Misfits, Geniuses, and Ringleaders: Why Product Management May Be Perfect for You

Carey Caulfield
Head of Product at Crossnokaye

product management job

This article is for recent graduates with an entrepreneurial mindset who are thinking about what would be the perfect job for them. It’s also for people thinking about moving into product management. I’m going to start with a question. Raise your hand if someday:

I’m visualizing lots of hands raised out there. I mean, dang, who wouldn’t want to have their own company, be their own boss, and call the shots? For that reason, I’d like to introduce you to a job title you may not have heard of before, but that could give you some runway to practice the skills you might need to start your own company someday — while you still get a great paycheck, benefits, and learnings from a more established company. That job title is Product Manager. Here’s why product management should be your career choice.

You’re in great company. There are some famous people out there who were first product managers before they started being CEO. Here are just a few:

product manager CEOs

And while I’m nowhere close to those three groundbreakers, I have worked at Citrix for over 14 years, leading teams developing and releasing the GoTo branded software that generates millions of dollars in annual revenue. Do I have a degree in computer science or human-computer interaction? No. What might surprise you is that I was a Liberal Arts major in college; I studied Spanish. Long story short, by taking various jobs in the software industry and constantly learning and moving up, I was able to grow my career from web designer to user interface designer to product manager. I ultimately became a product manager because of some of the skills below that I realized I always had.

leader of the pack

Loosely put, the product manager sets the tone for a product, understands the customer’s pain points, leads a team, takes various forms of input, and ultimately makes the product-related decisions. The elephant in this picture is the leader of the pack. It’s almost like her trunk and her feet are pointed in one direction, and as if she is saying:

“Follow me”
“We’re going that way.”
“We are passionate and are we’re on a mission.”

Ok, I’ve got you to this point and so you ask, “What companies need product managers?”

Kind of a simple answer, but any company that has a product or service needs someone to truly understand the needs of its customers and to set the vision and tone for the product and for the people who work on it. In a small company of 1-20, it’s usually the founders, but at some point, the founders have other things to do and may appoint a product manager. In larger companies, there’s almost always a need for many product managers.

Quick gut check. Searching on LinkedIn TODAY, I found (obviously subject to change on the day of search but this gives you a sense):

Before I go too far, let me just say: different companies call “product managers” different things. You find similar jobs under the following names:

Use those terms and you’ve just expanded your search 3x.

So now that you know what it is and what it might be called. Let’s see if it might be a fit for you.

Are You a Ringleader? Then product management might be the career choice for you.

People who like other people, who have the ability to wrangle and lead various folks, (while respecting their opinions and differences) are what I might call Ringleaders. If that’s you, take note. Ringleaders make great product managers because they:

Are You a Curious Observer of Life?

There are some people who love observing the curiosities of life and work. They wonder why things work a certain way and if there might be another way. This is just how they tick — all the time. If that’s you, good news: constant and relentless curiosity is the most essential tool in a product manager’s toolbox. They use it to:

You’ll hear them say, “Huh, isn’t that interesting.”

Do You See Opportunities?

Once you spot a problem or something that could be made better, do you instantly go into thinking, evaluating, and what-if mode, running quick calculations in your head, sketching rough ideas on the back of a napkin? Do you brainstorm with a friend asking, “How might we…?” or “What if…?” If yes, you really should think about a career in product management. Because product managers constantly:

Brian Scudamore
Brian Scudmore founder of 1 800 Junk, $200M in annual revenue company tells his story of “seeing opportunities” his first junk removal truck. Listen to it on the “How I Built This” podcast.

Are You Problem Maker or Problem Solver?

And then there are people who don’t make problems but solve problems. They’re the first ones with an idea, a fix, or a plan. They are not phased — in their eyes, if there’s a will, there’s a way. They aren’t complainers but doers, makers, fixers, and dreamers, envisioning a better or new way. Does that sound like you? If so, product management is all about solving problems; jumping through, around, over, and under obstacles; and asking questions like:

While I was at Citrix, we had the opportunity to come up with a startup app idea when the company was interested in developing lean and scrappy ideas to compete with ankle-biting startups. Along with 4 teammates, we came up with a phone app called Convoi that was targeted at everyday business people who were tired of using their personal cell phones for work but needed a mobile phone number for texting, calling, and business voicemail with clients.

Citrix Convoi

You Understand That You Have to Show Proof

Because they have so many ideas, these kind of people are anxious and want to know if their solution will work — if it will hold water. The bosses funding these projects also want to see proof that they’re on the right track. They usually come up with metrics, triggers, or tests to tell themselves and their teams whether they’re on the right track. Is that you? If so, product managers routinely ask themselves and their teams:

In the Convoi example above, we had some metrics we held ourselves accountable. Here were just a few of ours:

By hitting these we knew we were on the right track.

Are You Adaptable? Then product management might be the career choice for you.

Some people crave change, love the challenge of it, and can turn on a dime. They actually thrive on the adrenaline. They love hard things that might not have been done before. They are on a relentless pursuit of “yes”. The word “no” doesn’t phase them for too long. “No” might be a no for today, but tomorrow the game is different. Product managers know that:

In short, a product manager’s job is all about solving problems for people. If your life has led you to creative thinking, problem-solving, and curiosity, it’s quite possible product management is the perfect career choice and you’d be a perfect fit for a role where you can practice, learn and grow a ton. A role in product management will look terrific on your resume, and the learnings will be great while the risk is minimal. What’s more, you will likely earn a favorable salary (check GlassDoor for product management salaries — not too shabby) and be instilled with the confidence that you might just start your own company someday.
Get the Product Roadmap Kit ➜

About the Author

Carey Caulfield (@careycaulfield) works at LogMeIn in the GoTo business division previously part of Citrix Systems in Santa Barbara, CA as a Principal Product Manager. Her background is in Software Design, User Research/Experience, and practicing LeanStartup within large companies. She’s helped to design and launch three of their flagship products – GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, and GoToTraining. Most recently, she and four other hackers lead from behind with a tiny startup idea called Convoi that turned your personal iPhone into a second business phone, influencing the decision to go into the virtual phone service business. She mentors user researchers, product managers, and Engineers unfamiliar with the principles of LeanStartup to be 120% customer focused at leanproductcoach.com.