I never thought I would become a product manager (PM). As a matter of fact I never thought I would work in marketing. I actually didn’t know what marketing was, until my mid 20’s.
When I was about 13yrs old, I had a session with my elementary school counselor. She looked at my grades and told me that I could become either an engineer or a doctor. I didn’t like doctors. So I decided that I should pursue a technology route. I went to a vocational high school studying ‘electronics’ and proceeded to college to get a bachelor degree in computer engineering. With a BSEE in my hands, I embarked on an engineering career. It lasted for about 10yrs. I got to design communication systems, computer systems and even tried my hand at managing a team.
Most my colleagues went on to graduate school. Some got a masters degree in engineering (MSEE), others pursued a master in business administration (MBA). I couldn’t quite make up my mind which one to choose, so I signed up for both an MSEE and an MBA programs concurrently.
The MBA program really opened my eyes to another world. The world of business. I realized there are many fields I knew nothing about, and picked finance and marketing as my majors. I became reasonably proficient in finance, but fell in love with marketing. It became clearer as I progressed in my MBA studies that marketing was my destiny.
I was working as a computer engineer while attending school. I don’t know how I managed to juggle a full time job, two masters programs and start a family – all at the same time. Somehow it all worked out…
Towards the end of my MBA program I started looking for another job – a marketing job. I realized that a transition from an engineering role to a marketing role is a major career shift. So I decided to take a ‘baby step’ and move into a “technical marketing” role.
My job was to work closely with product marketing managers, and translate their marketing requirements into detailed functional specifications. I then worked closely with the software engineering team to ensure that the functional specifications I wrote indeed matched the software products they developed. Kind of a “technical go-between” engineering and marketing.
Over time, I was requested to help train the field organization on the products we developed. I found myself traveling all over the world training technical field engineers, and meeting with customers who either considered, or were already using our products. It was a big, fascinating new world for me.
After my first step into technical marketing, I proceeded to fill roles in product marketing, corporate marketing, business development and sales. For the next 20+ years I worked for small companies, medium companies and very large companies. I worked in start-ups – some were very successful and some were not. I worked on hardware products, software products and even service products. I worked for Israeli companies, for American companies, for bi-cultural companies and for international companies. In short, I got to experience and participate in just about every facet of high-tech marketing.
Hi-tech product marketing is an exhilarating field, with hardly any dull moments. There is no other position within a hi-tech company that has more influence on a product success. A good PM can spot market trends, capture customer requirements, prioritize them properly, inspire the engineering team to build a world-class product, and evangelize it with sales to drive revenues and customer acquisition. A good PM is worth his/her weight in gold.
However every PM must learn to face challenging moments. Like facing a customer who is utterly disappointed with your product. Or trying your best, yet failing, to influence your engineering team to build the product the market actually needs. Or losing a major deal to a competitor, that simply did a better job. But for all these “down moments”, I find a PM role to be a very fulfilling one.
I learned a lot of lessons during my years as a PM, and as a leader of PM teams. Surprisingly, many of these lessons are not taught at school. There are many useful “tools” I picked up through my MBA studies. But none of them can substitute the “wisdom” required in a PM job.
I decided to write this blog and share some of my lessons learned throughout my own PM career. And if you have some of your own – do share.