Curb your: Product Manager Aspirations

During my time at the University of Washington, the one thing I’d hear over and over again from many of my peers is their aspirations of being product managers. I too have had these aspirations. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with aspiring to be a product manager. It is an exciting feeling to be at the forefront developing technology or products which many people cherish and use.

A few years out from graduating, there are many of my peers who have entered the work force and still cling so dearly onto these aspirations. Unfortunately, many of them will never be a product manager and here is why.

  1. Wrong Intentions. To have a genuine understanding of what others value makes a great product and requires empathy and understanding. A great product creates value for others. The biggest reason why my peers will never be a product managers is because their intentions are not outward facing, but rather inward facing. I’ve noticed a trend that many people covet these product manager positions not because they want to create value for others but because these positions are considered “prestigious” and “pays well”. Granted everyone would love to have a job that pays well. However shallow reasons reflect a lack of substance and a product that results from self boasting or self aggrandizement will just be as useless as its creator.
  2. Having the Personality of Damp Cardboard. Working on product is just as much a people problem as it is a technical problem. It is a product managers job to communicate with other teams, other groups, clients, customers, etc. There are a lot soft skills which are needed to bring a product to fruition. Great product managers will go out of their way to meet with others. Many of my peers don’t seem to understand the concept of people skills and foolishly believe that great technical skills can make anything come true. These persons might have somewhat competent technical skills, but have the personality of damp cardboard. Additionally, time spent looking in the mirror is time spent not cultivating relationships.
  3. Not Understanding the Company. A great product manager will see how the product fits into the company ethos as will frame the product in such a way that captures customer attention. Working in a particular job may reveal certain parts of what a company does; however, learning the full picture requires experiencing the full picture. Many of my peers foolishly believe that simply the merit of working at a specific company will automatically give them a full picture of what the company does. Many of my peers have been working on a very specific portion of a product in a very narrow part of the company. I suppose it is hard to have a full view of a company when these individuals are so blinded by their egos.
  4. No experience in Product Manager. Experience is necessary. To be a great product manager requires practice product managing. Many of my peers may have spent the past couple years working as software developers, as a result they might be competent software developers. However, they foolishly believe that by being a great software developer they will become a great product manager. A corresponding allegory is as if they spent years as soccer freestylers and walked to a professional soccer team demanding to be team captains.

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