Garima Sinha (MS SM '13)-Integrated Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

Garima Sinha (MS SM '13)

What does it take to be a product manager in Silicon Valley?

"Have a process to solve problems, and be very, very aware of what’s going on with the products in the industry."

This is the advice given by alumna Garima Sinha (MS SM’13) to anyone seeking a product management role in Silicon Valley. As a product manager formerly at Facebook and now at Thumbtack, Sinha understands why the industry is recruiting professionals who can innovate products at the cross-section of engineering, business and design.

What Success Looks Like as a Product Manager

Sinha says that product managers face many challenges while trying to identify and solve problems, "Every day we are trying to figure out what the right product strategy is and how that ties to our high-level company goals. We have to ask ourselves, what are the problems that we are trying to solve for people? If it is a big problem [...], we must decide: 'Where do we start today'? It begins by starting to work with engineers and designers, moving from product definition into the trenches to start building a product."

To succeed, she explains that product managers must be able to coordinate, plan and bring the team together, "A big part of it is people management. You are essentially managing your design team, your engineering team, product analytics, product marketing and many other aspects of the development. The PM has to make sure that all these people come together, ensuring that they believe in the product and that they are in it throughout the process providing their expertise at the right times."

After developing the product, the PM must then develop a process to measure the data. Sinha explains, "As a Product Manager, the next step is analyzing the success of that stage of development. Once this is done, the cycle starts all over again. You continue asking, ‘What is the next step’? You are continually reviewing the process until you feel like you’ve shipped something big."

Sinha joined Facebook as a Product Manager for their Messenger team in 2013 after graduating from the 16-month full-time Master of Science in Software Management program. Currently, she is a product manager at Thumbtack. Thumbtack is a startup that’s trying to change the way people hire service professionals. By answering just a few questions, the platform will deliver up to five quotes that for its customers to review. 

Thumbtack is thriving. “We recently raised one hundred and twenty-five million in funding at a 1.3 billion valuation." Sinha adds, "We are the latest addition to the Unicorn list. It’s a very, very exciting time to join the company, because it is growing fast and the next two years will see even more growth."

Connecting to Industry at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley

In the Software Management program, Sinha and her classmates frequently engaged with industry experts and entrepreneurs, "The program at CMU exposed us to entrepreneurship and innovation. We had the opportunity to talk to investors, company CEOs, and start-up co-founders. We heard about what they’re facing when they’re building real products. We heard about how they developed products, and how they solved problems while working on real products.

Sinha also felt that studying at the Silicon Valley campus helped her define her career path, "You are so close to where all the action is. You can go out and talk to multiple co-founders. You can be sitting in a coffee shop and over hear people talking about their next startup. That kind of exposure gets you thinking about your own ideas. It also gives you the exposure to the people who are actually interested in building these things and you can create a network, a team of people to work with you on those ideas."

Building a Career in Product Management

Sinha’s path to becoming a product manager was a bit out of the ordinary, “I graduated from Delhi University in India, as a software engineer in 2010. Right after college I started working as a Product Manager (PM). Usually when someone starts working as a PM, they’ve been in the industry for a few years, and they have a really good idea about how products are built and how they are shipped. For me, it was interesting because I was seeking a position as a software engineer, but instead got a job as a product manager and I was not as prepared for that role. Most of what I learned as a PM in the first few months, or even the first two years of my job, was by doing it.”

Sinha began to search for ways to improve as a product manager and started researching graduate programs. The MS Software Management degree at the Integrated Innovation Institute struck her as unique. According to Sinha, "The structure of the program appeared to offer a different perspective in how you think about problems, how you approach product problems, how you build companies with technology and technological products, and how you go and pitch it to investors. It offered an [end-to-end] view that lets you think through every possible aspect of either building a product or running your own company. And this was a unique skill set that I found only in this program."

By Chris Zeise