October 26, 2015
Panel Discussion: What Does It Take to Become a Successful Product Manager?
By Chris Zeise
The role of the Product Manager (PM) is one of the most sought-after careers in the tech industry today. Individuals in this role must be adept communicators in addition to being cross-trained in various capacities as they juggle business, design, and technology priorities for the company.
So how does one not only achieve but succeed at this coveted career? On October 26, our Master of Science in Software Management program welcomed a panel of seven alumni and current students to answer this question, offering their wisdom on becoming a Product Manager (PM) in the competitive Silicon Valley environment.
Gladys Mercier, director of the Software Management program, was moderator (Pictured right). Questions ranged from defining what the PM role is to how to successfully interview for a PM position.
Defining the Product Manager Role
The panel offered insights into the Product Manager role as it has evolved in the software industry:
Bertrand Damiba (MS '08) explained that one definition of a product manager is to, “protect the engineers from the client, lawyers, etc. so they can focus on writing good code and developing good product”. He added, “the product manager asks ‘why’ should we develop a product, whereas the engineer asks the ‘what and how’ of developing the product.”
Francis Kurupacheril (MS '13) explained, “the PM role has evolved over the last 10-15 years. It used to be a combo of PM and marketing. However, these areas have since been assigned as separate roles. Rather than dealing with marketing, the PM can now focus on managing the expectations and requirements of the product. You should ask yourself why do you want to be a PM? If you’re looking at it as a ‘glamorous’ position, you will not succeed or be happy.”
Standing Out in the Interview Process
Interviewing for this position is competitive; it is essential to prepare and develop the right skills accordingly. The panel offered some advice on this topic:
Arthi Rengasamy (MS ’14) reminded students to, “Do your homework. Research multiple companies and understand what domain you see yourself in.”
Esteemed guests in the audience included Lake Dai, Senior Product Manager at Quixey. When asked what interviewers are looking for in a successful candidate, Dai highlighted the top four qualities as:
- Fit on Team
Dai went on to discuss the interview process for one of our current students in the Software Management program, “Quixey decided to select Faye Shi, a Software Management student graduating in December as opposed to other candidates with more work experience because she demonstrated excellent capability and was a good fit for the team.”
One of the most popular questions in any interview is, "How do you resolve conflicts?". Dai reminded students to, “Be ready to answer tough questions clearly and thoughtfully. Prepare for the interview.”
Taking on the Leadership Role
The group also gave advice about leadership:
Padma Murthy (MS ’13): “Acknowledge your teammates on the development of the product.” Rengasamy reminded students that, “the right attitude is crucial.”
Fang Fang (MS ’11): “Constantly remind yourself who is your role model. Having a constant example to strive for helps to keep your skills relevant in the company.”
Bertrand Damiba offered some advice on avoiding failure, “The worst kind of failure can actually look like a success. If your team is not ambitious enough, then your competitors will challenge your success and take the lead away from you.”
Finally, all of the members of the panel agreed that it is crucial to check out the culture of the company that you want to join, to be empowered to make decisions and see if the culture fits your working style.
CMU's Product Management Club: Announcing a Silicon Valley Chapter
The evening wrapped with exciting news from current student Neha Goyal regarding the development of a Silicon Valley chapter of the Product Management Club at Carnegie Mellon University. This club originated in Pittsburgh at CMU's Tepper School of Business and Heinz College. Goyal has worked diligently to establish the local chapter of this club and will take on the role of president. On November 2, the Silicon Valley chapter participated in its first club meeting, which was led virtually by a CMU alum working at eBay. “We are very excited to have our own chapter of the PM club and hope that students and alumni will join in future events,” stated Goyal.