Why I chose product management over software developmentTue 03 March 2020
I'm about to finish my degree and have been fortunate enough to receive two graduate job offers. One was an associate product manager position at Google, and the other was software engineering at Bloomberg. Both companies and jobs excited me, which left me with a difficult choice. In this post, I'll explain why I chose product management, even after years of wanting to be a software developer.
The factors that were important to my decision won't be the same for everyone, and this post is not a recommendation of one career path over the other. Choosing a job is deeply personal, and both career paths could potentially be right for any given individual. However, I do hope that this post helps someone else if confronted with a similar decision.
At the time of this decision, I:
- was a final year Computer Science student.
- had completed a few software development internships (including an enjoyable one at Bloomberg).
- had applied mostly to software jobs and only to a single product management position (the Google one).
I had applied to the Google APM program on a whim and only because I spotted it while looking for software engineering roles. Of course, I liked the sound of the position but had never really thought about working in product before. I wasn't that clear on what product meant.
Throughout the interview process and up until I signed the contract, I did my best to understand product management. I think that I ended up with a reasonably clear idea of what it is, but of course, I have never actually done it. After my research, the points below are the biggest reasons that justified my decision.
I have always identified with the label 'generalist' for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it means that I enjoy novelty, something that shows up most in my hobbies. I rarely stick with one for longer than a few months. Whether or not this is a character flaw (something I'm still unsure about), it's a part of me that I have to take into account when making big decisions.
Another reason that I identify with this label is a fear of specialisation. The idea of becoming a professional expert in a single field or skill scares me. I worry that it would be boring. I'm not saying that I don't want to be an expert in anything, more that I'm afraid of becoming a one-trick pony.
Software development has the potential to provide new challenges each day. I enjoy writing software, and hopefully always will, but I worry about getting pigeonholed as one type of developer. While development would tick the generalism box at the start of my career, I'm not sure that it still would as my career progressed.
Product management, in itself, would be new for me. From everything I've read, the job involves a lot of context switching and many different skills. Most importantly, it doesn't look like this generalist quality of the job disappears as you move up the career ladder.
Communication is getting an idea out of your head and into someone else's, but this can cover a wide range of skills due to the many ways we convey information. Writing, presenting, face-to-face conversation, education and visual design can all fall under the communication umbrella.
As I've gotten older, I have placed more importance on communication, mostly as a result of enjoying related activities. Writing for this blog, teaching, giving presentations and finding sponsorship for a hackathon have all brought me a lot of satisfaction, and all of them have been communication heavy. Improving my communication is something I find difficult but pleasantly so.
Product management relies heavily on communication. Attempting to align people from different backgrounds requires understanding all perspectives and then translating them into the language of other people around you. I find this challenge exciting.
Rounding my skill-set
I have been programming for a long time and over that time have acquired a decent level of technical skill. While there is still a lot of room for me to grow as a developer, there are many other skills that I have never had the chance to focus on improving. Becoming a product manager would allow me to focus on different skills than those I have been able to so far.
Product managers sit in the middle of developers, designers and business people, allowing them to learn a little about each of these areas. This learning would be alongside getting more in-depth knowledge about product management. Product management should broaden my knowledge base in a way few other positions could.
The Google effect
It might reduce my credibility in some circles, but "working for Google" was also attractive to me. When I first started programming, I idolised Google. Their products were everywhere, and the narrative they cultivated around their working culture seemed exciting and fun, especially for someone who knew little about the working world.
Of course, after having a few jobs and being exposed to more perspectives, my initial infatuation faded. Every year of university, however, I applied religiously to Google for internships. As time went on, some of my friends started getting in, but I still never even received an interview.
So finally getting in after all this time did feel a little unbelievable and I had to be very careful not to accept the offer on that basis alone. I stand by this excitement forming part of my final decision, but it was important to me that it wasn't the whole reason for making my choice.
I justified my final decision with the points above, but it was still painful to reject the software engineering position. The decision process was long and involved a series of pros/cons lists and talking to many people before I settled on an answer. Alongside friends and family, one of my interviewers from Google also offered to answer any questions I had, which was really helpful.
I'm pleased to say that I'm very sure about my decision, and I feel confident that I made the right choice for me. Of course, it's not possible to know that one job or the other is better overall, because that would require predicting not just one future, but two. That said, I have no regrets.
My start date is in August, and I'm super excited.