We choose our instructors carefully but they also have to choose us. What are their reasons for wanting to teach in Product School? We presented the question to our three instructors and let the aspiring Product Managers ask some more product management related questions. Here are the results.

 

 

Our instructors

 

Panel Discussion with Product School's Instructors

Jeremy Glassenberg

Product & Platform Leader and a Consultant. Took the “formal” route to product by studying engineering. Also has an MBA but thinks that future Product Managers don’t need it anymore. According to him enthusiasm and the right mindset are what the PM’s need.

 

 

Why did you decide to teach at Product School?

When I was at Box I was writing code at times because we didn’t have enough engineers. Then we hired more people, so I got to train up eight Product Managers. I also had twelve developer advocates from a mix of backgrounds.

One of the advocates was a history major who was helping out the sales team part time. I met him one night to figure out if we could do something else with him. We let him work in developer relations because he had the communication skills, interest in the platform, and he developed the technical skills over time. Eventually, he went on to become a Product Manager.

I learned when I was training people that to become a Product Manager you don’t need the MBA. It’s more about your mindset. The MBA can be helpful but not necessary. From the experience of training others and mentoring product strategy among other things I thought it was time for me to more formally contribute to a system that’s specifically teaching product management outside of the MBA engineering programs.

 

Panel Discussion with Product School's Instructors

May Allen

Product Manager at Projector. She is independent and creative which is why she falls in between marketing, design and engineering. She walked into product and only afterwards realized that what she was doing was product management.

 

 

Why did you decide to teach at Product School?

People still seem to think that the MBA program is something that they need to do to become a Product Manager but I think that things are different now. I think it’s not necessary. Things like soft skills that you would learn in an MBA program can be learned from experience.

There are some specific hard skills in product management that I learned through experience but that I could’ve picked up more quickly had I gone to some kind of formal training. When Carlos reached out to me, and I heard about Product School I looked at the curriculum and thought to myself that “I wish I had taken this class years ago.” It would’ve taught me a lot and saved me from a few mistakes.

The main reason why I decided to teach at Product School is that it’s something that I could’ve benefited myself when I was transitioning into product. I also kind of love teaching so I figured why not.

 

Panel Discussion with Product School's Instructors

Alex Shih

Works on Product and Ecosystem at Planet. Previously he worked at Google Apps and is the former Head of Product at Twitter. He got into product and tech by accident mainly because he knew a lot about it. Alex is passionate about problem solving.

 

 

Why did you decide to teach at Product School?

I echo a lot of the things the others said before. Also I’ve done volunteering, and there’s a lot of joy in sharing experiences. I’ve learned a lot from the students as well about their journeys and their challenges.

The honest answer and I apologize if it’s in any way offensive to some people, is that I’m pretty cynical about a lot of the tech and product in Silicon Valley. In my opinion, the last thing the world needs is another messaging app or photo filtering app.

I’ve been here for about six years, and I find myself jaded about a lot of meaningless tech and a lot of start-ups that are just adding to the noise. I was complaining about it for a while and then thought that I want to try and contribute to a solution. There’s an aspiring new generation of Product Managers so why wouldn’t I try to get people to think about big problems to solve.

 

What skills did you learn on the job that would have helped you grow early on in your career?

May: I think the basic skills of working in a development process and negotiating with all of the different people in your team to agree to ship software that the users love, that’s high quality, and that goes out on time. Soft skills like communication you have to learn if you don’t already have them.

Also the hard skills like the different methodologies as well as the pros, and cons of the choices that you make. Some other examples of hard skills would include performing things like feature audits and data analysis around why you’re choosing that thing to build.

This is really important because when you’re going to an interview, you’ll be having a conversation with the engineering manager who you will be working closely with. Also knowing how to communicate with stakeholders and understanding UX, UI and wireframing is important.

Jeremy: Also how to write impactful PRDs is important.

 

Panel Discussion with Product School's Instructors

 

What should I leave out of a PRD?

Alex: What I try not to do is to propose an architectural solution. It moves the freedom from the engineers so don’t step on engineers’ toes. PRD is a living document that is a starting point that could grow into a much bigger document by the time it’s actually implemented. It starts off as roughly 3-5 pages. The main purpose is to get people aligned in the right direction and then continue to add as we uncover more user stories.

 

What’s the difference between a startup and big company PM roles?

May: In a large company there are many product peers and larger sets of customers as well as data. Skills around data analysis are the key in this situation. You’re making decisions based on a lot of data. On the other hand in a small start-up, you might not have lots of data or customer.

You’re probably doing a lot of the customer development yourself, and you need skills around identifying the customers’ needs and figuring out product market fit. Also, communication skills in bringing bad news around setbacks are important.

Jeremy: In a big company there’s more overhead whereas in a startup you have fewer resources and it takes longer to get things done. The company culture and structure are also different, and they are impacted by other factors besides size. Size matters, but look at the other factors. Starting at a startup is risky, and the benefits of working in a big company are credibility and good training among other things.

Alex: In a big company you have a “training machine” and resources that set up new Product Managers for success. They have lots of tools and resources. In startups, they rarely have resources or previous learnings, and it’s hard for them to access data. There are also not as many tools available.

 

Panel Discussion with Product School's Instructors

 

Any advice on how to break into Product?

Jeremy: Look internally first and work as closely as possible with other Product Managers. Ask them questions and take on some of their work. Make it clear that you are interested and enthusiastic and do side projects. Look for volunteering programs and network. Be willing to help and give because Silicon Valley is built on karma. Be the kind of person that wants to get things built.

May: Go through the bug backlog and help them figure out how to solve a real problem. Ask the other Product Managers if you can help. Go through user feedback on the app store, make sense of it, go above and beyond it to help out. I would get you on board.

Alex: In my class, I make a point of the following: regardless of role, you can practice a lot of the processes and ways of thinking that Product Managers do on a day-to-day basis. The main thing is to learn all that you can about your users ruthlessly. Listen to what they want.

 

Have any comments? Tweet us @ProductSchool

We teach product management courses in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and New York. To learn more about our upcoming courses and how to apply click over to our course page.