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Tips and Free Resources to become a Great Product Manager
Tips and Free Resources to become a Great Product Manager

Life as an Associate Product Manager at Google

How to get into product management through a rotational scheme or how important is a technical background for a PM? Important questions, often asked. And we got all the answers in our recent live chat with Google APM – read on to discover his insights and some top book recommendations too!

Frank Long

Frank Long is an associate product manager at Google, part of the Knowledge Graph team and working on improving Google Search for the “Next Billion Users”.

He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and Finance and his interests include emerging markets, machine learning and long walks on the beach.

Table of Contents

Can you tell us more about you and how you broke into your APM role at Google?

I started as an APM intern and was referred in by someone I had worked with in the past in a startup. I didn’t expect it to work this way, but I generally think if you do good work, people will notice – whether at the time you’re aware of it or not.

How exactly are you improving search? Is it just in the delivery of the results?

I work on knowledge panels, those cards you get when you search things. Our team also forms much of the infrastructure underlying the Google Assistant!

What exciting thing are you working on that you’d like to share?

I think what’s going on in India is incredible. For example, their GDP growth rates are higher than any other country’s, and the number of internet users in India is growing at an amazing speed. Indians spend nearly double the amount of time on their phones (Android) than people in the US do. India is vastly growing and an important emerging market. See the India section in this.

How do I practice product management, without a current internship?

I think taking on leadership roles in organizations you’re in (in college or otherwise) gives you a lot of the nuts and bolts skills.

How important do you think having a technical background is for a product manager?

It’s unclear. I’d say most of the product managers I know are technical (but that’s also Google’s bias) but I know some exceptionally good non-technical product managers also. I find being technical is generally important just to have a feel of what’s going on.

How do you think your responsibilities are different than a regular product manager’s at Google?

I would say basically the same, many people I work with aren’t aware of the distinction between a product manager and an APM.

How would you suggest going about changing the mindset of an older business so that we can keep up with the industry trends?

Academically, the view is that culture is very difficult to change without the occurrence of a crisis-level event. Here’s something interesting to read: The curse of culture.

I’m an MBA student that has previously worked as a software developer. I have no experience in product. Should I apply for an APM or product manager job?

Every company looks at this differently. I know for a fact that Google hires new graduate product managers out of an MBA. But prior work experience is important.

What are the things to consider when applying for an APM internship to help you get it?

A huge part of it is luck. I went in believing I was qualified but realistically assuming rejection because it’s just a numbers game. Try to stand out (instead of focusing on not messing up) and do what you can to prepare. But keep your options open. I have no secrets, unfortunately.

I’m a recent MBA grad with a marketing background. Is Google’s APM program exclusively for fresh graduates, or would a slightly older guy like me be a good fit?

I’m really not sure (totally different process), but it can’t hurt to apply!

Can you give an example where you felt your computer science background was useful?

It’s useful for getting a general sense of timelines. Many things sound trivial but are a huge amount of work moving the underlying infrastructure.

What aspect of product management are you most passionate about?

Software is perhaps the most consequential economic/societal development since the industrial revolution. Google is one of the leading companies in the field, and I get to be a part of building the future!

Any recommendations for good books?

Here’s one: The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business.

In what ways did the “Innovator’s Dilemma” book help you prepare for an interview?

It gave me a very strong basis for understanding the tech industry.

What product management tools do you use?

We use Google tools (Docs, Slides, Gmail). Sometimes it’s kind of funny because it’s mostly the same stuff I used for group projects in high school and college.

What fits as “relevant experience” for getting a product management internship?

This book explains better than I can: Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology.

Here’s a paragraph a friend wrote about being a product manager that I agree with:

“So, it really depends on the company, but I feel like most companies aside from Google don’t require PMs to have a technical background/know how to code. I think it’s generally nice to have, but honestly, in all PM roles I’ve heard about, it’s not absolutely necessary. Might sound weird especially since you’re going to a company that’s specialized in software but I feel like you may be asked to focus more on product strategy – on a high level, thinking about the direction the product should go in to be successful. On a more day to day basis, having meetings to unblock engineers/sales/marketing/etc. You’re sort of a jack of all trades and maybe writing PRDs (product requirement documents) to scope out a product and define features, think about use cases, etc. The technical background is mostly liked by companies because it means you can better understand engineers and won’t be like ‘why can’t this be done in a week?’ And be able to have conversations with them on more technical stuff (generally high level) without actually having to code.”

How much of the APM interview at Google is on technical coding questions vs. product management-related questions?

One technical question and the rest are on product design.

Does having a background in management and technology consulting help with landing a product manager interview for someone in a non-developer role?

Yes, many ex-Mckinsey people are product managers at Google.

I’m currently a PM intern at a bank’s innovation lab out of Toronto, Canada. What are some tips to break into Silicon Valley?

Persistence. Every year I applied for jobs, and I was rejected from more places than I was accepted. You only need to hit once.

How much does SQL play into your day-to-day?

Quite a bit, shockingly! But I think that’s specifically a Search thing.