What a Product Management Major Could Look Like?

One staple interview question I ask Product Managers is “How did you learn the craft?” . Answers often reflect my story. You start doing the job you observed someone else doing when you were an engineer. You have mentors that teach you the ins and outs. You read everything you can get your hands on. Sometimes there are formal courses like those taught by Pragmatic Marketing, SVPG or an individual class like one taught by Steve Blank or Ken Sandy at Cal. Maybe you get an MBA. The depth of the investment in learning varies with PM’s and that to me is often an indicator of their passion about the role.

My son, who is entering college next year, has expressed interest in product management as a career having observed me in the role. He asked what major someone should study and as he was already headed to engineering I encouraged him as I do many high school seniors- you can’t go wrong with engineering as it teaches you the thought processes you need to be successful in almost any career.

Both of these events led me to ask “Is there a product management major in college? ” Briefly the answer is no. “Should there be?” The typical debate around product management backgrounds is should one have a technical degree, a CS degree or UX. Can non-technical majors lead to good PM’s? In my experience I have met great PM’s with English degrees, political science, business, art history and yes engineering degrees so the argument that you have to have a technical degree doesn’t hold water. So given that can we structure a major that would arm someone to be a great product manager? What courses would someone need to learn problem solving, give them enough technical knowledge, communication skills, decision making, business and financial basics, and design skills.

Here is my ideal course list that a product management major would offer. Man of these are real courses, some I have made up. Please feel free to add your own.

Technical Courses

Physics

Engineering Projects- building shit 101

Intro to CS, Data Structures and SQL

Math- calculus through linear algebra

Probability and Statistics

Dynamic systems

Graphics and Design, HCI, Design Thinking

Manufacturing Techniques (Fire up the CNC…)

Business

Micro economics/Marketing/Pricing/Operations Management/Engineering economics/Decision making Courses

Entrepreneurship

Product Management Toolkits

(4 semesters) — 5 whys, root cause, feasibility impact , Pugh concepts, strategy canvases, epic writing, agile, planning, lean start up, Customer discovery, Measurement and KPI’s, Cases and Applications

Product creation and Packaging- lecture and lab

General Ed

Communications- Persuasion, Evangelizing, Socializing and Listening

Humanities/Psychology/Logic courses

Creativity Techniques

History through Science Fiction (Because I loved that course)

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