How do I show I’m interested in tech?
So you’re “interested in tech”. That’s terrific, but so is everybody else who’s applying for that PM job you want! If you’re transitioning from the business world, there are a number of things you can do to demonstrate this interest.
It all comes down to demonstrating willpower and/or self-motivation
As mentioned previously, if you’re transitioning from the business world, a tech firm will be trying to figure out if you’re serious about tech and about becoming a PM. Also as mentioned earlier, one way to approach this is to just apply a lot of willpower and self-motivation towards activities that demonstrate that you are indeed serious. Some of the below suggestions are fairly obvious ways to show you’re “serious” about tech, but turns out these are actually fairly time-intensive activities that not everyone will do. Also, if you’re coming from the business world, remember that you’re starting at a disadvantage relative to people who are already in the tech world or who have PM experience – you’ll have to put in extra effort and time to overcome that deficit in past experience.
The shallower / easier steps: becoming more aware
The easiest thing you can do is to start reading more and tapping into more sources of information about the tech world. It’ll be helpful to keep up with tech industry news, so that you can have an informed conversation about tech topics that might come up in any networking conversations or interviews.
There are a bunch of tech industry publications out there now, ranging from sites like Hacker News (leans more engineering / tech-y) to TechCrunch (leans more news-y). Find a few sources that you enjoy reading and follow their feeds. Reading every single article that comes out is not always tenable. One goal to aim for is to try to become “well-rounded” by knowing a bit about a lot of different current topics, while diving deeper into topics that interest you (or which are relevant for a particular sub-industry you might be targeting).
Also try to find deeper analyses of the tech industry. There are now a number of paid blogs or paid news sources about tech that offer more analysis on certain topics. It may be worth the investment to subscribe to one of these. Don’t worry if you don’t immediately understand every article you read – you’ll build up the knowledge over time, faster than you might expect.
If you’re currently in an MBA program, the obvious easy thing to do in this category is to take courses relating to tech. Tech firms might view the content of such courses with a bit of suspicion, since they are sometimes a bit removed from reality. But, it can’t hurt to take them and list them on your resume – at the very least, you’ll be engaging with different ideas that are relevant to the industry.
The above activities are going to help you become better informed about the tech world, but probably by themselves won’t be enough to help you stand out from the rest of the business-to-PM crowd. There are some other, higher-investment (but lower risk and higher reward!) things you can do to further try to distinguish yourself…
Idea 1: Learn how to code
A popular question for budding PMs is whether it’s worth it to learn how to code. Is it absolutely necessary for the job itself? No, but it’s helpful. Is it helpful for an application to a PM role? Most likely yes, but it takes a fairly large investment of time and effort. For more information on this topic, there will be a whole series of articles on this site on learning to code.
If you do decide to go this route, consider focusing on general software engineering content, as opposed to content focused on data science or machine learning. The goal here is to learn about how modern web products work more broadly, and perhaps to create a small portfolio of your own projects.
Today there are a huge number of online courses that offer this kind of introductory coding content. Harvard’s CS 50, Coursera, and Udacity are all good places to start. Just find one and work through it – then find another one to work through, and another, and another. For efficiency’s sake, try to avoid classes that cover the same content, and instead look for classes that continue to augment your knowledge and understanding of the technical side of things. So for example, it is not really worth it to take a few different introductory courses on different popular programming languages; just pick one language and continue building your knowledge with that language.
Again, an ambitious goal here should be to create a portfolio of projects that you can put on your resume and point to in an application process. That’s because everyone can say they’ve taken a Coursera class on the basics of coding, but not everybody will have invested the time to actually create a few things with that knowledge. These do not have to be serious projects or breathtakingly innovative ideas. It could just be a lot of toy projects that help you stretch your coding muscles. They should be somewhat-polished end products (i.e. do not have to be perfect) that are actually online somewhere. Try to approach this more as a fun side-hobby rather than a serious business endeavor.
Idea 2: Do product-y work
A large part of being a PM is validating ideas. Another way to differentiate yourself is to work on validating some toy business ideas you come up with. Note that this resembles testing out ideas for a startup, but you don’t actually have to ever aim to set up viable businesses for your ideas (unless you want to). You can have some fun by just testing out some ideas you have.
One way to do this is to come up with an idea and build out a splash page or a light-weight website for that idea using a service like Squarespace or Wix. The site can pitch the product as if it were coming soon, and then you can collect email addresses for people who are interested.
Another way to do this is to come up with an idea and create some mocks of what the product might look like (if the product is a website or an app), or even a prototype of it (if it’s a hardware idea – though this is much harder). Then show some people your mocks / prototype and get their feedback about it.
Again, the point here is to build up a portfolio of different things you’ve tried. None of them have to be successful, as long as you can point to your original idea, some work you did to communicate it, and a summary of whether you were able to get traction on the idea or build up evidence of user demand. Think of this more as an exercise to stretch your product thinking muscles, rather than an effort to start a real product. When you’re talking about this (e.g. in an interview), you don’t have to oversell your work – these mini-projects are for fun and for practice. The more important thing here is to show you’re interested in the general idea of product development, and that you’ve spent time building a small portfolio of these projects.
(Note: Hopefully you derive some joy in either the work for idea 1 or 2 above. These do not map directly onto what a PM does day-to-day, but if you enjoy neither of them, chances are there are large chunks of the PM job that you mgiht not enjoy either.)
Idea 3: Do some freelance product work
This idea is a bit harder to pull off but could be really valuable for your transition because you’re actually doing real product work. The basic idea is to become a freelance PM. Some companies might have a need for some short-term product-y work, and you might uncover some of these opportunities as you’re reaching out to companies about potential roles.
These kinds of projects are not super common, because a PM’s projects usually last quite a while and involve a lot of other stakeholders within the company (e.g. engineering, UX). But, some possible projects here include:
- Doing a competitive landscape analysis
- Interviewing current or potential users to try to build towards a spec of a new feature / product for them
- Setting up the business process for a new and very self-contained activity the company needs to do (e.g. data gathering or QA)
These projects may be rare, but there’s likely no harm in asking a target company if there’s something roughly this size that you can help out with. Ultimately, your goal is not only to build rapport with this specific company, but to work on PM-y projects that you can speak to when talking to other companies (not to mention the positive reference that you can hopefully get from the company you’re working for).
As mentioned in a previous article, there’s some controversy around whether you should offer to do a side-project like this for free. That will be left up to you. Whatever you decide here though, make sure to do a good job on the project!