From developer to Product Manager - how I did it and how you can do it too

Like most of us working in “tech” products these days I’m also part of a generation that grew up playing with the internet and building digital things. I found it so cool that it never crossed my mind it could actually become a job — because jobs, unless you’re extremely lucky and become a football player — can never be the thing you like doing the most.

So I went on and majored in Physics — a real subject, interesting and boring in just the right amount to give it the potential for actually becoming a job. Except that by the time I was done with it I realised that a) I’m actually still writing software on my spare time, b) internet is now obviously a very promising career path and c) Google is hiring like crazy in Europe. So I did the obvious thing and applied to Google. Then Google did the not-so-obvious thing and hired me.

So I’d finally followed my initial instincts and landed a job in the internet industry: Wow!

There I learned a ton in a really short time — I’m very thankful for that. More specifically, I had the chance to learn that what fascinated me so much about building websites was actually not writing the code (although I liked it). It was also not designing the interface nor working on the branding or marketing — although I liked all those things too. However, I found that showing what we had built to the people who were actually going to use it — in other words “launching” the product — gave me a particular satisfaction.

Wouldn’t it be great to have ‘launch products’ as part of your job description? I wondered. Well, surprise once again — these people exist and, at least at Google, are called Product Managers. Bingo!

So that’s what I’m gonna go for.

What’s the shortest way to get there?

I started exploring how to become a Product Manager within Google and soon realised there are two ways: either I’d need top-notch Ivy League education with great grades or actual full-stack experience in building digital products.

The second option seemed obviously better: it was cheaper, faster and most certainly more fun because in order to gain experience in building products, well, I’d have to build products.

So I left my job and started working full-time on what would otherwise be side projects. In the beginning I found it hard to focus (and worked on a bunch of things that never took off) but eventually I decided to stick with one idea — a subscription service for high-end, freshly roasted coffee beans.

Then I went on to build it end-to-end, product and business with it. Really. Every bit of it: backend, front-end, accounting, branding, packaging, logistics, performance marketing, customer support — you name it.

Those 9 months were by far the fastest learning period of my life and, most importantly for you, in the end it worked out — I landed the promised Product Manager job at a fast growing startup and shipping features to our 7M users is now part of my job description.

So here’s my advice, if you want to become a Product Manager just do the obvious. Start right now building a product and learn everything you can along the way.

Thanks for reading.

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