Employer: PERQ

Job Title: Sr. Product Manager

Degree Path: Bachelor of Science, Computer Information Systems and Marketing at Indiana University

Hometown: Chrisney, IN

Current City and State: Carmel, IN

What led you to your getting into tech and this occupation? What was your first job in tech?

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I began college at IU and enrolled as a business major. I signed up for several introductory business classes my freshman year like Intro to Business, Basic Accounting Skills, Intro to Marketing, and The Computer in Business (aka K201). I had heard K201 was very difficult and not a fun class. Luckily, I ended up liking K201 and did well. That set me on the course to take additional Information System classes and pursue it as one of my majors.

My first job in tech was as a developer at Kraft Foods in their Warehousing department at the Madison, WI location. When I first started, I thought bleh – warehousing? But, it turned out to be very interesting and I learned so much. For example, I learned about order fulfillment and inventory tracking, how product needs to be ordered to stack on a pallet correctly and how tall they can be on a pallet, how a semi-truck has to be loaded a specific way with pallets to optimize how many fit, dealing with refrigerated vs non-refrigerated products, and on and on!

I had several senior leaders at Kraft that helped me grasp how valuable it is to fully understand the existing business processes and requirements and translating that into software that helps and optimizes but does not hinder. It was a great first job. I was given the opportunity to grow my skills not only in development, but also in business analysis, project management, implementations, and customer support.

What has been your career path so far?

Developer -> Business Analyst -> Product Manager

I began as a developer and was presented with a career path choice to continue down a technical path or transition to a business path. Although I enjoyed coding, I liked learning business processes and figuring out how to optimize them with software even more, so I moved into a Business Analyst Role. When I was looking for an opportunity closer to home in Indiana, I jumped into a product management role at a software company.

When you think of a day in your life, what are the main work activities you do or responsibilities you have?

– Daily team stand-up meetings to get a quick update on current sprint dev work and see if anything needs my attention
– Reviewing any completed development work to make sure it is ready to go to Production
– Researching, defining, documenting, and requirements for next release features
– Promoting the value of specific features or our full software solution
– Being present and engaged in team scrum meetings
– Collaborating with the Product Management team on Feature Reviews and Release / Roadmap Planning
– Fielding questions on how the product works
– Taking product feedback and requests from clients and internal groups and determining IF and when we would make product changes
– Assessing new feature scope – what is a minimum viable product vs what would I really prefer to see in the feature
– Prioritizing product features and what’s next to work on
– Reviewing data results and determining if action is needed

Help us picture your work environment.

My work environment is primarily at the office and I sit in close proximity to the development and QA teams for easy communication. There are lots of meetings with different groups of people!

What do you love about the work you do?

I love understanding a business problem or goal, breaking it down, and figuring out a strategy for how that can be achieved, improved, or made more efficient with our software. I loved being involved with a great team that works together to design, build, test, and deliver solutions – it is exciting to see how it all comes together!

Which personality traits, interests, and abilities are important or common for a person to succeed in and enjoy this occupation?

– Organized
– Reliable
– Observant
– Leadership
– Communication with tact
– Inquisitive & Curious to learn and understand – how software works, why business process works a certain way, new ways of solving problems
– Detail-Oriented yet able to see and communicate the big picture
– An eye for user experience/ user interaction design

Which tools/technologies or technical skills are particularly important for a person in your job to be proficient in?

I think this can vary by person and company. I currently live in JIRA and I prioritize a list of to-dos daily. My Product Owner counterpart lives in Trello. Use whatever works for you to manage your work.

Understanding the general Software Development Life Cycle is important. Knowing the different methodologies currently used so you can work within the process and not the process and not disrupt it. The methodologies and the product manager role will be different for a startup vs a company with a mature product.

Understanding software integrations and partnerships and how they can be used to enhance your solution is also key.

Which soft skills (aka general business skills or employability skills) are particularly important for a person in this occupation to be proficient in?

– Initiative – you don’t wait to be told what to do as a Product Manager. You just take care of what needs to be done.
– Strategic thinking with product decisions and timing of features delivered
– Teamwork with different groups is part of the Product Manager role every step of the way to delivering software and even after is is released
– Facilitation skills are key to managing meetings and working through thing with the cross-functional teams
– Able to “put on a user’s hat” and experience the software through their eyes
– Time management with the ability to prioritize a variety of tasks that may need immediate attention while not losing sight of moving future work forward
– Quickly learn and be knowledgeable about your product solution
– Able to communicate with anyone and everyone. From the very technical to not-at-all-technical! …engineers, quality assurance, designers, management, sales, marketing, prospects, clients, etc

From your experience with new grads applying for and beginning jobs in this occupation, are they missing any particular knowledge, skills, or experiences that hold them back?

Hmmm, this one is tough – not many new grads are hired directly into a product management role! Any experience in a software environment, leadership skills/experience, client-facing communication skills/experience is important.

Which resources, people, books, websites, etc. would you recommend to those who want to learn more or advance their skills in this occupation?

Pay attention to your manager and other leaders in your life – what do they do well (or not) and why do you think they are a good leader?  Learn from that!

Interact with people in different roles (implementations, sales, client success, etc) or shadow them – understanding different roles and users will give you perspective to think through how features in the software can help or affect others.

InnovateMap has some great articles on their site!  This is one of my favorites geared toward product management.

I also follow Mike Cohn with Mountain Goat Software for Agile articles and tips.

What encouragement or advice would you offer to others considering this occupation or wanting to stand out amongst others?

There isn’t a checklist of “things to do to become a product manager,” but there are so many paths!  Just start somewhere – implementations, client success, sales, somewhere and start learning the product solution and how the business serves its clients.

Product Management is never boring – every single day is a different adventure!

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