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Hi everybody my name is Ambar Pansari and I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you about myself, how I got into product management, and if product management is the right career choice for you.
I grew up in Rochester, New York and studied Computer Science at Cornell University in the College of Engineering and spent my summers writing software for commercial laser printers and copiers. At the time I was really fascinated by the engineering, physics, math, and software engineering behind the software products I was building, but I was equally, or even more so, fascinated by the product development, sales, and business side of the house. I was really interested in why it is that a company could sell a $200,000 copier and what it was about the product that helped the customer decide to buy it.
So after Cornell I went to McKinsey & Company in New York and spent two years as a management consultant learning about many different businesses and what makes these companies tick and how they sell their products and what kind of value they add. After that I went to work as a product manager at a start-up and spent subsequently most of my career working as a product manager at various small and large companies.
Product management is described in many different ways. Some people describe it as being a mini-CEO, other people describe it as being a jack-of-all-trades, and some people describe it as the perfect marriage between the engineering and the business side of the house. In actuality, project management is all those things and much more. You very much are expected to be a visionary and really understand where your product and where your market is headed and be able to articulate that vision to everybody in your organization and help them buy into it.
You actually are a mini-CEO in a lot of ways. You’re not the boss, but you do have to bring a lot of different people to the table to make a product launch successful. You don’t just build the product, you have to have sales, marketing, finance, legal, customer service, and other aspects of your organization involved in a successful product launch as well as making the product successful for the long term.
You do have to be a jack-of-all-trades in many different ways. You have to spend a lot of time with customers. You have to be able to dive into the details of, for example, customer service problems and what it is about your product that ultimately resulted in that customer service problem. You do have to have an opinion about how your product is developed and have a very business intuition and business orientation so that when it comes time to dive into the details of “should the icon be blue or green” or “should something be on the left side or the right side of the screen,” you actually have to bring your vision and bring the customer’s voice into the development process. People expect you to be able to use that background to be able to help make day-to-day decision on how the product should function and how it should work.
So when you’re interviewing at a company, frequently they do look for Computer Science or some kind of technical degree, but it’s not a pre-requisite. There are a couple things that come up in the interview process and ultimately help make you successful as a product manager. The first is you just have to love products. If you’re looking for a job in the software industry, you have to learn and know software products and have an opinion about what makes a great product, what makes a bad product, and how would you improve an already great product. What makes a great experience, describe your own experiences signing up for a website or trying to accomplish something in your life. You also have to be able to talk to engineers. So if you don’t have a technical degree, you have to be a hacker. You have to understand what a database is, or how a web browser functions. These are some of the things companies look for.
One of the most successful and rewarding projects I’ve had in my career was helping rebuild an advertising fernand. What that is is a website where advertisers can go to purchase advertising on your particular web property. The project I worked on was more than two years and involved sixty or seventy engineers so I really had to have a long-term vision for where we wanted to be two years out, which in the software business is an eternity. I also had to be able to dive into the details and be able to work with any one of those sixty engineers on a given very specific task and say “okay here’s what I understand about the market and what these advertisers are trying to accomplish” and what does that intuition bring in terms of this very specific thing we’re designing and the sequence we build things in.
I hope this was a useful introduction to product management and I hope you’ll consider a career in product management for yourself. Thank you.