Path to PM: Adam Tornes, Product Manager at Twitter

Breaking into a product management career can be a challenging endeavor and the “best” or most “straightforward” method to do so is largely undefined.  Product Management is often referred to as a role that is learned through experience rather than taught in the classroom.  “Path to PM” is a blog series highlighting the many diverse, interesting and unique paths the writers have taken to become a Product Manager.

Adam Tornes currently serves as Product Manager at Twitter and Director, Co-founder of ColoradoProduct.  Prior to joining Twitter, Adam served in a core product management or development role at numerous successful startups. Adam holds a BS from Purdue University and a MBA from The Ohio State University.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, my path to becoming a PM started with my college and degree selection. Coming out of high school, I wanted to pursue either a business degree or a college program that would allow me to combine my passions for digital design and computer science.  (Who knew that Product Management was the intersection of the three?!?)  I struggled to find a program that would effectively merge my interests in design and computer science. Ultimately, I chose the one university / program that would allow me to do so, but expected that in time, I’d eventually pursue my other interest; the management / business side.

After school, I relocated to Boston to take my first job as a Web Development Engineer at Compete.  While at Compete, I developed a close relationship with the product team.  Members of that team told me I had an “proclivity toward the business side and understanding the voice of the customer”.  I took every opportunity to work on business and product-related projects in addition to my engineering responsibilities. After a few years,  I was ready to move on and I wanted to pursue a new career elsewhere; a new role, at a new company, in a new city.

I chose to pursue a MBA to transition into Product Management by further developing my business acumen. Given my interest in non-traditional MBA fields of technology and product management, I knew I needed to do something unique.  At OSU, I was able to develop my own “major” and tailor it to my goals.  My tailored degree was a combination of courses primarily from the marketing, strategy, and entrepreneurship majors with minor coursework in leadership/management and the extremely limited technology and product management oriented offerings.  Ultimately, I believe this course load prepared me for a career in product management the best an MBA could, especially one at a non-technology oriented school and non-Product Management program (which didn’t really exist).  Beyond the university course load, I embedded myself in any and all extracurricular opportunities and experiences in the university as well as local technology and startup communities.

Though business school was part of the plan, getting a job in product management was the ultimate goal. Networking with existing tech industry connections, reaching out directly to connected alumni in the technology industry, and raw determination led me to both my first internship and subsequent jobs.  The process was frustrating as my peers were applying and interviewing for positions that weren’t expecting them to start for months, at companies accustom to hiring MBAs right out of school. Unfortunately, the 2-3 interviews through the career services department and on-campus opportunities were not very fruitful (or interesting).  Luckily, my engineering experience and MBA did a) make me an intriguing applicant, b) created a compelling reason for reaching out and connecting with industry professionals, and c) provided an excuse to ask about opportunities/needs at companies of interest that may not have open reqs. In the end, I had multiple internship and full-time offers and was able to choose a great position in my desired location of Boulder CO, where I both interned and was hired for my first full-time PM role by the same company. With that first Product Management position, I was hooked and haven’t looked back since!

So what are my takeaways and advice given my own “Path to PM”?

  • Get connected and build a strong network of people that are established in the industry, role or company you are interested in.
  • Build, ship, launch, lead, develop anything you can – a startup idea, a website/blog, an event, an organization, etc.
  • Seek opportunities to tailor existing roles and opportunities in ways that develop skills and experience doing things required of a product manager
  • Create your own path, blaze your own trail and be persistent – nobody is going to hand you your first PM job.


Product Roles: Overview of a Product Manager versus Director versus VP

We are going to kick off our Blog with a series on Product Roles and how each role varies. This series will focus on the work each Product role can play in an organization. Please keep in mind, product team’s responsibilities can be highly varied. Some organizations have parsed these job functions to other roles, sometimes across departments. The success of that parsing will vary from company to company. In this series, we will focus on what we feel the roles entail in a “typical” product organization.

Welcome to Product Management! Let’s start out the series with a quick summary of each job title most common in product organizations. This summary is the most straight forward explanation we could distill the roles into and does not consider Product Marketing, Product Strategy or the delineation Agile sometimes put on roles (Product Owner, Business Analyst, etc.). 

Starting with Product Managers – they fundamentally look after individual products/services: shepherding the short-term development efforts and long-term strategy work to keep a 3-12 month roadmap that’s coherent. There are many, many, many resources out there that describe the intricacies of this role. At the end of the day, you want to empower these people to own the vision, execution, and support of a product/service vertical. You want to ensure they are accountable for the results the product is delivering.

Directors of Product Management look after the business of product management. They usually help oversee the cohesion of multiple product/service verticals and they should be the guiding light on the process and tools used to report the product team’s direction. They are the stabilizing and negotiating hand that ensure teams are operating with synergy. They know when to step in to support a Product Manager and they, most importantly, know when to step back from the Product Manager to let her flourish.

The VP of Product Management functions as senior staff to the rest of the executive team making sure that the company as a whole is building, shipping and supporting the right products. They are the product manager of the organization itself and they should be brokering, negotiating and setting expectations both up and down the organization. These folks should be a beacon at the executive level who represents product/market/company success rather than any one specific function. Thinking more broadly than Engineering, Marketing, Sales or Support. They need to have deep experience in navigating short-term, choppy waters, while plotting the course that will enable long term smooth sailing. They are the one most likely to say “Yes, but the right thing for our long-term business and the markets we serve is… (source)”

In very small organizations, the Director role is probably not necessary; you may find the VP is doing product manager work or vice versa (depends on how cheap titles are in your organization). In the next part of this series, we will dive deeper into the Product Manager role and how we feel it shapes up in different organization sizes. Share your thoughts below in the comment section as to how this relates to your experiences.