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Lindsey Kuper

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What's a product manager? [Nov. 16th, 2006|11:59 pm]
Lindsey Kuper

At my old job, since I spent a lot of time thinking about how our users actually, uh, used things, I kept finding myself in product development discussions. Once, our general manager pulled me aside and said, "You know, if you had any formal business training, you would be dangerous as a product manager."

Cool. What's a product manager?

At first blush, "product management" sounds like the sort of job geeks run from, but I don't think that's necessarily the case. Ken Norton defines it this way:

Product management is a weird discipline full of oddballs and rejects that never quite fit in anywhere else. For my part, I loved the technical challenges of engineering but despised the coding. I liked solving problems, but I hated having other people tell me what to do. I wanted to be a part of the strategic decisions, I wanted to own the product. Marketing appealed to my creativity, but I knew I'd dislike being too far away from the technology. Engineers respected me, but knew my heart was elsewhere and generally thought I was too "marketing-ish." People like me naturally gravitate to product management.

Huh. I actually think that sounds pretty cool. Could I be a closet product manager? And what's this "formal business training" thing all about? Do they make you get that before they let you be Head Geek in Charge of Not Sucking?


[User Picture]From: mediaboy
2006-11-17 08:13 am (UTC)
Back in my old life working for The Man in Redmond, I was a Program Manager, which is similar, but without the marketing end of things. I couldn't code my way out of a paper bag, but I know great software and usability inside out. So it was a pretty good fit, even if the software world wasn't where I was meant to be at the time.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2006-11-18 07:28 pm (UTC)
That's cool; I always wondered what all those program managers did. How did you end up there? When did you leave?
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[User Picture]From: mediaboy
2006-11-19 09:03 pm (UTC)
I was hired right out of college in '99. I managed the helpdesk at Wesleyan, and knew several alumni who were at MSFT already. I guess I interviewed well, since I got put on the shared features team working on Office 10 (later Office XP). We were the team that killed off Clippy. For Office 2007, they finally killed off menus and command bars entirely. My cow-orkers were plenty amused that I had a degree in musical theater, not CompSci or EE, but I certainly wasn't the only PM whose degree didn't match their job.

I stayed through the Office 10 product cycle, but realized I wasn't built for working on something for 18 months before I saw the end result -- I needed more instant gratification, so I left in the spring of '01 to go be a news producer in Tucson.

There's actually a lot of overlap between the skill sets -- you have to keep a lot of balls in the air at once. Only now I work on something for 5 minutes to 8 hours before I see the end result.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2006-11-20 03:37 am (UTC)
My cow-orkers were plenty amused that I had a degree in musical theater, not CompSci or EE

Heh, that's awesome. "I sing, I dance, I hang lights, I design user experiences."
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[User Picture]From: mediaboy
2006-11-20 05:12 am (UTC)
Yeah. Microsoft is big enough that it's a whole lot like college, if you want it to be. Intramural sports, a theater troupe, a cappella groups... Kinda scary, actually.
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[User Picture]From: leadsynth
2006-11-17 03:50 pm (UTC)
What's a product manager? Well, a company develops this new product, say, the Playstation 3. You, the product manager, are an expert on gaming consoles and the Blu-ray format, so you use your hands-on and textbooky understanding of what this product does, to develop a marketing plan for it. The idea is that your technical/practical knowledge of the product and its appeal, will aid you in determining WHO the hell is going to buy it (the market for it) and for how much. So you come up with this plan, which is basically a budget. Then you and the marketing people who work under you carry out the plan, writing ads and buying media to show the ads, and so on and so forth. And you're in charge of the books. That's how I understand it.
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[User Picture]From: leadsynth
2006-11-17 03:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, and you might have had a little something to do with the R&D on the product, or at least you fully "get it." You should be able to explain WHY the product is the Best Thing Ever, or at least the Best Thing Ever for This Particular Set of People.
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[User Picture]From: jes5199
2006-11-17 07:00 pm (UTC)

I like the sound of it.

I also like this little description of "user experience engineers", which must be a related concept:
Fede came in and put the parcel on Art’s desk. Art looked askance at Fede, and Fede just waved at the bag with a go-ahead gesture. Art felt for the catch that would open the bag without tearing the materials, couldn’t find it immediately, and reflexively fired up his comm and started to make notes on how a revised version of the bag could provide visual cues showing how to open it. Fede caught him at it and they traded grins.
from Eastern Standard Tribe
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[User Picture]From: glowing_fish
2006-11-26 10:55 am (UTC)
that paragraph sounds like it might be leading into a porno story...

jus' sayin'!
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