In just a few lines, can you outline your career path to product management?

How did you get to where you are now? I know that career paths have been likened to jungle gyms rather than ladders, and I'm interested in seeing where you experienced product managers out there started out, and how you got to where you are now.

49 Replies

Computer engineering degree -> software developer -> application support -> product manager -> requirements engineer -> consultant (BA)-> product & portfolio manager.

I'd always been highly technical and loved creating functionality through code, but I quickly realised I enjoyed helping people too. A company and role pivot into application support saw me using my technical skills to support internal business stakeholders, some of which were product managers, and it was from there I knew where I wanted to go.

A set of downsizing redundancies in 2008 saw me leave my first product management role and, at the time, the product management role wasn't as well defined or known as it is today. I spent some time diversifying my skills in requirements elicitation and business analysis before "coming home" to product management again.

Here’s some examples of different career paths to break into product management. Keep in mind that there are more:

  • Engineer —> Senior Engineer —> Technical Project or Program Manager/ Engineering Manager —> Product Manager
  • Startup Founder <—> Product Manager
  • Management consultant / Investment banker —> Product Manager
  • Customer Support —> Business Analyst/Project Manager or Program Manager —> Product Manager
  • Marketing —> Product Marketing —> Product Manager
  • Design —> Product Design —> Product Manager

One of the most common mistakes in landing your first PM job is to set too high expectations. Instead, you have to asses your current expertise and map out realistic career paths inside or outside your current company. Your ideal PM job will likely not be your first PM job but ensure it is relevant to your career goal, and you are surrounded by senior managers you can keep learning from.

I am an engineer that transitioned into product management 8 years ago. Then I founded Product School to help other aspiring product managers break into product by building side projects and learning from senior-level PMs at top companies such as Google, Facebook, Lyft, Paypal and other startups. We currently offer 8-week part-time courses in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and New York.

Does Product School have industry tie-ups and placement opportunities? Are there companies which look up to your certification?

This is a great question as so many product managers I know came through very different paths.

My personal journey was comp sci major in college -> software developer -> product manager

I actually wasn't looking to move into product management as I loved coding, but an exec in my company recruited (and convinced) me to - saying I had the soft skills for it. The product management role had become vacant for the software product I had been developing for. Because I had the product and industry knowledge already, it was then just a matter of me learning the business side. Best move I ever made!

E-Marketing Assistant > E-Commerce Exec > Digital Development Exec > Web Development Manager > Web consultant (freelancer) > Online Producer > Online Production Lead > Online Production Manager x2 > Digital Operations Manager x3 > Product Manager

Web Development as a hobby (basic stuff like PHP, HTML, CSS) >> Web Development as a part-time job during school >> Project Management as a part-time job during school >> Business Analyst >> Product Manager. During this time I continued to learn to code and design. Skills in Photoshop helped me a lot throughout my career.

Computer engineering degree > software developer > Project Manager & Consultant > Product Manager

With a better understanding of customer needs gained through my past experience the product manager position suits me best and it's a daily excitement conceiving new products !

Finance -> Payroll -> HR and Payroll Implementation -> Project Manager -> Pilot Junkie -> Specialist Consultant -> Marketing Director at NFP board -> Blogger -> Process Manager -> Product Manager

  • PR Writer
  • Copywriter
  • Product Marketing Manager
  • Digital Producer / Strategist
  • Product Manager

One thing is certain: everyone's path to product management is unique!

This is a great question. I am interested in hearing what others have to say as well.

Here is my personal journey. My entire career has been B2B SaaS companies:

Project manager > Associate Brand Manager > Brand Manager > Sr. Product Marketing Manager > Head of Product > (And finally my current role which combines all my past experience) Product Marketing for a company who lives product management :)


Industrial Engineer->Auditor->Operations Manager-> Associate Consultant->Product Manager.

Being from a core industrial engineering background, I had basic knowledge of coding but had a penchant for processes and exploring new technology. Worked at a few places before joining as a consultant to a product company, and not looked back since! It's awesome being around bright minds working on cutting edge technologies in this fast pace industry. Look forward to many more years ahead!


IT Support Engineer -> Software Developer -> Business Analyst -> startup founder as CTO -> Product Manager

I noticed in most of my roles I was always innovating so it became a pathway destined to happen. Especially after building a startup, going through TechStars and building a team.

Project Management > Information System Management > Information System & Project Consultant > Project Director > Product & Program Manager

Overly simplified: Software Implementer/Tech Support > Project/Program Management > Product Management

Came out of college with a Business Admin degree, lucked my way into my first small software company and it took off from there. Never planned to be product manager, but looking back it makes sense that I went this way.


Mechanical engineer > Project manager > Sr. Research engineer> Sr. Adv Development engineer> Gbl Manager Applications Eng > VP Application eng > Startup CTO > Gbl Mgr of Prod Marketing > Gbl Mgr Prod Mgmnt> Sales Manager > Director Bus Dev> Sr. Prod Mrg> Dir Prod Mgmnt > Sr Dir Prod Mgmnt> VP Product > Sr Dir Product > VP Innovation & Prod Mgmnt> Chief Product Officer

Phew!

  1. PR Coordinator
  2. Data Analyst
  3. Junior Sales Executive
  4. Marketing Executive
  5. Product Manager

Graphic designer > web designer > UX designer > Product manager

For me it's been a progression through the elements of UX from the top to the bottom:

Is it beautiful? > Is it usable? > Is it useful?

IT Projects Assistant>Business Information Systems Management (Degree)>Support Engineer>Product Consultant>Requirements Analyst>Product Manager>VP Product Management.

Sales Rep>Call Centre Rep>Trainer>Training Manager>Jr. Product Manager> Product Manager > Sr. Product Manager....all the while I have been a Graphic Designer as well...side business

Wellness Program Specialist -> Wellness Program Coordinator -> Clinical Account Manager -> Sr Product Manager -> Product Management Director

My background is in Health Promotion, Epidemiology, Clinical Intervention and have spent my entire career employed by Health Insurers. I've always been pretty adept at data architecture, I think that's lent a hand in my career progression. Always been an innovator - it's what makes the world go 'round. On the side I've worked with new start ups, even testes the waters with my own.

Research Analyst (doing customer surveys all day)-> Software Engineer (smart cards, pos and embedded) -> PDA Software agency (hey, it was the 90's!) -> Product Manager at Fortune 50 company

Computer Science degree -> Software Developer -> Systems Analyst -> QA Analyst -> Head of QA -> Project Management -> Development Manager -> Product Manager

I've always found that there's no "traditional" path to this profession. Over time, I think a Silicon Valley has pushed a certain pedigree for these roles but the most brilliant product managers I've worked with have dynamic and unique backgrounds.

Here's my own path:

PC Technician

Retail Store Manager

Technical Recruiter

Business Systems Analyst

Product Manager

Head of Product

Engineering degree -> MBA -> Business Analyst -> Project manager -> Product Manager

Moved from development to consulting, then consulting to MBA, then MBA into innovation / product roles.

  • Bus. Info. Tech. degree
  • Solution / Business Architect
  • Management Consulting (Industry agnostic, but leaning slightly towards TMT)
  • Management Consulting (Payments industry focus)
  • Full-time MBA
  • Senior Manager, Innovation / Portfolio / Programme Management (at PayPal)
  • Head of Product (at payments startup)

BS in Agribusiness > Marketing Assistant > National Sales Marketing Coordinator > Wine Club Manager > Account Manager > Training Manager > QA > Product Manager

B.S in EE -> online/social media marketing out of college -> social media for startup, which turned into product management of social media apps within first few weeks -> MBA -> led marketing for startup -> product and project management for payment company transitioning to technology

*Also worked on own side projects along the way (learning many product management skills)

  1. Ad Copywriter
  2. Ad/Comm. Planner (@ Offline Agency)
  3. Entrepreneur (software)
  4. Project Manager
  5. Operations Director (@ Digital Agency)
  6. Product Manager

Entrepreneur (developing consumer facing iOS and Android applications)->Software sales->Product Manager

My journey was Electronic engineering degree -> Field Engineer -> Founder and Product Manager -> Sales Engineer -> Operations -> Product Manager.

Sales --> Sales Support / Engineering --> technical training on SDKs / APIs (C++  Java) --> Professional Services Product Manager --> Product Manager --> Development Manager / CTO --> Business Manager / Product Manager

I graduated with a Finance/Economics double major -> Operational Data Analyst -> Data Acquisition Analyst -> Sales Executive -> Product Manager.

Probably not the most conventional route but I must add I work for a young company with less than 20 employees. Our business model has shifted over the past 12 months and everyone on the team is expected to wear multiple hats - hence the randomness of my journey thus far. I will say I have learned a lot in the first 6 months of holding this position, but I still have a lot of progress to make. You can't really aim to be a "perfect" product manager... you just have to find a system that is both comfortable and efficient.

Great question! It seems that most PM's I speak to all have a different path to the role they are in now. My own personal route was:

Accounting Degree > Support Executive > Product Analyst > Product Manager > Business Analyst Manager > Engineering Department Manager > Product Director

So quite a technical route but was founded on a customer focus background.

Did everything else, got bored with each specialism after 18 months, then discovered that PM is the perfect job for the 'jack of all trades, master of none' short-attention span change junkie. What was I talking about again?

Starting out with an undergraduate in Geography we challenging. I also grew up with technology. So with the pattern recognition of Geography and a technical background it began.

  • System Administrator -> Customer Data Support (aka geocoding) -> Technical Product Manager -> Product Manager

Product management (particularly digital product management) definitely seems to be a field where nearly everyone has a somewhat unconventional path into it. I started out in web development, and worked as a UI engineer, engineering manager, and technical architect, before getting reorged into Product to help with R&D work. From there, it was a natural transition into a product management role. After nearly a decade in product, I've now taken on a broader operations focus, overseeing complementary shared services like marketing, analytics, business development, and revenue, in addition to product.

UI engineer - Business consulting ( enterprise architecture tools) - senior business analyst - product owner/ product manager.

I am now looking for my next product manager gig in a product focused organization 😁

I've been tech and technical roles, recently working with websites and apps mostly so focused in digital space in various domains / clients ...

Here's my somewhat unconventional path (but when compared to most of your journeys here, mine is really not that special...):

Industrial & Product Design major --> Mandarin Immersion Teacher with Teach for America --> Customer Service Manager --> Product Manager --> Sr. Product Manager --> And 10 years (since graduating college) and 8 job later, Director of Product Management

Definitely not looking to leave the world of product management anytime soon as it was love at first sight for me 7 years ago. Thank goodness the world will never run out of problems for us to solve!

Industrial Engineering > Quality Assurance Manager > MBA > Product Manager

I had quite an unexpected path myself. However, it was very interesting to see the so many intersections between building products in heavy industries vs. hi tech, whereas in both you have to gather requirements, run research, design and develop - in fact I did some coding too to run our computer numerical machines. I have illustrated that on my blog hishamms.info

Customer support -> Advertising account exec -> Senior Account Manager -> Producer -> Senior Producer -> Business Analyst -> Product Manager -> Lead Product Manager

Human Biology Degree (university) --> Junior Product Manager for a software company. Then progressed up through the Product Mgmt ranks.

MSc. Mechanical Engineering + Industrial Product Design —> Project Engineer at an eng. consultation firm —> Industry expert at a software company —> Product Designer —> Product Manager

Mechanical Engineering Degree > Jr. Product Manager / Application Support > Product Manager > Global Project Manager

Or, as it actually was:

"Finished Engineering!" > "Well...this isn't really engineering, but its better than Best Buy. I'll do this until I find something better" > "Wait...PM is actually pretty interesting, and its plenty technical!" > Earned Profession Engineering License > "I really like this PM thing"


Human Biology Degree (Loughborough Uni) --> Junior Product Manager (software company)

I'm only at the start of my PM career, but i guess I have taken the more commercial side rather than technical

Business Management degree -> Marketing Internship -> Product Manager

BA in Website Development and Management > Online Advertising Coordinator > Account Manager > Operations Lead > Sales Engineer > Product Manager. I also got my MBA 6 years ago. Love tech, design, UX, people, strategy & marketing. I have been in Digital Marketing for 13 years and started several small businesses.

Software engineer -> Senior Software engineer -> Product Manager

One thing that I realized is having a technical background helps a lot while transitioning to a PM role in a tech company.

Bachelor Commerce Degree (Business Information Systems) -> Auditor -> Internal Auditor -> Financial Controller -> Consultant - > Vendor side Developer -> Customer side Business Analyst -> Consultant -> Customer side Systems Administrator -> Customer side IT Manager -> Vendor side Infrastructure Projects Manager -> Customer side Business Applications Manager -> Consultant -> Vendor side Technical Quality Manager (projects and operations) -> Vendor side Product Manager -> Vendor side Director of Product Management -> Vendor side Global Product Manager

I argue that since i moved out of finance functions I have been a product manager even when it appeared no-where in my job title. customer-side it was the in-house home grown products and vendor side it has been products that we sell to customers who can't, don't or won't develop their own solutions. I have the advantage of having worked with physical as well as digital products too.

Musician > Software Engineer > Delivery Lead > Product Manager > Technical Product Manager.

I didn't succeed as a muso in Australia and needed to get a job that paid money, so I studied Software Engineering at the age 22. I was worried that Software Engineering wouldn't allow me the same creativity as music did, I was wrong! 

The biggest let down for me was becoming a Delivery Lead, I thought I would be able to have more influence towards the building great products for our users however it soon became clear the role was nothing more than a glorified team assistant / agile coach. While it taught me a lot about leading a team and people management (which I think is valuable for every PM) I yearned to get closer to having a direct influence on the product and get my hit of creative expression.

I got my first opportunity internally helping to fix a product that had lots of technical problems, there were no revenue targets only user satisfaction metrics so it was a brilliant place to start for someone with a strong technical background. I loved every moment of product management and realised it was the perfect job for me. 

Since then I've taken on the title Technical Product Manager because many of our PMs aren't very technical and I work on platform products that underpin many of our other direct to user products.