Career Paths and Career Transitions in Product Management

Product Management, as defined by the CEO and President of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, “is the fusion between technology, what engineers do, and the business side.”
Today, with the advent of technology and its business capabilities, Product Management has evolved into a prime career choice for many of those having business, technology, or design skills.
At the recently held panel discussion on “Product Management – Career Paths and Transitions” at UpGrad Xchange, Bangalore, this seemed to be the sentiment widely echoed by our panelists, as well.   
The panel discussion, as part of UpGrad’s Career Week, was presided by –




  • Arun Iyer, Senior Product Manager at Ola Cabs.

Dr. Pavan Soni, an Innovation Evangelist and a long-standing mentor at UpGrad, was the moderator.
Dr. Pavan Soni introducing Product Management to attendees of Panel Discussion at UpGRad Xchange
As the panelists introduced themselves one by one, the overarching theme that emerged was the fact that none of these seasoned Product Managers actually set out to become a Product Manager. Each of them charted their own career path and transitioned to becoming a successful Product Manager when the right fusion of skills set in.
Ranganath Krishnamani started off as a fine artist and Vamsi Krishna, as a software tester. Vishrut Shukla and Arun Iyer, who were both engineers, dabbled with business before entering the world of Product Management.
The topics that were covered in the panel discussion ranged from the mindset and skillsets of a Product Manager to the ideal career path a person could choose to become a Product Manager.  
Product Management 101 and Career Prospects

Below are the some of the key things that we learnt from the panel discussion:

What are the essential skills of a Product Manager?

A Product Manager should ideally strive to be:

  • Empathetic:

    This role is all about putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and developing a product for them. Vamsi Krishna put it concisely when he said – “Be the Customer.”

  • A good communicator:

    Communication here means the ability to communicate problems or the desired result clearly to the different stakeholders such as engineers, designers, business teams and of course, the management.

  • One with the product:

    When you are the product, you will know exactly how to develop and market it to the customer. An analogy given by Vishrut Shukla was of “being in Samadhi” with the product.

How valuable is an MNC experience and how does it compare with the Startup experience?

MNCs and Startups, both have their own merits.
In a big organisation or an MNC, there are often rules and systems in place to guide you, in order to execute a job. Working in an MNC brings with it advantages such as developing skills like system thinking, process thinking, discipline, and a greater definition or clarity to your role.
Working in a startup, when compared to an MNC, is chaotic. A Product Manager in a startup would have to work on other cross-functional tasks and not just be limited to a Product Manager’s role.
From a career perspective, it is debatable whether you should take up your first Product Manager role in a startup or at an MNC. Learning the ropes of Product Management in an MNC first and then joining a startup would be a better option, was the consensus from the panel. However, at MNCs it’s hard to understand or see the big picture and a clear direction of the product that you are building, whereas you have the big picture set out for you from day one at a startup.
Infographic: What After IT? Top 5 Transitions You Can Make

What is the ideal career path for a Product Manager?

One thing that was clear from the discussion was that there is no ideal path; rather many creative ones.
The role of a Product Manager, as explained by Ranganath Krishnamani, is a mixture of Technology, UX Design, and Business – you can take any route to reach the Product Management position as long as you put in the right kind and amount of effort. Each of the panelists added skills to their repertoire through their past experience of working in different companies and the positions they held.  
Ranganath Krishnamani explaining about Product Management while other panelists listen to him intently:
Ranganath Krishnamani, Vishruth Shukla, Arun Iyer, and
Arun Iyer, on the other hand, stressed on the advantage of knowing technology first and gave the following example:
If a bricklayer and an architect were asked about the basics of building a structure, whose words would you trust the most, the bricklayer or the architect? The bricklayer, without a doubt.  

What advantages does a Business professional moving into Product Management, have?

A person from a business background is already in the driver’s seat.
His/her ability to communicate with different stakeholders in a language that they will all understand, will come in handy. As a business professional, your ability to envision and elevate your thinking will help you build the product.  
On the flip side, along with communication skills, the listening skills of a business person can work to his/her advantage too. Listening to an engineer about their problems and concerns and displaying a good understanding of the same will help you earn their respect.   

What are some of the ‘hard skills’ required for a Product Manager?

A Product Manager’s role is incomplete without the requisite hard skills.
What distinguishes a Product Manager from anyone else is his/her ability to define a problem before finding a solution.
Being able to use analytics to understand raw data will also hold you in good stead. Intuition, coupled with insights derived from data, is what has helped great minds build great products.
If you are a Data Scientist or a Software Engineer, elevate your thinking to that of a Product Manager and start asking questions from that perspective. And the more you think from a customer’s perspective, the more you will be able to understand the nuances of Product Management.  
Group picture with the panelists and the attendees:
Group picture after the panel discussion on career paths and career transitions in Product Management at UpGrad Xchange
In conclusion, we can say that you could be from any background and still be a Product Manager, provided you are willing to continuously learn and build your knowledge base.
Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, said in his recent speech “Don’t Be a Know-It-All, Be a Learn-It-All.”
Finding mentors, signing-up for courses, continuously learning new skills and applying these skills is what will propel you ahead in your career.   
Keeping that in mind, UpGrad, in collaboration with seasoned Product Managers, has designed an in-depth online program on Product Management. The Product Management Certification Program involves case-studies, solving real industry problems, career assistance, and more.
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