Technology Company Product Manager Career Paths
The most common examples of career paths (levels and titles) for product managers at technology (software) companies include; Associate Product Manager, Product Manager, Senior Product Manager, Senior Manager, Director, Vice President, and Senior Vice President. Additionally, it is worthy to note that there are three common entry points into product management in companies such as software and tech companies which include; New Graduate Hire, Former Entrepreneurs and Near Product Manager career switchers.
We started the search by looking for the most common examples of career paths (both levels and titles) for product managers. We received a great deal of information from this search, so we decided to streamline our approach into the most common examples of career paths for product managers in software companies. We were able to get the information we needed from this search. The paths we have chosen are the most common career path put together by experts and reviewers in the industry. The career paths we have chosen appear in almost all sources, were considered to be the most common career path, and the authors from various sources that we used have several years of experience writing about product management.
In searching for the most common examples of career paths for product managers, we took advantage of a compilation of leading publications, expert blogs, and reviewers, industry databases to put together the most common examples of career paths for product managers.
New Graduate Hire
Tech organizations tend to hire potential candidates from top schools and universities, and they also support those who have a specialized degree within the field. This is one straight way to become a product manager. However, it is also the rarest because APM positions tend to be limited and the resume requirements for the job also tends to be codified. The path is undoubtedly hard for someone who had only recently graduated, however, as the world requires more product managers, many tech organizations are broadening their prospects in hiring new graduates from schools and universities, depending on the kind of capabilities they need.
Entrepreneurs tend to fit right in the managerial role. This is why tech organizations tend to hire former entrepreneurs for the product manager position. For example, Facebook has a positive disposition toward entrepreneurial private managers. The actual reason for this is that there are only a handful of other career tracks which fit right in with the responsibilities of a product manager aside for entrepreneurship. While many entrepreneurs do not think that they are equipped to become project managers, it is still a viable position to take if they wish to do so. They simply need more experience and to concentrate more into their current organization so that it may flourish. Additionally, this path is not "only limited to full-time entrepreneurs", but those who are part-time entrepreneurs can also certainly take this path as a side-job or as a “side-hustle”.
Near Product Manager Career Switcher
This is one of the slower paths to take to become a product manager. However, it is one of the most rewarding. To enter into this path, one must take a job with a project manager, and then within that job, the person must assist the project manager in learning as much as possible about the position. When enough knowledge and experience is garnered from the experience, the individual could then find a job as a project manager in a different organization.
Working with a project manager gives the advantage of experience. A person who knows the responsibilities and the role of a project manager in a tech organization will always be ahead of the competition. An example of this advantage is the transition from marketing to product management. A project manager who had the necessary knowledge prior to getting the position itself would have the instinct and relational abilities to do the job.
Associate Product Managers
Much like the near product manager, associate product managers have the advantage of experience when they enter this route. However, this path is not modeled in any school or university, and it requires a considerable amount of experience in workmanship.
Associate product managers are known to work with clients and colleagues, so they must exhibit great potential in empathizing with them. Associate managers should be able to hear all sides of the story and also be able to evaluate the situation with near pinpoint accuracy, using experience and past knowledge to his or her advantage.
When it comes to responsibilities, associate product managers are "responsible for taking bold undertakings",however, with some restrictions. This is why it is essential for associate product managers to learn both the "underlying foundation and hypothetical information" of existing prioritization systems and strategies. Additionally, associate product managers are known to work with groups, so they must be prepared for all parts of group life. It is essential that the manager has the proper disposition to contribute to the group. Moreover, once the associate product manager is ready to proceed to becoming a product manager, the manager must demonstrate that he or she is worthy of the position through action.
Product Manager Proper
The product manager position requires some experience. However, it is not entirely needed to have "direct product management experience" Specifically, expert involvement within the field is required and "correspondence and coordinated effort" viewpoints within the decision-making process. Essentially, the product manager becomes the consultant for the group and the "linkage between developers" and other colleagues within the organization, and with this, the product manager must have a wide array of skill.
A product manager must exhibit proper comprehension of the benefits that each client could provide. Additionally, the product manager must be able to determine a specific client’s issues and needs and be able to give the best information to their clients. In becoming the best product manager, one must be able to adopt an “objective-first” strategy and make the necessary initiatives to support and help realize the company’s overall strategy.
The board must see each part of the responsibilities of a product manager before he or she becomes a senior product manager. If the product manager does his or her job right, clients that come into the organization will feel more educated, and engineering, UX, and marketing will put more trust towards the manager. When such results happen, a product manager will see this as an opportunity to take a higher role and proceed towards a higher position within the project manager career path.
Senior Product Manager
A senior product manager comes into the position offering expert experience, fast ability to think and react to specific problems and be able to take responsibility for their choices. They will also show others in the company as to how things are done and be ready to settle on information-driven decisions depending on the current scenario. They are in a position to lead others and work intimately with item pioneers to add execution within a particular item technique. Additionally, the position is concentrated more towards extensive product procedure and becoming the voice of a certain product group.
Such a job requires profound product and market knowledge, because senior product managers still do the same duties and obligations that product managers and associate product managers do, but this time, with higher impact and higher-visibility products. This is why senior product managers tend to be a primary wellspring of guidance for other existing product managers within the organization. In addition to this, senior managers who effectively advocate the product team to a senior authority are likely to take on a director-level role.
Director of Product
The director of product requires a lot of initiative experience. It also involves the capacity of being a good group chief and how to make and deal with a particular group. Additionally, such a position concentrates on creating better procedures while streamlining known ones. This requires frequent gatherings with inner and outside chiefs and with group pioneers. Within these gatherings, the director of product discuss product techniques and present the product roadmap to different departments and other leaders. They also take part in strategic projects and other existing responsibilities.
Additionally, the director of product will also concentrate on studying other competitors, the best world practices, and the entirety of the market scene. This gives them the knowledge to tutor the product team. This is why it is essential that the director of product is centered on individual KPIs of each colleague within the organization and be the person-in-charge when it comes to the achievement measurements of the business.
Director of product is an essential asset to the product management team. He or she can deliver the necessary experience and qualities to lead the team to success.
The vice-president becomes less required to be a part of the hands-on exercises that are part of an item advancement process. Generally, the VP of product is part of the "broader decision-making authority" and is the one who represents the senior-level executives. He also acts as an overall spokesperson for the company. He or she is also an expert with the clients, the market, and the product. This makes this certain position unique, as it is more into the macro-level of the product manager career path.
Individual companies such as Facebook, Google, Netflix, and other large software companies may have more than one VP of product, however, the responsibility of a VP of product stays the same and this is to incorporate planning for the product organization and to guarantee that certain product decisions are in-line with what the company has in mind. The VP of product also protects the product group from infighting and other legislative issues. The VP of product also empowers existing employees and teams, and at times takes a look into how a product adds into a thought initiative.
Much of a VP of product’s time is dedicated to the reasoning about what kind of requirements are needed from a group daily and to think of what is about to come in the next 12 months, making the position very future-oriented and very strategic. Additionally, the VP of product sets the vision for the product team, making sure that the product strategy is well aligned and is well coordinated with other executives so that it may accelerate growth within the company. For some companies, product strategy and business strategy may mean the same thing; however, a VP of product’s area of influence is not limited to these two and extends deeper into the company.
A successful VP of product can demonstrate success in delivering a variety of products and enables junior product managers to provide their own set of products. He or she is also able to craft a long-term vision that has a foundation of a sound strategy and takes industry trends into account.
Chief Product Officer (CPO)
The CPO is an extended variety of the VP of product position, or also known as the position that manages various other VPs of product. The CPO position requires a detailed inspection of a "product portfolio and making sure" that the necessary staffing resources, budget, and research are all being invested in the proper areas, giving the company the best benefit. The CPO also looks into the numbers three to six months out, while determining the best approach for a three to five-year time frame. He or she also sets the goals and inspire teams to reach that goal. Moreover, in some organizations such as Salesforce, Google, LinkedIn, and others, the CPO position might be the following position for an accomplished VP of product.
There are others who can be a different alternative for veteran product people aside for CPOs, such as general managers, COOs, CEOs, and others. This makes product people great for the GM and COO positions because they are aware of making the right business decisions to push the business onwards. They have been "practicing strategizing, organizing work, testing, approving", and many other skills throughout their entire career, making them essential personnel towards the product manager career path.
Drivers of Variance in the Product Management Career Ladder
There are three drivers of variance within the product management career ladder and these are responsibility set, the value of a customer’s perspective, and promotion cycles.
Responsibility models endeavor to create a simple list of duties for product managers in big organizations such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Lyft. These organizations have set up product manager positions, which means that through responsibility models (which include "contracting rehearses, advancement criteria" and overall responsibilities) their pay rate group could be progressively adjusted. The adjustment of the pay rate group is only adjusted once in a while for new businesses. Additionally, title expansion is a key driver of change in the startup world. An example of this would be a Director of Product having the same responsibility set as a senior product manager or a general product manager at a new tech organization. This gives product managers who are procured by new companies some “re-leveling”.
Similar to responsibility sets, promotion cycles generally fluctuate less the more the organization is well-established. An example of this would be Amazon having a more inflexible promotion cycle than a startup business such as Wealthfront. It is almost uncommon for big companies like Amazon to have a fresh MBA graduate become a product manager and then a director of product two years later. However, for new and startup tech organizations, it is quite common, because new organizations are eager to boost top performers since it is more viable for them, especially when they do not have the money to pay enormous rewards. Additionally, for big organizations, the value of each employee is higher, which means that a big company like Amazon could have horrendous performing product managers, but it won't affect the organization’s overall performance. This is not acceptable for startup organizations. With this in mind, startup organizations do run the risk of hiring new individuals; however, this also makes promoting existing employees generally more alluring.
The value of the customer’s perspective is essential for all parts of the product manager career ladder. As a product manager, one must be aware of the business goals of the customer, "as an individual contributor (user), as an operational function (department head), and as an organization (senior executive)". The organization must support product managers to reach out and collect feedback from real customers. The information gathered will help create the data needed to build more successful products and to push product managers to excel in their chosen career path.