Aspiring PM Questions

I have a friend who is currently a sophomore in undergrad and is keen to get into product management! She is in a business degree with no tech experience… is it pretty much required to have a CS or Engineering background? Any information would help! Thanks


No tech experience required. Product managers represent the voice of customer, and prescribe the outcomes that a product must achieve, not necessarily the technology that makes them achieve it. Also keep in mind that there are lots of product managers who are working on non-tech/software products, so of course there’s no tech experience necessary. And really, some of the strongest product managers I’ve known had no tech experience, in part because tech experience can be a trap to draw you in to what you think a possible solution is. Hope this makes sense.


Ok great! That’s definitely the path that sounds like a great fit for a mind and personality. If you were to apply for an internship, What skills or programs do you think would help you stand out as an applicant?


@Carolyn, So in terms of classes, I’d recommend electives in innovation, disruption, market sizing, pricing, and the like. In other words, get beyond how to manage and measure, and get into the classes that give perspective on how to build a business.

Outside of classes, check out Mind the Product and see if there’s a ProductTank near you. Try to attend a local one and start networking - that will be your best opportunity to get an internship. If you don’t live near a ProductTank location, try to find some other product management networking event. If you’re having trouble finding some, try to connect with leaders in product management in your area via LinkedIn and ask for guidance. They can probably tell you about valuable networking events and tell you what they’ll be looking for in internships.


In addition to the good advice that @FelipeRibero shared, here are a few more thoughts…

Take classes that show you’re a generally curious person who is able to become competent in new subjects quickly, ideally challenging subjects. Bonus points for things that involve creativity. So, learn a foreign language, take a filmmaking class, take an art class, take a music theory class.

Do things that show entrepreneurial spirit. Starting a business around a product you created would be awesome, but it’s easier said than done. Starting a club would also be great. Organizing events is great too, especially if they’re creative or kinda complicated and involve coordinating different people in some way. You want to practice being scrappy, creatively figuring out how to get things done, driving things across the finish line, gracefully pulling things together under pressure, and organizing and leading groups of people.

Spend time thinking about products around you. Why are they good, why are they bad, why were they designed the way they are? If there’s a product you think is interesting, reach out to the PMs involved in making it. A lot of them will probably ignore you, especially at big famous companies, but a surprising number will be happy to talk, especially at smaller companies.

Read everything on Stratechery. It’s maybe the best technology business blog out there these days.


@Nathan, Thanks so much! This information has been super helpful. The more I read about this industry, the more I realize that it is a perfect fit for her. She has had her own businesses and has always been creative about how to take them into new directions. She is lucky to have a lot of entrepreneurs around her and has gotten the opportunity to be involved with successful startups. In terms of advancing herself, she has already started getting a better perspective into SQL and she’s planning on diving into Python over winter break!


No, it’s not required for most pm positions. Having an analytical mind and knowledge of the industry/business is though. I work as a PM and none of the other PMs in the entire company come from CS or eng. However I would suggest taking as much SQL and statistics classes you are comfortable with. Knowing python or R can help too depending on the specific industry/company/job focus. And just start thinking about how you would improve a product you like. It’s good practice.


OK that’s good to know! She definitely has that mindset (She’s had a few businesses of her own and would love the perspective of growing a product). She is currently in a business admin degree with a concentration in entrepreneurship. Do you think it would be a better move to go into an information systems degree?

Also, She’s looking for an internship in the bay area for next summer. She has some social media marketing experience and an internship with a finance company in their technology department (app and portal dev) as well as my own businesses. Do you know of any other skills that would be good to obtain for a resume? (She’s planning to take a salesforce online course, etc.).


if she’s targeting this in college she is ahead of the curve my friend. I’ve worked as a business analyst at a marketing tech consulting company, before being a pm grew into popularity, where I mainly figured out strategy and analyzed the reality of various business ideas then wrote/collaborated on the requirements with UX and developers. Then worked as a product owner/pm at another company pretty much doing the same thing and now a pm at a major company. I fell into this out of business school without knowing any tech but I know for sure my life would have been way easier if I knew some fundamentals about how tech worked on the front end, backend, and data structures. Don’t need to go in too deep as the developers will handle that knowledge but she should try to get a sense on enough to make you insightful. I agree with the spirit of some other comments that knowing more about business and innovation, and turning ideas and visions into real plans for execution would be helpful regardless of what type of product she wants to get in to. If she wants to dive into tech I would also advise learning about Agile methodologies as that seems to be the way for how work is organized and executed.

Also I forgot to address your question about certifications. I think the biggest thing she needs to prove in her narrative as an applicant is that she has momentum. She’s a go getter who is constantly trying to grow. When I switched to the PO/PM role I was unemployed but showed I wasn’t stagnant by getting google AdWords certs, it was completely unrelated to my actual work but it showed I wanted to always learn. Now what I would say is that this is most helpful when she gets to the in-person interview stage. So first if she has to apply via HR or online she would benefit to also have a resume with keywords relevant to whatever company/industry she is applying for. So at least try to get certs in the realm of what she’s trying to do i.e. get sales force if she wants to focus on CRM, google AdWords if she wants marketing, etc. Also I’m curious about her business. Having one at 20 is pretty rare and could be good to highlight for extra points even if not directly related.


@Naomi, Thank you for your comment! I would definitely describe her as ahead of the curve in terms of drive and mentality. In order to gain more skills, I have suggested her to take a LinkedIn course to learn more about SQL, and after that dive into Python. Her boyfriend is a Security Operations Engineer in Silicon Valley so she has base level understanding of a lot of concepts but has never taken a course to get a solid foundation.

Her first business was in high school and she sold flower crowns to her peers. She had an Instagram account, business cards and took professional photographs. It wasn’t until her second business, a photography business, that she was able to dive more into social media marketing as well as utilizing community apps to really target her audience. She prides herself on having a creative mind regarding products and services and has always loved the idea of growing businesses. Another example is that she gave her boyfriend the idea of starting his own IT business and helped him target a market that allowed him to obtain a prospering clientele basis!
She’s currently looking for internships in the Bay Area and is fine tuning her skills so that she can hopefully achieve her goal!


I would say at the very least she do some basic courses so she can write/edit some basic code. Udemy, W3schools and Code Academy are great, mostly free resources she can use to get an understanding of the tech side of things. It’s not strictly required, but it’ll give her a perspective as to how products are built.


Nope, no technical expertise required. But you need to understand the technology market and your assets. It also depends on your product! Do you need to be able to make a sofa to optimize how a business markets and sells it and tell an upholsterer what color it needs to be? Hell no. The myth that you have to be an engineer or programmer or designer to be a good product manager is so absolutely irritating and keeps a lot of promising people out of the profession. It also prevents businesses from realizing the full potential of a product function.

1 Like

Ok great! I am definitely going to recommend her to take a class in data analysis to learn more skills. This has been very helpful!

When would you recommend applying for internships for next summer?