Product Career: What Are You Good At?
Slack Product Lead on Building A Non-Technical Product Career (Part 2)
When my product career began, I didn’t even know that I was on a path to becoming a product manager. Simply put, I had to get a job. After graduating from college as an English major, my original career plan was focused on the world of publishing. However, I entered the job market during the height of the 2008 recession – and I needed to pick a new career fast.
Thankfully, a good friend of mine had started to work at Etsy and was raving about it. From the creativity in the building to perks like health insurance, how could I say no? Little did I know that my first role as an entry-level customer service rep would ultimately kickstart my product career.
When I started out, I didn’t think that any of my skills directly applied to my new role. In other words, I knew that I could write academic papers and make coffee. As a result, it felt like I was starting from zero. However, I quickly learned that non-technical skills manifest themselves in ways that will help you develop as a product manager.
There’s a quote from April Underwood (current CPO at Slack) that summarizes how to think about your current skills.
“It doesn’t matter what you did before – what matters is that you were good at it.”
With this in mind, I started to realize that many of my non-technical skills were quite useful in my new role. For example, I didn’t know how to write customer service emails when I started out. However, as a barista – I knew how to keep a line moving. So, I figured out how to optimize the customer service experience by crafting responses that effectively “kept the line moving” by providing customers with answers.
As I got more comfortable with answering tickets, I learned to pick up on patterns for common problems. Simply put, you shouldn’t keep answering the same tickets over and over without getting at the heart of a given issue. As a result, I started connecting with our engineers / designers / etc. to develop tools that ultimately improved the product.
In the end, product managers need to use a lot of different muscles to make things happen. While it may not seem like it from the outset, “English major skills” are applicable to a product career.