Advice for an early-stage PM

Someone reached out to me recently (through a career coach of mine from years ago!) about my journey into PM and asked some great questions about how I got to where I am and how they might consider approaching a career in Product Management. Below are their questions and my answers.

​From your perspective, you’ve had several interesting roles with an expansive field of work, I’d love to learn:

  • how you navigated your career path
    • I get my first full time exposure in Product Management because I wanted to work in games. I went to GDC and networked morning to night for the full week and managed to get a break with a referral for a role at Pocket Gems as an APM.
    • Since then, I’ve mostly worked in startups and I gradually branched out from Gaming specific PM work to a broader consumer PM skill set (although these skills are applicable broadly anyways).
    • I chose to move on to a new opportunity when I felt that the company wasn’t the right fit for me anymore, or if I didn’t see a strong path forward in terms of learning & development in my current role.
  • where you see the market going in your current line of work
    • The most significant change here would be with regards to advances in AI. I think the role of PM will still remain critical but you’ll be able to hand over some of the busywork over to the AI. For example, you’ll still be a central conduit for the team in terms of bringing everything together but folks might be able to query a bot to ask who to talk to for a certain thing or what the status of a ramp is.
  • the skills you have gained throughout your career (either on the job or through structured learning)
    • When I started out as a PM I had a strong business background and was reasonably technical but I didn’t have a academic background in software engineering. I was also data-oriented and analytical but I’d never learned SQL. On the design front, I was already familiar with design tools like Illustrator but hadn’t used tools like Sketch or XD yet. I learned a number of things through doing at Pocket Gems in particular:
      1. How to write SQL
      2. How to read & write JSON
      3. How our systems worked and how to provide direction on feature development as a PM
      4. Using collaborative design software
    • In general, applied learning is going to be most useful as you can become familiar with actual use cases for the tools you’ll be using. Those opportunities can come up in work or as a result of the projects that you’re pursuing yourself.
  • how you leverage ML in your current job (saw you did some studying on the topic)
    • I’m the Product Lead for prompt engineering for a project at LinkedIn called collaborative articles (see articles at On that track I was both developing prompts themselves but also planning out our roadmap and prioritizing our workstreams to make sure we hit our targets as we were producing content at scale using a pre-release version of GPT-4.
    • Outside of that, I work with AI teams at LinkedIn on projects applying to my area so knowledge of how these systems work generally (data, features, model training, model types, etc) is useful to enhance my ability to work with them effectively.
  • small vs. big companies (what you liked, disliked working in different environments)
    • Company size has an effect on a number of dimensions (although some companies aren’t transformed to the same degree as they grow) things like job stability, level of communication required, liquid vs. illiquid compensation tend to be connected to company size. Generally, being at a larger company is going to give you a more stable outcome (less downside, less upside) but won’t give you as much flexibility and breadth to explore as a smaller company. What I tell early stage PMs is that generally, starting off in a larger company is probably the better overall decision as you’ll have much better liquid compensation, an opportunity to build out your network and a strong brand name to build off of for your future career moves.
    • For me personally, I have a few factors I consider when deciding what kind of company to join
      1. Quality of their product
      2. The people
      3. Culture
      4. Growth potential
      5. Financial upside
    • Now that I’m working at a larger company, what I’ve felt most of all is the sheer amount of work required to get things done. The scale means that your impact still carries well but it does generally slow down the pace at which you’re able to innovate and experiment. I think the sweet spot for me would be starting my own company (small, agile, freedom to make own decisions and own mistakes, shape company as I see it) or joining a pre-IPO startup (still agile and quick moving, getting into scale territory but still room to grow)
  • any advice you may have for me based off my interests (I am sometimes overwhelmed with the possibilities so I am learning how to work through this and focus on my current job dtd)​
    • Being a PM is a mix of many different skills and responsibilities (and that mix also varies across companies). If you like the variety and the challenge of bringing together so many different disciplines and wide groups of stakeholders together you’ll probably like being a PM. Another factor here will also be your comfort with ownership and responsibility, as a PM you’ll be leading your area and often making final decisions on how to proceed so you’l need to be comfortable with being accountable with how things turn out (even if its not necessarily your responsibility in certain situations).
    • On the other hand, if you find you’re really enjoying a certain subset of areas you’ve explored like design, analytics, software engineering, product marketing, user research, etc – it might be work exploring an IC role in that specific area as you’ll be able to focus in on those specific areas that you really like the most.

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