Career Guide

How to Become a Product Manager

The fantasy of every software project arising from a programmer’s garage as a solo effort is just that: a fantasy. Today, the apps, websites, and computer infrastructures that are commonplace in our lives are created by teams of developers, engineers, designers, marketers, analysts, and business owners. 

Coordinating the work of a lot of people (sometimes spread far and wide geographically) requires a specialist to make sure everything is getting done when it needs to be done, and that a high quality is maintained. That specialist is a project manager.

Product management is a growing field with lots of opportunity. According to salaries submitted to Glassdoor, American product managers earn an average salary of $100,038 per year.

$100,038

Average Product Manager Salary

125,103

Open Job Listings

20,000

Hiring Companies

What Is Product Management?

Not unlike the director of a motion picture, a project manager is responsible for the planning and execution of any sort of large projects. They are the first point of contact for any questions or problems with a project and as such becomes the source of truth for it. Product manager roles are designed to keep progress moving and ensures that everything is running according to a schedule, or communicates and acts accordingly if it is not, and ensure customer support is adequate. 

What Do Product Managers Do?

Product managers make sure the team is on task, reaching goals, and delivering as needed. Also, product managers set goals and ensures that the product is created properly and brought to the market appropriately. Any software project will have many moving parts and numerous stakeholders involved, requiring an individual to coordinate their efforts and communications.

Product development is a complex job, so great product managers are required to bring the product vision into reality. This includes managing user experience, and to have the leadership skills to manage designers and developers. We’ll speak specifically about job possibilities in the world of software project management here.

Product Management Job Description

If the project manager is involved in the beginning of a project, they will be heavily involved in writing the initial project proposals to get everything started. This might involve working closely with account managers or other business-centric members of your company as well as active communication with the client. This last part is crucial as the clients’ needs need to be understood and their expectations adjusted and met.

Hand in hand with that is project planning. This involves a clear definition of what a project should be able to do at its completion, along with a clear definition for its success so that it can be accurately tested. 

When will we have the product designed correctly? Do we have a product people need? When should the early stage of development be completed? Product management skills are necessary to turn these questions into goals. 

Then to ensure that the goals are given time frames for completion along with any other milestones or events to schedule (such as when software would be released to the client if done so iteratively). 

As there will inevitably be some unforeseen events that affect a project and its timeline, the project manager needs to use their knowledge and experience to prepare for those events as best as they can. 

Once the project begins, they’ll actively engage in project monitoring as it runs. Tracking the project continually means making sure things are on schedule and trying to get ahead of any potential problems before they happen. These problems could be anything from an expected bug to a key developer taking ill. 

Part of that monitoring means documenting the project at every step. In addition to accountability for the project, this makes sure if any future information is needed it is available and accurate. This documentation might make its way into any final client presentations as well.

As the main point of contact for a project, the project manager acts as the liaison between your team and the client. By having one source of truth on the team, communication is more effective and accurate and prevents your team by being bombarded with (well-meaning) questions from the client. Being that one source of truth is also a good way of ensuring high fidelity at every step of the project. As you can imagine, that involves being meticulously accurate with information about it.

A long software project can sometimes be a slog. To avoid having a “death march” (a common industry term for software projects that have no good end in sight), the project manager needs to keep team morale up

This doesn’t mean being a cheerleader, rooting everyone on from the sidelines (but sometimes it can involve this). It does mean making sure the project’s goals are clear and attainable with important milestones acknowledged and celebrated. 

This also means keeping a close eye on team mental health and watching out for anyone approaching burnout (and getting them the help they need).

What Are the Required Skills for Product Management Careers?

Software

Having a technical background, while not necessary, certainly enhances a project manager’s ability to understand, run, and communicate about a software project. Some coding experience can definitely help in this role, even if you wouldn’t be coding yourself. A project manager is more apt to use standard office tools, like Word, Excel, project management tools like Jira or Trello, co-location communication tools like Skype or Google Hangouts, and maybe even some presentation software like Powerpoint.

Communication

When your job involves interacting with a variety of people on your project - all in a wide range of fields - you need to be able to communicate with a wide range of people. This can mean talking software bugs with developers, or target audiences with marketing people, or accounts receivable with your billing department. They may have to speak like a marketer or designer depending on the time of day. The project manager has to go between a lot of different sources, be able to talk with them and understand the information they get back, and then relay that information to others.

Organization

There are a ton of moving parts to a large (or even small) software project. Guess who needs to keep track of them and know what to do when one of them breaks down? The project manager needs to keep a bird’s eye view of everything that’s remotely related to a software project and be able to report on it at a moment’s notice. Organization is key for this. And this is closely related to…

Scheduling

The project manager is the keeper of all schedules. This doesn’t just mean putting dates in a Google calendar and color coding them. It means having a sense of time elapsed and time remaining and what it means to the project. It means looking ahead for possible problems and adjusting to make their damage minimal. It means knowing when everything is where it’s supposed to be all the time.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

You might think most of the problem solving will need to be done by the developers. But the fact is, the project manager will encounter many problems in the course of their day, some of which could grind the entire workflow to a halt. Getting past these requires quick and effective thinking to make sure everything continues to run smoothly. Your job is to keep making sure there’s a train track laid down in front of a moving train.

Leadership

The most important skill to have is a murky one that’s hard to teach: a project manager must be a good leader. Just like being a good boss doesn’t necessarily mean yelling at people when they mess up, a good leader doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers. But it does mean that your team can trust you to lead them good results and deal well with any obstacles that get in the way. This also means inspiring them, especially when the work is feeling hard and endless. They’ll look to you to get them through.

How Much Do Product Managers Make?

Product managers’ salaries average at about $100,038 per year, according to Glassdoor. The range across the country is around $68,000 to $136,000. The salary level for an entry level project manager varies across the United States, from $69,335 in California to $72,779 in Massachusetts

Experience will, of course, push you to the higher end of this spectrum. Any sort of advanced degrees (like an MBA) will help push this as well.

While there certainly are a number of freelance or contracted project managers, most people working in this position are a full-time member of a company, able to build a history with a team and an organization.

CityAverage Salary
San Francisco, CA$124,336
Los Angeles, CA$100,172
Portland, OR$94,059
New York, NY$104,639
Philadelphia, PA$90,040
Seattle, WA$104,884
Minneapolis, MN$94,122
Atlanta, GA$93,367
Phoenix, AZ$88,115
Boston, MA$101,490
Miami, FL$83,113
Chicago, IL$92,795
Milwaukee, WI$90,930
Cleveland, OH$90,371
Dallas, TX$92,535

$100,038

Mean Annual Salary

10%

Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)

125,000

Number Employed

Product Manager Salary by Years of Experience

  • Average Salary

How to Become a Product Manager

Software is going to keep getting more and more complicated to build and deploy, bringing with it bigger and more complex teams to produce it. Each of those software projects needs a captain to help steer the ship safely. If the idea of a career in the IT world appeals to you but you want to work more with the humans developing it, you might consider a career as a project manager. 

There are two main education choices for prospective product managers. The first (and most common) way is through college, and the other option is a product management bootcamp.

Many people also enter the field through previous work experience combined with some sort of formal training, such as a company-sponsored bootcamp. Bring your previous work experience to the field by helping people thrive at building the best software they can. Look to a bootcamp to get you a good perspective into what that world is like.

Product Management Learning Paths

Product Management Bootcamps

Product management bootcamp is a fast and intensive career training program designed to prepare you for a product management job. Bootcamps, while a new arrival to the education scene, are already a proven way to land a job in the industry.

College/University

Colleges and universities provide the traditional route into a product management career. Many product managers earn a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or an MBA before entering the field. Others work their way up from another position within a company, or even an internship.

Self-Study

It’s possible to become a product manager without any formal education in the field, though it’s less common than entering the position from college or a coding bootcamp. Some product managers work their way up from another position within a company, or even an internship.

What Companies Are Hiring Product Managers?

Facebook

Cybersecurity Engineer Positions: 635

Average Salary: $159,183

Apple

Data Science Positions: 168

Average Salary: $141,080

Amazon

Data Science Positions: 2,315

Average Salary: $124,030

Google

Data Science Positions: 776

Average Salary: $156,972

2020 Best Product Management Bootcamps

FAQ

Will coding bootcamp help me get a job?

Absolutely! Coding bootcamp is a proven way to train for a job in tech. Many coding bootcamps offer job guarantees, and some refund tuition if graduates can’t find a job in the field they trained for. In fact, coding bootcamp teaches skills that many college computer science graduates lack.

How much do coding bootcamps cost?

Coding bootcamp tuition varies. Coding bootcamps in New York City cost around $10,000 to $20,000. However, many scholarships and tuition deferment programs are available, so what you see doesn’t have to be what you pay.

What are income share agreements?

Income share agreements, or ISAs, are a new way to pay for education. These programs defer tuition until after students graduate and find a job in the industry. Once students are employed and making above a certain income threshold (usually $40-60,000 per year) they begin paying a fixed percent of their income, often for around 2 years. If students can’t find a job, many bootcamps waive the cost of tuition.

Do I have to learn coding to work in the tech industry?

You don’t have to learn coding to work in the tech industry. In fact, there are several non-coding bootcamps in New York City. These programs train you for a position in tech sales, marketing, or product management–all of which are well-paid positions with plenty of advancement opportunity.

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