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.