An Interview with product management veteran John Bartlett
Read: 3 Minutes
Working as a product manager in tech can be an exciting career. But if doing the same thing day after day is your idea of job fulfillment, look elsewhere. Being a product manager requires flexibility, agility, and thinking on your feet because reacting and responding to the shifting needs of the business is exactly what you’ll do. Taking products over the finish line, often in a leadership capacity and as part of a team of designers and developers, has huge rewards. It’s a sense of accomplishment like no other, and it’s why many product managers report high job satisfaction. To get a sense of what working as a product manager is like, we called on John Bartlett, a product management expert who has been bringing products to market for over 20 years. He weighs in on how to pursue a career in product development, the job outlook for product managers, the average salary, and the industry tips he has shared with hundreds of aspiring mentees.
Let’s go back to basics. What initially inspired you to get into product management?
JB: I got into product management the way many people do — by accident. I was at a startup and there wasn’t anyone doing “PM stuff” so I just jumped in and started doing it. After a while, I realized I needed more formal training so I went to work for a larger company that trained their product managers to be focused on the customer. From then on I was hooked, and grew my career working for some very successful companies.
For someone not familiar with the product manager role, can you explain what they do?
JB: The primary role of the product manager is to understand customer problems and to work with a team of designers and developers to help create solutions to those problems. The role involves wearing many hats, along with the ability to juggle multiple priorities and stakeholders, make good decisions for your company and customers, and work hard to solve customer problems. Wherever possible, you should be using data to make those decisions. And, oh yeah, make sure your products are making money for your company!
Where are some of the places a product manager works?
JB: In the tech sector, at companies that build software and hardware products. Or in other sectors like retail — anywhere products and services are being sold online (eCommerce, FinTech, review sites). The PM role is also becoming more popular in IT organizations as they are thinking more about products, rather than projects, for their internal customers. Project managers also exist in other industries outside of tech in everything from insurance products to tractors.
What are some of the programs or software tools that product managers use?
JB: Most use standard office products — MS or Google spreadsheets, presentations, etc. Depending on the role, they may use some prototyping tools like Sketch or Balsamiq. Jira is very popular as a tool for tracking development tasks. Though not designed for PMs, they use it to work with their development teams. Aha and Productboard are two products that are designed for PMs to use for product planning, though usage is not widespread. There are also analytical tools like Google Analytics, Tableau, or Pendo that help to understand how products are being used. SQL can be helpful, as well.
What kind of educational background does someone looking to get into product management need?
JB: You don’t need a tech background to be a product manager unless you’re working on very technical products. A bachelor’s degree is usually required. If your degree is in business, liberal arts, or one where you’ve had to do a lot of writing, even better. A graduate degree like an MBA, while not required, is a plus. What’s important for product managers is the willingness to learn about the technology that’s used in building their products so they can better communicate with their development teams.
What is the typical product manager starting salary?
JB: According to Glassdoor, the average base pay for a product manager is $110,500. Associate product managers can start at around $60K–$70K, with a senior product manager salary in the $100K–$150K range. You’ll find that a product manager’s salary can range widely, depending on the company. Product managers at tech companies are highly valued and can skew higher, with a salary range up to $175K.
Where should I start if I want to make a career switch to becoming a product manager?
JB: If you’re working in a company with product managers, make sure to connect with them and ask them lots of questions about the role. If it’s a career that you think you’d like to pursue, sign up for my product management course at GA, where you can learn the most important skills and best practices. I wish there was a program like this available when I was starting out! The classes are made up of students either thinking about a career change, recently in a PM role, or more experienced PMs looking to uplevel their skills. What’s great is that the class is structured to accommodate all of those levels, so I can work with less-experienced students on fundamentals and experienced students on more advanced topics. I also learn so much from the students since they come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.
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