How many product managers do you know that started their career as an actual product manager? Becoming a product manager is often as individual as the person themselves. But why are people becoming product managers? What are the stories behind the decision? That is what we here at XING want to find out.
What did you want to become when you were younger?
Easy one, an Astronaut 👨🏼🚀. Back then when I was a small kid, I was fascinated from the idea to walk on the moon, to ride a spacecraft and to see the earth from above. Somehow, it didn’t work out and I really don’t know why 😊, but maybe it’s not too late 🤔?
What would you say are your best skills?
Definitely my curiosity. When I am interested in a topic I dive deep into it. I basically want to understand everything about the topic, no matter how much work and time it will cost. This skill helped me a lot while I was working as a software tester, to find out root causes of bugs and to explain them to the developer. Now as a product manager, curiosity helps me a lot to understand our users and what they really want.
What is your educational background? What did you learn? And why?
I studied Computer Science. Again this was motivated by my curiosity. When I was a teenager, I literally disassembled all my tech equipment. Starting from my PlayStation to my computers. During the school breaks I worked in a small company in my town to earn money for computer parts to build up my own system. However, I didn’t fully understand everything in the computer, so my decision was made to study computer science. I was shocked a bit by the fact that mathematics was an essential part of all semesters 😅 but in the end this was also fun, and I learned many things about computer systems, programming languages and testing software.
What was the exact moment you thought of becoming a product manager? And why?
During my university studies, I worked at IBM in a software development department. IBM was smart enough to not let a young student write production code, so they put me into testing (which was not meant in a negative way). The idea with testing the product was to get familiar with the system and maybe to some issues. Well, I found several of them and I had lots of fun exploring the system and providing feedback. That was the key moment, when I decided to start a professional career as a software tester. While working as software tester and briefly after I joined XING Engineers first mobile team to set up the testing foundations. Back in 2010, there was not much information out there when it comes to mobile testing. So I decided to start a blog - www.adventuresinqa.com - about my journey in becoming a mobile tester and maybe it would help others to not make the same mistakes I did. Long story short, the blog was a great idea. After some years in mobile testing and writing, I got lots of great feedback on my blog. I was invited to several testing conferences and meetups and in 2014 I decided to write my own book about mobile testing. The name of the english version is Hands-On Mobile App Testing, the german edition is called Mobile App Testing.
However, in 2017 I felt kind of bored by the topic. My curiosity was satisfied in this field and I had the feeling that I need a change. Some months later, I found a product manager job opening at XING and I thought this might be my chance to learn something new.
How did you do it?
So I used my internal network to talk to the people manager for this role and after some talks, I got the job. Looking back, I think a big bonus for me to get the job was the fact that I already worked as an interim product manager for XING’s Android platform team for six months. During that time I learned a lot about product management and what the job is about.
How was the start?
The start in the team as product manager was really smooth. Due to my time as software tester in the company, I knew parts of the team (remote setup) and the product already. Of course it took some time until we re-grouped as a team but overall there were no big problems. I was lucky to get a proper hand-over from the previous product manager in the team. Which helped me a lot getting familiar with the current state of the product, the problems and the planned activities.
Who and what helped you to get to know the role better?
The biggest help in getting started as product manager was the product community at XING. Everybody was really helpful when I had questions about certain things and whom to ask in case of a dependency. Furthermore, I had my curiosity back 😊, so I spent hours of reading different blogs about product management, reading some books about the topics as well as watching product management talks on YouTube.
What did you do, when starting as a product manager? How were you onboarded?
In the first weeks, I made myself more confident with the product. I wrote down the pros and cons from my software tester point of view. There were UX, design as well as technical issues to cover. Due to my technical background I was not only using the product as a user, I was also looking at the code base. Having skills in writing code helped me a lot. When I told the developers about it, they weren’t that happy 😃, but in the end they liked it that I am able to read code and to ask questions e.g. during standup about certain things.
But to be honest, the code reading part became less and less due to other product management activities. I was talking on a regular basis with product marketing, product support and user insights colleagues to get a broader picture about the product.
What was your biggest challenge?
The hardest part for me was to let my software testing role in the company fade away. I had a super skilled software tester in my team and I trusted this colleague a lot. However, sometimes I found myself in judging the testing activities and wanted to do it on my own. But I did not.
What is it about software testing, that make them the best product managers?
I am not sure if every software tester might be a good product manager. However, I think that software testers with a broad experience and skill set can become a really good product manager. Here are some things every software tester and product manager must have in common:
- Communication skills: Testers and product managers need to talk a lot. They must be able to talk to colleagues from different departments from tech to product support. Therefore, the communication must be polite, clear and to the point.
- User perspectives: Software tester and product managers know the user flows in the product. Both have always the user in mind when testing or planning new product improvements or features.
- Handling priorities: Software testers and product managers know how to handle priorities. Both know that not everything can be handled by one person in the team and that some tasks are good as they are or can be improved to a later point in time.
These were just some examples why software testers can be a good product manager. Similar to this, I wrote an article for Applause with the topic Why Product Managers Should Have a Close Relationship With Software Testers.
What did you recognise in product managers you want to do differently?
Product management is a team effort and not a one woman/ man show. I saw several product managers in different companies acting like a boss of the team. Pushing people around and telling them exactly what and how to do things. I really hate this.
I see product management as a whole team effort. A software development team has different roles, from UX, design, backend to frontend engineers and software testers. Everybody in his/her role is an expert and not a single product manager can or should judge the work of the individuals. Instead and most important for a team there must be TRUST. If a product manager is not having any trust in the team, there will never be a healthy working environment.
What was your best moment as a product manager so far?
There are basically two things. Firstly, that the team I am working with is a happy team. That they enjoy working together and that they are supportive and helpful. I have seen this the last 3 years in my team and it’s just great!
Secondly, the products we are developing are used by our customers and add a value for them. Seeing that our planning and discovery time pays off already in user interviews and then later on in the production environment.
What was your hardest moment so far?
Leaving a great team! After one year in my first team as product manager at XING, my people manager asked me if I could imagine taking over a bigger team with a broader scope. It wasn’t an easy decision for me, but again my curiosity kicked in because I wanted to learn more. So I explained this to my team and moved on.
Which advice would you give the younger you today before moving into product management?
Don’t put too much pressure onto your shoulders. It’s ok to not know everything from the beginning but keep an eye on opportunities and always keep learning.
This interview is part of the article series ‘Why … Make The Best Product Managers’. In this series we ask our colleagues here at XING and externally to get an insight into the many ways into product management.