General Skills to Succeed as a Product Manager

When I first decided I wanted to be a Product Manager, I was intimidated. Most Product Managers that I knew had some kind of technical background (Computer Science, Engineering, etc.,) and/or had an MBA. I have neither. And yet, I felt this natural fit with being a Product Manager. I knew that PMs were closer to the product, working with engineers and designers to build something. As a founder, I just know that I want to create and build something, but I wasn’t sure that I could pull it off, especially in a FAANG company. Today, I’m a Senior Product Manager in a FAANG company. The not-so-subtle truth: the only one that had doubts, was me. Everyone else around me took it for granted that I was a Product Manager leading Product Vision and Development – and that, in itself, has been the grand lesson.

I talk in more detail about the general skills that any Product Manager needs to excel, no matter their background, in this webinar with Product School. But for my own journey, I have learned to recognize my own capability to learn and excel as a Product Manager. The truth is, representation was one of the big helpers in me opening my eyes to my own skill. Mentoring was another major helper.

When I started to see PMs with non-technical education rise, I started to not feel alone and to actually believe that I could pull it off. I started seeing colleagues of mine, or PMs on LinkedIn working on a variety of companies and products who had majored in Business, Literature, Philosophy, Biology, etc. I would ask them if they would be open to chatting with me about their journey and how they got where they were. I then read books like Marty Cagan’s “Inspired” and “Empowered”, where he shares the stories of Product Managers he admires, none of which had an MBA (in Inspired), and came from different backgrounds (in both books). I started realizing two things: (1) I wasn’t alone, and (2) I can do this.

Now, when I interview Product Managers for open roles, some of them have non-tech backgrounds like mine. Some of them ask me if I think they would succeed since they don’t have the typical background (which, as a side note, asking your interviewer if they think you’ll be successful with your background is a bit weird, and depending on the interviewer, might make them pause about their consideration.) I know where they’re coming from. I now always answer, “I advise you not to feel intimidated. You have X years of experience growing and building things, it takes practice, and you can get there.”

“Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford

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