Autodesk TLV
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14 tips on transitioning to Product Management from QA Engineer position

If you’re a QA Engineer and you’re currently considering your career growth opportunities, Product Management can be a great potential growth path. This might be a win-win situation — you’ll continue dealing with the quality of the product, the user experience as well as the mission of making the life of your customers better. This change also comes with making bigger decisions, having closer communication with customers and customer-facing colleagues.

That being said, we all know that career shifts are never easy. They require a lot of hard work, motivation and persistence. Also, they usually take time and they are full of uncertainties and open questions. In this article, I’d like to share with you 14 practical tips I collected during my journey, starting from the point I realized that I want to become a Product Manager and ending up with me stepping into a Product Management role at Autodesk five months ago. In addition, I’ve cherry picked 13 recommendations for courses, books and articles.

I started my journey at Autodesk 5 years ago as a manual & automation QA engineer. At that time I was in my last year of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, pursuing my BSc in Computer Science & Business Management. I quickly realized that I’m passionate about getting to know customers, their pain points and day-to-day workflows. I was curious about the wide vision that Product Managers have, so I set myself a goal to transition to Product Management.

I have a goal, cool! Now what?

Tip #1: Share your career goals with your manager. Also, continuously reflect to your manager your progress and your achievements.

Tip #2: Create a formal development plan with clear milestones & dates. Make sure to share it with your Manager.

Once I set a goal for myself, I decided to share it with my manager, Hagai Galai. He was supportive and he agreed that Product Management role is a good fit for me. My homework was to understand this role better and list the responsibilities of a Product Manager. In addition, I needed to list the skills of a Product Manager. After massive reading online, I realized that the definition of Product Manager role varies across different companies. Nonetheless, I summarized my conclusions and I came up with the following:

Now I have a goal and I know what skillset is required. Also, I (think that) I understand better the Product Manager role and I still think that it can be a good fit for me.

It seems that everything is ready and we’re good to go. Wait, go where…? I’m at point A and I really (really) want to get to point B. Point B seems very far but I still want to get there. So… What do I do? Should I focus on theoretical learning or practical learning? The answer is both, preferably in parallel.

Learning the theoretics gives a good basis.

Tip #3: Read Product Management related articles & books.

Reading books / articles won’t make you a Product Manager. However, it gives you the ability to learn from the experience of other people (and from their mistakes). It also gives you a variety of point of views as well as basic knowledge.

Article recommendations:

  1. “How to become a Product Manager?” Written by Scott Judson

2.“So you want to be a Product Manager? Here is how I started” by Melanie Lei

3. “Naomi-isms” by Naomi Gleit (Meta head of Product)

4. “25 must-read product management articles” by Latif

Book recommendations:

  1. The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen
    (4.7 stars in Amazon — 795 reviews).
  2. Product Leadership by Martin Eriksson, Nate Walkingshaw and Richard Banfield
    (4.3 stars in Amazon — 257 ratings).
  3. Hooked by Nir Eyal
    (4.6 stars in Amazon — 4784 ratings).
  4. Inspired by Marty Cagan
    (4.6 stars in Amazon — 3206 ratings).
  5. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
    (4.6 stars in Amazon — 4713 ratings).
  6. The MOM test by Rob Fitzpatrick
    (4.7 stars in Amazon — 1306 ratings).

Tip #4: Don’t invest too much time reading articles & books. Go get your hands dirty!

The problem with theoretical learning is that, well, it’s theoretical. Not surprisingly, things in the real world slightly differ from the way they’re described in theory. Therefore, it’s important to not overload yourself with theoretical information.

Constantly seek opportunities to get hands-on experience.

Tip #5: Get a mentor in the company who can teach you and give you Product Management tasks, providing constant feedback on your work.

Tip #6: Be proactive.

Product Management is a wide profession. There are A LOT of things to learn and get experience in. Since I wasn’t sure where to start, I went with the obvious cliché and I found myself a mentor in the company.

When you want to transition to any role, you might benefit from working closely with the person who fulfills this role in your team. If you’re lucky, you’ll find amazing people who are willing to mentor you. These people believe in you and they’ll probably become your advocates in the company. After all, they know you best.

I was mentored by two Product Managers (Dror Ogen and Roei Oved) for around three years. The mentorship with the first Product Manager (Dror) was a tricky one. Being a single manual & automation QA engineer for two products, I struggled with finding the correct balance between Product Management tasks and my day to day work. Later on, I became QA owner of a single product and Roei became the Product Manager in my team. This was an opportunity to create a healthier balance and to get “official” time for Product Management tasks.

While working with Roei I got experience in the following areas:

  1. Performing competitive analysis.
  2. Formulating customer needs / pain points and translating them to problems (and later on — solutions).
  3. Brainstorming for possible solutions for customers’ problems.
  4. Leading the development of several features, from brainstorming solutions, writing detailed requirements, accompanying dev team during development, testing the feature (I’m the QA, remember?😉) and gathering Analytics in Production.

Tip #7: If you’re doing Product Management tasks in addition to fulfilling a different role, don’t be shy to say NO when it becomes too stressful or doesn’t advance your goals.

Roei and I agreed that if there is something I’m interested to work on, I can say it. The second agreement we had is that if I feel too stressed with my tasks, I can say “I don’t have time for X, Y and Z. Can you please take these tasks?”. The constant feedback from my mentor(s) helped me in enriching my Product Management skill sets and improving myself. I’m very grateful for this.

Balance is everything in life.

It took time to find the correct balance for me. I had weeks where 20% of my time was invested in Product related tasks and I had weeks where 60% percent of my time was invested in it. I also had weeks with 0% time for product related tasks. Having clear priorities helped me a lot. Also, I took product related tasks with enough buffer, meaning I could work on them in parallel with my regular day to day tasks. In addition, I learned to use my time in a more effective way and temporary cancelled my nap time in the weekends. Also, I didn’t have more than one “hands on” task in parallel with my other duties. I knew that by keeping my original responsibilities, no one has a reason to push me back.

Make no mistake — it was challenging to make this work. However, it’s not impossible. It requires a successful combination of my will, my hard work, the support of the people around me and a company that supports my career development goals.

Leveraging your current position for your career development is effective.
It’s not surprising that people shift to Product Management from various roles and professions, such as Customer Support, Customer Success, Development, QA, etc. The challenge is to find the benefits in your current role and leverage them for your long term plans by taking active actions. What are the benefits of QA Engineers?

Similar to Product Managers, QA Engineers have a deep understanding of the product. They have wide vision and they’re very familiar with all the flows, including the smallest details. In most cases, they know the product as well as the Product Manager.

Tip #8: Use your deep technical knowledge and try to “transform” it into a more business and customer oriented thinking.

When testing a feature, make sure that you understand the value for the customer and that you know how it serves the business. When working with a product requirements document, I always asked myself how would a customer feel when using the new feature? Will the flow be clear to them? Will they notice the new feature? Is there a way we can improve it?

Tip #9: Try to get as close as you can to customers.

Knowing your customers, their day to day workflows, and their pain points is the responsibility of every Product Manager. In order to obtain this knowledge, you need to learn their world. Since we develop software for construction companies, I decided to read a book related to construction.

Also, I joined as many zoom meetings with the customers as I could. Watching how customers use our product is priceless. It changed the way I test things and it often affected the prioritization of bugs in our backlog. Customers like to talk (a lot) about their day to day, their experience and things they’re struggling with. This way you get “real” information about their life, as opposed to “theoretical” information you get when reading a book. I also took these meetings as a good opportunity to practice my note taking skills, to learn how other Product Managers interact with customers and how they ask questions.

Another good way to understand the customers is to visit them and meet them in person. I was lucky to join a few team members and visit our customers in New York. We met with customers in construction sites and in their office. I learned A LOT in a few days. I had the opportunity to watch “live” how customers use our product and to understand better their day to day as well as their struggles.

Tip #10: Integrate Product Management practices into your day to day QA work

I saw many times how Roei used data in order to make decisions. He often asked the developers to query Production or he extracted data by himself using (frontend) Analytics. I thought that I can base my decisions / requests on data as well. For example, if I want a certain bug to be fixed, I can look for the relevant analytics to “prove” that it’s an important bug to fix.

Surrounding yourself with people who have a similar goal is strongly recommended.

Tip #11: Talk to as many Product Managers as you can.

When you’re going abroad, (most of the time) you read ahead about the destination and you consult with your acquaintances who have already visited this destination. You’ll probably also join related facebooks groups in order to find recommendations and tips.

Same here. I joined several facebook groups of people who want to become Product Managers. Also, I talked to as many Product Managers as I could, both inside and outside of Autodesk. In addition, there is a large variety of meetups to attend and other related events.

Tip #12: Join facebook groups related to Product Management.

Facebook group recommendations:

  1. Becoming Product Managers.
  2. Product Queens.
  3. Product Tank TLV.

Tip #13: Take Product Management related courses.

Similarly to reading books and articles, Product Management courses won’t make you a Product Manager. However, there are many available courses that can enrich your knowledge and provide you with valuable additions to your skills set.

Course recommendations:

  1. 101 Product Management (I took this course).
  2. Product Experts
  3. Product Management courses in LinkedIn Learning.

Tip #14: Networking is priceless!

Around nine months ago I completed a 12 weeks Product Management course called 101 Product Management. It gave me various practical tools in a variety of product related areas. In addition, I had the opportunity to expand my network of connections. I strongly recommend this course.

A pause.

Almost two years ago I gave birth to my son and I was on maternity leave for one year. During that time I practiced my Product Management skills from another angle. I had to learn how to manage in stressful situations, how to address unexpected changes and how to handle a “customer” with frequently changing requirements.

Timing & Opportunity is the best combination.

One month after I returned from maternity leave, an opportunity came up. I applied for a PM position in Autodesk. I went through several interviews with multiple people, technical product interview and I worked on a home assignment that I later presented to 8 people (PMs, UX leads and Engineering Managers). The benefit with these internal transitions is that the home assignment was related to the product and a world I’m (very) familiar with.

Well, mission accomplished! I got from point A to point B! I got my first position as a Product Manager. Moreover, I transitioned from QA to PM position in the same team! This was a huge benefit for me. When you transition to a new position in a new company, you need to learn both a new world & a new role. When you make the transition inside the same team, you can be more focused on learning Product Management. Thank you, Tomer Rosenthal, for believing in me and giving me this opportunity. Also, I appreciate the help with onboarding to this new role and the fact that you are not surprised anymore when I ask you “Hi, I have a question. Are you available for a zoom?”.

Five months have passed since I officially became a Product Manager. I must admit that everything looked a bit scary and overwhelming in the beginning. However, it got better pretty quickly. I’ve learned a lot so far and I have so much more to learn.

Remember how I wanted to get from point A to point B? Now I need to define point C and get there. I’m very excited to begin a new journey with new goals and new challenges!

To summarize, there is no precise recipe for creating big career shifts. Everybody has their own path and their own pace. I think that it’s important to stay focused on your goal, to define clear milestones, to get a mentor, to be patient and understand that this is a process, it takes time and it requires a combination of opportunity & timing.

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