When it comes to how most people got into product management, their stories all vary greatly while sharing some similar elements. Product Managers often have diverse backgrounds and similar skill sets. Each job that led to them becoming a PM served as the perfect product management training for them.

We often hear the tales of product management training that individuals had that lead them into this field. For some, it’s their educational background. For others, it’s the jobs that add up to being a great product manager. Some say it’s where they found their passion. Here are some of those stories that have been shared on the Product Talk podcast.

Karl Rumelhart, Gainsight CPO & EVP of Engineering

This story just goes to show you that no matter how far you may think you are from product management, you can find a way in if it interests you.

“So I was an academic mathematician. That was my 90s if you will. I went to graduate school for five years and then I spent five years teaching. I was at Ohio State for a year. Then, four years at Stanford. 

I’m from an academic family. My brother and my parents all have PhDs and my father is a pretty well-known scientist. The story of getting out of academia, I think was was a little bit interesting. So, I was teaching at Stanford, and to be clear, I was not there was no chance of a permanent, long term position there. I was eventually gonna have to do some go somewhere else. My wife had started a good career in the Bay Area. I was enjoying what I was doing. I kept having my contract renewed. I’m able to stay, it’s kind of cool. Hang on to Stanford and so on and so forth. 

I then read a book that changed my life. Andy Grove, most People know is that one of the founders and great CEOs of Intel. He wrote a book called Only the Paranoid Survive. Very famous book. If you haven’t read it, you absolutely should. It’s about Intel’s decision to exit the memory business, which was actually their core business.

They were the leading vendor in the world in computer memory and decided to exit and focus exclusively on this little niche thing called a microprocessor. Intel did that because they realized that although they were at the top of the game, their long term was doomed. And the basic point of the book is that if an action is going to have to be taken in the future, you should act right away. Don’t wait. 

The addendum to the book was the same thing for your career. If you are in a situation that is going to end, and not necessarily end well, don’t wait till the bitter end. If you’re just gonna get to a point where you can’t stand what you’re doing, you need to act affirmatively. And that’s it. That’s speaking to me because I said to myself, I’m doing what I’m doing and I’m liking it. Am I gonna be happy doing this for the next 30 years? No. Am I okay doing it for another year? Well, yeah, I could do it another year.

So my question was not if I’m going to leave academia, but when. Qhat Andy Grove told me through his book is if that’s your answer, you can act now you got to move. So I did it. I just said, Alright, I’m out. And I’m gonna do something else.

It was the bubble time, a hot, hot time in Silicon Valley. And I just went for it. The reality is, I was able to immediately get opportunities. I was able to hook on, did a couple of different things, including got hooked up with a Sequoia-backed startup. That worked because it was the bubble time. Pretty soon, the bubble burst. I would have never been able to make the transition. By that point, I was in. I had some experience and I was moving into a new career. So, because of Andy Grove, I acted affirmatively. I took charge of my own career and the timing of it was key.”

Boris Logvinsky, Flexport Director of Product Management

Product ignites a universal love, regardless of the product management training each PM has.

“I was at Stanford, set to graduate in 2008 and headed down the investment banking track. That’s what everybody did. Either went into investment banking or consulting. I had an offer in hand and the signing bonus and my bank account from one of the big banks, which I was really excited about. 

Then, in my senior year, I took an entrepreneurship class. It’s kind of insane thinking back on it. I spent four years at Stanford and never really thought about tech, but then took this class and it sort of completely changed my perspective. In a matter of months, I kind of jettisoned my banking plans. 

I spent an extra year getting my master’s degree participating in the Mayfield Fellows Program, which exposed me to startups and entrepreneurship. Part of that program was doing a summer internship, which was spent at a company called Demandforce. I absolutely loved it. 

So, the opportunity to work on those complex business problems and to sort of learn what product management was and to directly impact the success of our company at the time was awesome. That was way better than banking. This is way better than sitting and doing PowerPoints, which is what was gonna be expected of me. So, I ended up joining that company Demandforce after the Mayfield Fellows Program was over. I joined full-time and haven’t looked back since then. I’ve been building products since then.”

Nick Fassler, BetterUp Principal Product Manager

Many product managers gain an understanding that the roles they had prior to taking this career were really the perfect product management training.

“I definitely didn’t have the intention to go into product, because I didn’t even know what the role was. Going back to my online marketing work, I was mostly working with large nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and the Wilderness Society, but doing work that would probably fit into a growth category now. I was doing performance-based marketing to drive action through emails and landing pages and using analytics. It definitely gave me a good foundation as I went into product. 

I officially got into product because I, during my MBA, really got fascinated with this idea of software being able to change how people work together and started a company called Thrive.ly. As someone that’s never built software before, never started a company before, I made a lot of first-time mistakes. But I really fell in love with the process of building products. So, working with designers, engineers, understanding users, and building a great product for them. That kind of led me down this path where, you know, my first full-time role after I shut down my startup was at Yammer.”

Nate Yohannes, Microsoft Director of Central Product Management, Mixed Reality & Artificial Intelligence Engineering

For Yohannes, his roots and his path lead him through quite the journey that served as his product management training.

“What drives me specifically has to go back to my family and my core. My siblings and my parents came as refugees from a country called Eritrea, which is a small country in East Africa. My dad was a freedom fighter revolutionary, which forced him to take arms and he stepped on a landmine in 1978 fighting for democracy. And there’s one thing about my family’s journey, coming to the United States as refugees and really blossoming here that’s had a big impact in terms of my own personal journey in terms of my education and my passion and purpose. 

So, my background, I’m a lawyer. I studied on a fellowship in law school, in human rights. I’m a New York licensed attorney, but in terms of where life takes you, my initial practice in law was not human rights. It actually was as a regulatory attorney in Washington DC representing the financial services industry. This was during the Wall Street Reform Act. So, here you have the big banks, Goldman, Bank of America and the big asset managers, BlackRock, Vanguard, who are going through this new transformation of how DC is going to look at new ways to regulate the banking industry. 

I was a lawyer on the side, looking at ways to best work with the government. That eventually transitioned to a role serving on behalf of the United States of America. I was appointed by President Obama to serve on behalf of the White House as a Senior Advisor to our Chief Investment and Innovation Officer for the United States Small Business Administration.

So, when we think about what did success look like for us in the Office of Investments in Innovation, it was really to invest capital into high growth innovation, as well as invest capital as an investor in private equity venture capital funds. That we were investing in domestic companies. So either we’re writing straight checks into high growth, innovation, R&D or we were writing checks into venture capital, private equity firms that were investing on behalf of America. So a fund to funds and was to open up net new industries and create net new jobs. It was all about jobs, jobs, jobs and innovation. 

From there, I joined Microsoft. I initially joined doing business development, corporate development in Silicon Valley, for artificial intelligence. I really got fixed to this notion of using vision to reason over people, places and things. So, I stopped doing a lot of computer vision deals on behalf of Microsoft and that eventually transitioned to a product role. I’m leading Central Product Management for Mixed Reality and Artificial Intelligence Perception, across the whole suite of great, great technology that we want to democratize in the hands of millions of millions people. Billions, actually, billions and billions of people.”

Matin Movassate, Heap Co-Founder & CEO

Movassate’s product management training was the important lesson of listening to the customer’s needs, in this case, himself, and solving a problem (even when that problem is wanting more time to play video games).

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed building products. I think my very first taste of it was when I was in high school and I really wanted a summer job. So, my dad let me do administrative work at the construction company that he worked at. He needed to change a bunch of files and put them into folders based on the date and the content of those files. There were like thousands of these files. So, I had to do a lot of manual work. 

I was really lazy. So, I built a program in AppleScript that automated a lot of that stuff for me. I was able to get a bunch of free time back and play video games instead. And I stepped back and I was like, ‘wow, that’s really cool! This software coding thing is pretty leveraged.’ So that made me want to learn how to write proper code and get into software and now here I am.”

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About the Speaker
Andy Shore
Products That Count Content Development

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