Job Title: Product Manager
Education: BS in Civil Engineering, Northwestern University MS in Structural Analysis and Design, Washington University in St. Louis
Previous Experience: I have always been interested in software development and engineering. I started as an entry level structural engineering designing high-rise buildings for HOK in St. Louis and did that for almost four years. That lead to developing software for two different companies developing structural analysis and design software. I started as a tech support person and did some software testing. By the time I moved on I was a Senior Product Manager responsible for a product line and a good portion of the development team.
Job Tasks: I work for a company that is one of the largest developers of design software - about 75 software products for design. Their products are used to design buildings, bridges, roads, cars, movies and video games.
I am responsible for the product management and strategic direction of the company's main design product's Building Information Modeling (BIM) platform.
A typical day is booked with six to eight hours of meetings and nearly 100 e-mails so time management is critical. I also manage three people and need to make sure they are always productive. The meetings are either to define business objectives and strategy for the product I work on or other products aligned with it. The other type of meeting is to coordinate work with the product design and software development teams.
I also work with development partners who develop software on top of my product. They are basically the secret to successful software because they add capabilities that we do not add because they are too specific to a given market. It is hard work to get people to start developing on top of a platform like ours. But once you have shown the value to a few dozen companies the rest start seeking you out. The secret is to know how to talk geek talk to the engineers and business talk to the business people.
I also spend a lot of time talking to customers to understand their needs and business goals so I can make sure that we build software that delights them in every way.
The secret to my job is very simple - understand that no one pays me to solve simple problems and that the only way to get anything done is to work as a team. Make sure everyone understands what I want to do and why I need to do it. Then make sure to get their support and hold them accountable.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: Best - I work with really smart and hardworking people who challenge me to be my best every day. The products we develop have the power to change the world for the better by enabling architects and engineers to experience and understand their designs before they are real. That is very rewarding - seeing what people can do with what we develop.
The worst part is the six to eight hours of meeting and 100 e-mails. I work between 50 and 60 hours a week most weeks of the year.
1. Never stop learning - Learn from your mistakes, learn from other peoples mistakes, take classes and read books
2. Always be honest and trustworthy. It takes for ever to gain someone's trust and a single moment to loose it.
3. Make sure your managers know what your career goals are. If they don't know they can't help you get there!
Additional Thoughts: A product manager is like the parent of a software product. They are responsible for setting strategy and gaining support for the idea. Be a good listener and ask the people who will be using your software to tell you what they need. Don't assume you know what they need because you will be wrong!
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