How I transitioned from Marketing & Community building to Product Management

Shelby Stewart is a product manager, based out of San Francisco, CA. She specializes in educational technology and products for both students and educators. She has a passion for data, users, grammar, and anything Harry Potter. You can find out more about her here: 

How was your University time?

Great, though I didn’t major in anything technical. This may come as a shock to some out there, depending on your perspective of product management, but you don’t need a CS degree or an MBA to break into the field. I majored in Psychology and Creative Writing, and right out of college, I thought I was going to write the next Oscar-Winning script or the next American novel. I moved to LA, learned the film industry, decided it wasn’t for me, and moved on… to a copywriting and marketing job where I wrote about lamps. Yep, lamps and sometimes ceiling fans! Then I moved to the Bay Area and got into tech, specifically in the education field. I worked primarily with users as a Community Manger, and at the time, user research wasn’t big at our company. Talking to users, I realized that our product wasn’t exactly solving their pain points. If only there was a job that addressed that…

Why did you Seekout a career in Product Management?

I was still fresh enough out of college that I was able to empathize with our users, and I was frustrated that our products weren’t adequately addressing their concerns. At the time, the company was still small, and I was friends with many of the PMs. Through speaking with them and eventually working with them closely, I realized there was a job to help address user pain points – a PM! After asking around, I realized that I had a lot of experience with users and knew the market well, but I lacked technical skills. Coincidentally, I began closely observing PMs and learning what I might need in order to become one.
What appealed to me was creating products that helped people. I love a good problem, thinking strategically, collaborating with many different people, and leading a team. I thought what a great fit! Now time to teach myself a lot of skills to get there.

What was your first job or nuggets from jobs you had that helped you to get to where you are today?

My initial experience was in writing, marketing, project management, people management, and working with users – all of which were more valuable to product management than I initially thought.
Marketing and community management helped me understand my users very well, as well as my market. Many PMs come from technical backgrounds, but fewer come from marketing. Knowing your users and your market is key as a PM, because you can build something neat, but if you don’t have product market fit, then you’ll never sell. It definitely helped me realize how key that experience was.
Writing comes in daily, because communication matters so much as a product manager. You have to lead your team and invite others along on your journey and vision. If you can’t communicate to your team, stakeholders, and your users, then you’re in trouble. There are many soft skills that come into the job. If you can’t lead and manage, you will struggle in this role.
And last, project management. As a Product Manager, you’ll be juggling many balls at once. You have to be organized, and you have to ruthlessly prioritize. Always.

How did you prepare for an interview?

I taught myself SQL, I took classes at Product School and General Assembly. I read articles on Quora, Medium, and Hacker Noon. I networked, I practiced. I read How to Crack the PM Interview. I applied to at least 50 jobs, if not more. I interviewed and interviewed until I landed the right fit.

Books that helped you?

Honestly, I don’t read a ton of business books, unless I’m forced to. Not that I don’t enjoy them, but I’d rather read fiction. I do read a lot on Medium, listen to podcasts, attend speeches from experts in the field, and network with others to learn.

What can you recommend on CV?

Anything related to the job. Recognize that this varies, so really tailor it to the job description. Some PM roles are more technical, whereas others are more project management oriented. It really varies, but I’d try and tailor your experience to these aspects:
  • UX/UI, mockups
  • User empathy and research
  • Working with engineers and any programming languages you know
  • Data analytics and any languages you know here (SQL, Python, etc.)
  • People management
  • Project management
  • Business – making money, moving metrics, managing a budget, etc.
  • Experience with marketing, sales, working with stakeholders
  • Using software, such as Jira, Asana, etc.
  • GTM, launching products, etc.

Advice for someone looking for Product Management Job?

Don’t just go into this field, because it’s cool or you want to be the one with control. You are beholden to your users and your stakeholders. You will be the one accountable for the success or failure of your product. And you will fail.
You will have days where you’ll be in meetings the entire day. Know that this job is fun, but it’s not just about solving a technical challenge, it’s about creating a vision, prioritization, leading, and working with others. If you don’t love the company you work for, it’s mission, and the problems it is facing, this may not be the career for you. You cannot fall in love with a solution; instead you must fall in love with the problem.

why do you think you were selected among other candidates?

I have been in EdTech for 6 years now, and I have been at a variety of companies where I’ve been fortunate to view education from many different angles. I know the market, the competition, and the users well. That gave me a huge advantage in my interview. I’m also super passionate about education, and I think that comes across well in interviews.

Lessons from jobs that you couldn’t get.

Oy vey! Do your research. You know the saying, “fake it ’till you make it”? Doesn’t work in interviews! I honestly was lucky enough to get some interviews when I wasn’t fully prepared in terms of experience, and it showed. I really didn’t know what I was talking about. I was also interviewing everywhere, even if I didn’t care about the company, and that showed too.
You can interview all you want to get the experience and practice, but I’d recommend at a certain point being selective. Interview at companies you truly care about and do your research. Send them a feature idea ahead of time. Be sure to speak to everything you’ve put on your resume. Find something that you’re passionate about.
Figure out your superpower – what makes you unique compared to everyone else interviewing.
And always, always treat it as an opportunity to learn.

Things are changing very fast in every field, how do you keep yourself update. Please list blogs, podcasts, or any techniques that you follow etc

I’m subscribed to so many newsletters that its hard to keep track. I follow many influencers on Medium, in product, UX/UI, marketing, data, and engineering. Intercom has a great newsletter. PM HQ is great too. Sidebar is also great. But don’t just follow other product newsletters, make sure you follow the trends in your field. I’m also subscribed to many education and tech newsletters as well, so I keep up to date.
Meetups and networking groups are great too, because there’s always tons of great talks out there, where you can learn a lot. Find what works best for you.
How I transitioned from Marketing & Community building to Product Management

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