[Written by: Anya Singer (FEMBA '17)]
Product management’s popularity is at its peak. A few years ago, all business school students wanted to become consultants or investment bankers after graduation. Now, every other student is going for product management. Product management promises a professional life of fulfillment and creative challenges. But how do you figure out if this is the right field for your personality and aspirations?
This spring quarter I took an inaugural Product Management class offered by Easton Technology Center. Application numbers were so high that there had to be a lottery to decide who gets in. I was very excited that I got enrolled. And so were all my classmates. We came to the first class ready to rock the world of product management.
Our Professor Sunil Rajaraman is himself an Anderson alum, an accomplished entrepreneur and a product manager who knows the subject inside out through his own experience. He’s easily approachable and responsive. Even though, he’s way more senior that any of the students, talking to him feels like talking to a recent grad. Only when he speaks about his experience or brings in guests, you realize how far you still have to go to reach his level.
In five weeks we learned a lot of helpful frameworks, practical tips, and technical tools. Each class had at least one speaker picked out of a group of the most accomplished and innovative product managers in the world. We heard from a Chief Business Officer at Lyft, a former Head of Product at Uber, a Principal Engineer at Google, an innovative Hollywood producer who invented streaming originals (“House of Cards” rings a bell?) and a few startup founders. Since most guests had great personal relationships with Professor Rajaraman, they were relaxed, honest and open to any questions.
My favorite part of the class, though, was our main project. Work on the project definitely didn’t start slow as we found ourselves immersed in all things PM during our very first class. Our final deliverable for the class was a clickable prototype of a product we wanted to build. We were provided a brainstorming framework to guide our thinking and weekly homework but there were a lot of open-ended questions. Why? Because you can’t have a clear instruction for inventing something you haven’t thought of yet. This pushed us far out of our comfort zones. Real product management world doesn’t provide specific requirements, templates, and guides as business school students expect from any class. Product management world is full of ambiguity. Ambiguity is the word that has probably come up the most during this class. Your job as a PM is to reduce ambiguity and create structure that engineers can follow. We all felt the meaning of this through our project. We started in front of empty white boards scratching heads. Five weeks later we presented interactive prototypes to the panel of judges who were blown away by the depth of our thought and newfound wire framing skills. The pride I felt for this project can only be compared to the pride I felt for my BCO presentation.
The class gave us a great idea of what to expect out of a PM position. The main project allowed us to walk in the shoes of a brand new PM at the very start of her career. Speakers gave us a preview of what lies ahead if we were to choose to follow this path. The Professor prepared and warned us about a lot of things that can happen in the middle and promised to stay in our lives as a mentor figure.
While anyone can learn a lot from the class, I think people, who don’t have much product management experience but are contemplating getting into the field, can benefit from it the most. You really get to feel your level of comfort with ambiguity and get to see who you might become in the future. It was a perfect way to get immersed into the product management life for five weeks in the safety of a school setting. Where can you test run a job like that? I’m hooked.