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Two weeks ago was my last day as a Product Manager intern at Square. The summer went quickly and I wanted to share some thoughts in hopes that they may be useful to others hoping to break into the world of Product Management. Soon I’ll be heading back to the Kellogg School of Management to finish up my graduate studies and memories of seeing Jack Dorsey roam the hallways in his signature black shirt and jeans will begin to fade.
Quick disclaimer: the following are my views alone and are based on a sample size of one so your mileage may vary. Now onward!
The Basics #1: The PM Internship
Previously, Square focused on software engineering internships. But this year, for the first time, they offered Product Manager internships. Four of us were hired in total, three of us at Square’s Headquarters in downtown San Francisco and the fourth in New York. One came from MIT Sloan, another from Dartmouth Tuck, the third from Wharton, and myself from Kellogg. While some of us had past experience either in tech or finance, three out of four of us had not previously been Product Managers. so don’t let that prevent you from applying.
The Basics #2: The Interview Process
The interviewing process was straightforward and similar to that of other high tech companies. It included a phone screen followed by conversations with a current PM and Engineering Manager. At that point, you’re considered for on-site interviews which consist of two to three in-person interviews. I read through Lewis Lin’s book Decode & Conquer which was helpful, but in general expect questions based on analytical thinking, product strategy, and technical aptitude questions. Square places a premium on culture fit, so don’t be afraid to come as you are and share what you’re passionate about. Practice*: Currently, Square offers its magstripe reader for free. What are the implications of offering a free reader vs. charging for it?
(*Note: not an actual question)
The Basics #3: On Choosing a Project
In my first week, my manager shared with me an on-boarding guide that outlined a few different projects I might consider working on. There were projects of all different size and scope and each with varying degrees of business impact. My main recommendation here is to find at least one meaty project you can sink your teeth into and manage. Not only will this give you a better idea of what is required by PMs, but it will be more satisfying to start and finish something substantial. Scope it out so you can complete it by your end date, and don’t forget to save time at the end to analyze and share out the results.
The Basics #4: Life of an Intern (Beyond the Work)
As the inaugural class of PM interns, my peers and I weren’t quite sure what to expect (beyond the delicious free food), but we were greeted with open arms by everyone. Early on, a senior PM set up a mentorship program that gave us the chance to chat with PMs across the company. As you can imagine, they were super valuable. We also enjoyed the monthly Product All-Hands hosted by the effervescent Head of Caviar Gokul Rajaram with guest speakers across the company. We also had special Q&A sessions with our CEO Jack Dorsey and our equally fantastic CFO Sarah Friar. And every other Friday afternoon was Town Square, a company-wide All-Hands where different teams would show off what they’ve been working on and Squares could ask Jack live questions about any number of company issues. Tip: As an intern (or full-time hire!), plug-in to your company and take part. You’ll meet great people and feel closer to the company and its mission.
The Basics #5: Finishing Strong
Fast forward to the end of your summer. By this point, you’ll have analyzed product usage, written a few Product Requirements Docs (PRDs), encountered bugs on the day of your launch that you hadn’t seen while testing, and through your sheer persistence (and the help of countless others), you’ll have shipped your new feature. Now is the time to document the results and follow-up with people.
At Square, we pride ourselves on transparency, and we have a company-wide email alias that employees can message for any new product announcement or feature change. Did your new feature automate some existing process, improve the merchant experience, or perhaps, speed up the on-boarding process? Write about it and describe the improvements quantitatively.
Finally, since no feature ever ships without the help of many, thank the people you’ve worked with — whether it was just someone who gave you advice over a coffee chat or it was your primary engineering partner who’s the real reason your product shipped, be sure to thank them for the time they’ve spent to help you. Beyond the fact that it’s just the right thing to do, Silicon Valley is a remarkably small place and your reputation matters.
Epilogue: Becoming a PM for the Right Reasons
Anyone exploring Product Management has likely heard the phrase: “PMs are the mini-CEOs of their product.” It sounds great in theory, and I too, used to believe it. Now, having actually been a PM, I think that metaphor can attract people for the wrong reasons. The title CEO (mini or otherwise) connotes power, authority, and vision. The reality is you have very little power as a PM, limited authority, and while product vision is important, it doesn’t mean much unless you can relentlessly execute. So before you apply, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
That being said, there are few things more satisfying than seeing the feature your team built go live in the product. I’m thrilled to have had this opportunity and grateful to Square for launching what hopes to be a robust PM intern program. It truly was an exciting, immersive, and hands-on experience getting to build new products at Square, and I look forward to seeing what next year’s group of PM interns will accomplish!