understanding of engineering and design. I started learning how to code online and continued to build up knowledge around design thinking until I Tamer (CPO at Project A) who, seeing my dedication and eventually giving in to my persistent persuasion, took a chance and offered me the position.

Hiring Product Managers can be risky

My situation is not unique in the industry. Over the past years, I’ve learnt that many young talents are trying to get their foot in the door but don’t really know where to start.

I’ve also learnt that Product managers come from all sorts of different professional backgrounds. Most people are what we would call “Quereinsteiger” (career changers) in German, with PM prospects mainly coming from the fields of engineering, design or business management.

Hiring PMs is therefore always associated with quite a bit of risk.

For young talents, it is often very difficult to acquire the necessary experience and skills to land their first jobs (although quite a few offerings have been popping up over the past years). This makes it hard to judge their level of expertise and also their potential for development.

For more experienced entrants, the risk exists that they continue to focus on what they already know, without actively developing the other skills a great product manager needs to bring to the table. A former engineer will know of the importance of writing excellent technical specifications but might underestimate the importance of optimising the roadmap for business value. Whereas a former marketeer may show excellent command of the customers’ needs and value proposition, but lack the skills to translate this knowledge into feasible and impactful features.

Introducing the Project A Product School

In consequence, we believe that targeted and impact-focused professional training may provide one solution to the challenges mentioned above. Hiring talented but inexperienced PMs becomes less risky when you know you can follow-up with the right training to bring them up to speed. Hiring a diverse set of backgrounds for your PM Team becomes more effective when they receive the training to value each other’s opinions and not succumb to group-think.

These are just two of the many reasons why we believe that our Product School will help to enable our portfolio’s product teams, to truly reap the benefits of diversified thinking and to develop the skill sets needed to build great product teams.

For all the many other good reasons to create a training program AND our unique take on what effective product training entails, come join Tamer, Alex and myself for our talk at the Project A Knowledge Conference on October 30.