What’s a Product Manager?


As you read this post, I want to clarify that I am still maturing and growing in this field. I am a newbie that’s learning on-the-go what Product Management is and is not.

I have interviewed and worked with dozens of Technologists and Product Managers. I hope to share what I have been learning from them and my own research.

So…what’s a Product Manager?

Product Managers (PM) are the individuals that birth and groom technological solutions to business’ and users’ problems. They’re responsible for the success of their product or feature. Their skill set enables them to touch many facets of their organization: marketing, sales, customers, and developers. With these relationships, they will have to balance the requests and advice from execs, customers, engineers, and other teams. 

There is a diversity of product managers with different qualities, duties, and objectives. There are no two PMs alike. Depending on their organization’s size, needs, market, and the industry they are competing in, the product manager could be wearing multiple hats (sales, customer success, and or web developer).

Typical Duties of a PM

  • Prioritizing feature request
  • Collaborate cross-functionally
  • Organizing feature request within a backlog
  • Establishing metrics and success criteria for the features
  • Negotiating and creating timelines for feature request (product roadmap)
  • Writing requirements and specifications for features (PRDs)
  • Creating development tasks
  • Conducting usability interviews and tests

There are 4 questions that each PM and his team must answer during the product development process.

  1. What are we building? – Designer’s primary responsibility
  2. Why are we building X? – PM’s primary responsibility
  3. How will we build X? – Engineer’s primary responsibility
  4. When will we build X? – Determined amongst the team

Although PMs aren’t solely tasked with answering each of these questions, they still must ensure that these building blocks are finalized. The great thing about being a PM is that they never work alone. They normally have a few designers and engineers to take on specific tasks to complete new features.  And this what many PMs enjoy most. Product Management enables individuals to create features and products that will impact their customers and organization. 

What are the core product manager qualities?

Many assume that the product manager is the “idea person,” yet, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Every product manager seeks to hone four core qualities. These qualities operate like checks-and-balances to ensure that their product provides a massive impact.

Industry Awareness

For most tech-entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs (product managers), before building out a product, you must know which market and industry you are competing in and which groups of people you are serving.

Numerous product managers stay in tune with what’s going on in their market by reviewing Techcrunch and The Verge resources. PMs with industry-awareness have an intimate vision for their product’s future. Product Vision is having a deep understanding of your product’s market to discern: 

  • What are my product’s constraints and use-cases?
  • Who are my customers; what are their pain-points?
  • Which companies within my market own market share and why?
  • What’s my go-to-market strategy?
  • How will I establish or reinforce my product’s market fit?

Business Acumen

A Product Manager possessing a business aptitude is aware of its organization’s financial architecture. Before the developers begin cooking the product in the lab, PM will ask the hard questions like “how are these new adaptations of our product going to help us increase adoption, gain new users, increase revenue, and why is that important?” This helps to determine if the product is successful or not. Metrics refers to the “WHY does this product need to be created and why now.”  


Product Managers are obsessed with agile methodologies – building out the leanest version of their product (MVPs); prioritizing user stories enables them to reach their goals while optimizing their resources.

“Estimating the net result of the product’s impact (the product’s value provided to users and the organization) divided by the product’s cost (the company’s $ investment and resources, and development team’s time it takes to build out the project) helps prioritize which products should be built over others.”

For example, let’s say your team is building out a new social feature that’s expected to drive revenue. Knowing how to remain financially astute helps ensure that you are constantly evaluating your product’s success from a revenue standpoint. This will help account executives, business developers, and marketing teams better articulate your products’ value proposition, being that their goal is to bring about more revenue.

Design & Development

Product Managers having an affinity with technology is highly reflected in how much their development (engineering and design) team trusts them. Most incoming PMs are technical in some capacity. They are familiar with building out product development cycles, creating websites, writing code lines, or interacting with software frequently.

Some tools product managers and their teams work with are adobe for UX designers, visual studio for engineers (Java or Python), and project management tools like Jira for the entire team.

This is what wireframing looks like. Designers and PMs create skeletons of their concept to visually demonstrate to other stakeholders the design and functions of their up-and-coming product releases.


Product Managers with experience working with technology help them better communicate with other engineers and designers because they know the constraints of their team’s work and tools.

One of the biggest issues I hear from designers is that they are often tasked with complex objectives and unrealistic time-expectations because PMs aren’t familiar with their design tools’ parameters. 

I was listening to a conversation Gayle McDowell was having, and she mentioned that “…aspiring PMs cannot say that they love technology if they have never written a line of code”. I know that there are plenty of successful PMs with no development experience. However, I took Gayle’s comment to heart and felt convicted. If I desire to work with engineers and designers, I need to get acquainted with the tools and processes they are using to understand better how they think to discern their daily pain-points.

Soft Skills

Like emotional intelligence, soft skills help you have more impactful relationships within the workplace.

To be a fruitful product manager, possessing business acumen, industry awareness, and technical aptitude is not enough. As a PM, you are constantly having hard conversations and networking with other teammates to ensure product launches deliver on time.

Some believe that it is impossible to learn soft skills: coachable, kindness, and work ethic. Yet, I would disagree. A specific skill may come naturally to others, but you can still learn it. The byproduct of soft skills is teammates knowing that you, as the PM, are always looking to grow and mature, which builds camaraderie within the team. In reality, for every product manager, there are a handful of phenomenal designers and engineers that make a PM’s job easier. This is why it is super important that PMs remain coachable and live in a state of humility.

What’s the career trajectory for a PM?

Since our economy is growing technologically, and PMs digitalize an organization’s business processes, there will always be a need for a PM. A PM’s skills and experience will remain transferable because their duties impact decisions in nearly all business levels: marketing, sales, engineering, and customer success. 

On average, many PMs matriculate through their organization well. Google’s Sundar Pichai and LinkedIn’s Ryan Roslansky started as PMs at their respected companies, and now they are the CEO. Of course, results will vary. But, like any other career, if you believe in your company’s vision and product, you are more willing to grow within your organization.


This is an example of what a product structure can look like within a large tech company. In many start-ups, you will not see a sophisticated structure such as this. At different levels within the product org structure, leaders at times are always directly or indirectly influencing product decisions. Today, we have more product-related roles than we did 10 years ago hence why this org structure is so large. As companies continue solving complex user needs, the more diverse product roles become. In other words, the greater the diversity of product roles, the higher the price of entry. 

Barriers to entering into product management

Product Management is one of the most difficult roles to break into. Product Management isn’t normally taught in class, so getting your bachelor’s in PMing is nearly impossible. Many of the product managers I’ve talked to have explained their journey into product management similarly.

“I started out as a customer success lead and I developed a passion for making our product work easier for our customers…and it was downhill from there haha.”

As a company acquires more users and customers, the need for a product manager becomes more apparent. The product manager/engineer ratio is roughly 1:5. In theory, after the 4th engineer has onboard, recruiters begin looking for a product manager to hire.

Why? Product Managers are expensive. On average, a PM’s salary can outpace an engineer’s. Their pay can typically range between $70-300K/year, depending on the company and their location.

This ratio contributes to the competition towards breaking into product management. Frequently, you have hundreds of aspiring product managers (new pivoters and recent college grads) applying for associate product manager roles. But those same roles are also available to the other 20-thousand more experienced and well-established product managers. I’ve seen many APM roles that required 2-3 years of PM experience and PM roles that required 5-7 years. 

There’s less room for error for recruiters and hiring managers when acquiring a PM. Even if the APM role does not require PM experience, they are accountable for taking the most qualified candidate. Even as I write this, I fear that it will hurt me in the short-run. Yet, I would not want it any other way. I like the competition. It forces me to be honest about my own skill-set and seek new relationships with other aspiring PMs.

So far, I’ve learned that Product Managers:

  • Live at the center of 4 core qualities: Business Acumen, Design/Development, Industry Awareness, and Emotional Intelligence
  • Can at one moment manage the communication amongst sales, marketing, HR, and legal, while still having to conduct some UX interviews. 
  • Decide on what features to build, what metrics to achieve, and which kind of customers’ / users’ pain-points to solve
  • Are responsible for the success of their product or feature.
  • And are obsessed with developing new software systems and processes that will increase their customers’ or users’ well-being.

What’s next?

Now that I’ve shared with you my learnings on what I’ve found to be Product Management, I would love to hear your thoughts. Would you like to add anything? Are my findings or opinions off somewhere? Leave a comment below or connect with me via LinkedIn.

And next, I would love to show you how I am breaking into Product Management. Stay tune!

Becoming a Product Manager

I am not a product manager yet. But, I am becoming one. So why am I writing this? And why should you keep reading?

Since I was a kid, I’ve always been great at talking to people. In elementary, I used to spend my recesses breaking up fights amongst other 3rd graders. I would explain to 9-year-olds the importance of loving your neighbor instead of throwing action figures at each other’s faces. However, my ability to help my peers solve conflict did not transfer to my academics.

At the age of 9, I was diagnosed with ADD. I had to take different versions of teachings in different rooms. When I was young, it didn’t bother me because I thought I was getting VIP treatment. But once I started college, I could feel the effects of my diagnosis doing the opposite. 

As an undergrad at Indiana University, I performed well in Trigonometry, Information Systems, and Religious Studies. However, topics outside of these gave me a lot of trouble. I found my focus drift into the Sea of Forgetfulness every day in class, making it tough to graduate. Wherever my focus went, my motivation followed. 

Discover Your Why

My friend Kevin, whom I met as an undergrad, also struggled with a learning disability. However, Kevin was brilliant. He went on to make straight-A’s as a student and eventually became a scientist. 

Like Kevin, many share this story. The most unlikely student who overcomes the odds becomes a success story. I always wondered how he was able to do it until it dawned upon me.

Kevin knew that he wanted to be a scientist at an early age. He had a goal in mind before starting school. He had something to look forward to. Having an ideal goal gave him the extra push to perform well in classes he found disinteresting because he was being backed by his dream career.

Not knowing my dream career made it more difficult to perform well in certain courses because I felt that the only future I could look forward to involved working a job I disliked – exacerbating my ADD in class. 

There is a huge correlation between performing well academically and having a successful career. I assumed that since I do not have a career goal, and I am not performing as well as I want to in my courses, then I will not have a fruitful career. But little did I know that what I have been searching for was right around the corner. Oh, and a side note:

Whether you are a teenager or 75 years old, if you are unsure of your dream career or career passions, please don’t count yourself out. You are still valuable and have a great career ahead of you. 

From Ministry to Technology

Towards the end of my freshman year, I found something that enabled me to provide value for others – ministry. 

I spent most of my years in college teaching high school teens and college students about the Gospel and overcoming adversity by establishing healthy friendships and creating a positive self-image. Dedicating several hours per week to assist others helped me become more confident and hopeful about my future.

Right after I graduated from college, I felt a calling to serve others differently, but I did not know what industry or role it would involve.

During my senior year of college, I had to take a coding course to graduate on time. After I built my first website, I became enamored by the notion that “whatever idea comes to mind, it can be developed.” I felt extremely proud that I possibly found an interesting career field to tap into.

But when I imagined “working in technology,” I could only think of someone with super-thick glasses fixing a computer as a hardware technician or programming some complicated code as a software engineer. I enjoy collaborating with others and creating solutions for people. These careers didn’t appeal to me because I couldn’t see how technology would enable me to help people, so I shelved my interest. 

Once I graduated, my work in ministry slowed down. Within the first few weeks of adulthood, I started asking myself again, “what’s my career passion?” Yet, only vague ideas came to mind, like, “I want to work with great people, build cool stuff, and change the world.” I didn’t know which industry, company, or role that would be, and I honestly didn’t care. I just wanted to help people by making a huge impact somewhere.

One day, a group of friends and I were randomly discussing how difficult it is to repay our student loans. As we talked, I began imagining what technologies or software systems could help debtors pay off their loans. It was almost as if my coding course from college enabled me to be more creative about helping people. It was then I was able to see that social impact element I longed for. 

In 2016, I located the closest tech start-up near my home called Sproutbox. I found a random person there (the Co-founder of the company) and asked him this question:

“I’m trying to connect with people in the start-up scene. Who’s the most important person here?”

To this day, I still can’t believe that that came out of my mouth. I was surprised that he didn’t kick me out for saying that. After embarrassing myself, Brad Wisler, who became my mentor, awkwardly laughed and responded with an…

“…uhhhhhh yeah, let’s just go in the back somewhere and chat.”

For the next three years, within that incubator, I remained hungry. A few start-up founders allowed me to take on any project (unpaid, volunteer, contract) that would supply me with some product-related experiences. Even though I felt strongly about working in technology, I was still unsure of my ideal career role. 

Putting it all together

In 2019, I decided to apply what I learned in those 3 years. Using PowerPoint and my available nights and weekends, I mocked-up a product concept for LinkedIn called The LinkedIn Dream Center. I hypothesized that if LinkedIn diversified its target market and better streamlined its onboarding process, it would increase user acquisition. 

One of the first people I shared with the Dream Center was a friend of mine, a Growth Product Marketer at LinkedIn. I mentioned to him that I was still unsure of what role I wanted to play in technology. I like looking at a product to evaluate its utility for consumers and building a better user experience. What is this called? He responded…

“Kell, you are searching for a career in product management.”

It was like a weight lift itself from my back. I felt more confident to show LinkedIn what I created because I can finally articulate where I wanted my product career to go. My idea caught the attention of several leaders at LinkedIn (C-Levels, VPs, and Directors). I was allowed to present the concept in front of the Director of Product Marketing. The conversation was extremely affirming. Once I heard…

“Kell, your hypothesis is correct. We’ve been trying to figure out a way to expand our user persona beyond what it is now. I would like to send your proposal to the onboarding team to be considered for development.”

I knew that nothing else could encumber me from pursuing my goal to become a product manager. 

Yet, the euphoria was short-lived. Almost immediately, I hit the wall that many aspiring PMs hit: I’ve done PM things. But I still lack PM experience and skills. I need a PM role to gain those same skills and experiences. To me, this sounded like some tomfoolery! 

I volunteered and freelanced at multiple start-ups and tech companies. But my experience kept falling short of actually being a product manager. 

Over the last three months, I applied to over 40 associate product manager (APM) jobs. APM roles usually serve as a developmental role that grooms you into a full-fledged PM. I interviewed with three companies. Even though I thought I crushed the interview, I did not get a callback. The feedback I received from each manager was that they wanted someone with more senior PM experience. 

After hearing that, I struggled to reconcile “needing senior experience for an associate role.” Probably because I assume associate means “you don’t need much experience, you just need to have spirit and gusto!” In some cases, that would slide…but in the case of being an associate product manager, most companies want you to have a romantic relationship with technology already.

This past Jan marked 4 years since I decided to pursue a career in technology. However, receiving, yet, another rejection letter started to take a toll on me. I began reconsidering if working as a PM or even within technology is worth it. I was witnessing that the majority of the black people getting hired as PMs have one of the following: went to Ivy League schools, got their MBA, or created a successful company and sold it. 

One day, while still feeling discouraged from my recent rejections, I set aside 2 hours of my day and reached out to 100 product leaders on LinkedIn. I wanted to see if they could inform me on why I was not getting hired as an associate product manager. From that pile, only one person responded to my “SOS.” An experienced PM at Google accepted my connection request. After sharing my complaints and insecurities about breaking into product management, he challenged me with a task that never crossed my mind.

Kell, if they will not hire you as a PM, you are going to have to hire yourself by becoming one; create the experience for yourself.”


And that brings me here—PM Hustle. I’ve started PM Hustle as a way to share what I’ve learned and will learn on the path to becoming a product manager. I want to repurpose the L’s I’ve received from recruiters and hiring managers to show you, future PM, how I am hustling into product management. 

Within the last 13 months, I have had the honor to have met over 2 dozen PMs and product leaders from Google, Indeed, Salesforce, and other great organizations. Over the next several weeks, I will be referencing my past conversations and experiences with these individuals to create a curriculum on how aspiring product managers can hustle into product management. The content I will be posting will be centered around these topics:

  • What exactly is a Product Manager
  • Where to find a product management mentor.
  • How to create and establish product management experience.
  • How product hiring managers recruit and hire for APM and PM roles.

There are countless hours of amazing product management content online from super experienced PMs at the top of the game— Ben Horowitz, Premal Shah, Sachin Rekhi, Shreyas Doshi, Carlos González de Villaumbrosia, and Andrew Chen

However, PM Hustle is going to be a very different resource. Many of us love hearing success stories of how person X achieved major wins with Y. But it is rare to see – in real-time – that person’s struggle and development on their way to achieving their goals.

PM Hustle is a blog. It’s a publishing business. It’s a curriculum. It’s my first official product to manage. Like me, I know other people want to build technology tools to improve their world as a PM but don’t know how to get started. I hope PM Hustle will grow into a community of eager learners who come together to help each other find their home in product management.

Are you ready to Hustle?