One of the things I've learned about Product Management is that all backgrounds can be valued.
Alumni of Le Wagon batch #200, Manon has an atypical profile: a marketing and strategy background as well as several years of startup experience in Food-tech in sales, operations and support positions. She is now Head of Product at Lalalab.
Prior to his training at Le Wagon, Jules attended an engineering school followed by a specialized Master's degree in Innovation and Entrepreneurship in business school. He then founded a start-up before changing course to work as a freelance Product Manager and Growth Marketer. After the bootcamp, Jules landed a position as Product Manager at Livestorm.
Elina has followed a classic course in business school in Paris. After her studies, she joined the startup Eatwith as a Data Analyst before joining the Frichti team as a Product Manager. Today she holds the same position at Job Teaser.
All 3 alumni of Le Wagon Paris; Manon, Jules and Elina hold product-oriented positions today. Discover their backgrounds and advice on how to get the most out of their training.
Why learn how to code when you want to become a Product Manager?
Manon: I began to understand the challenges of Product Management during my last experience when I was Director of Operations. I really enjoyed helping developers prioritize their work based on the customer feedback I had on a daily basis. One of the things I learned about Product Management is that all backgrounds can be valued and after two consecutive failures, I decided to learn how to code to add the technical brick I was missing to be able to find a challenging position in Product Management.
The sprint design course is particularly important because it allows you to understand the thinking process around a new product in an accelerated format.
Elina: I think it's not so much learning the code that has a big added value, but rather understanding the constraints, the tools and the way developers work. It's important to have a good relationship of trust with them, and to be able to take the lead on problems because you're aware of their constraints.
What are your tips for maximizing the 9 weeks when you want to become a Product Manager?
Jules: All the coding skills acquired during Le Wagon will help you to better understand the day-to-day work of developers better and therefore make better decisions.
It is particularly important to pay attention to the sprint design process because it allows you to understand the thinking process around a new product or a new functionality in an accelerated format: from thinking about people to the delivery of a functional prototype, including the design of user flows and wireframes.
It is also particularly useful to look at the various tools and libraries mentioned during the courses or used during exercises and projects. I think of tools like PostgreSQL, Sidekiq, Redis or even Postman and gems as motto, nokogiri among others. It is also important to remember the workings of the MVC architecture which is a very common design pattern for web apps.
Elina: Focusing on logics and methodologies rather than on languages per se. If you don't intend to keep coding behind, languages get forgotten very quickly, and that's okay. On the other hand, learning logic and a real new way of thinking, that's for life! And it's so useful and satisfying on a daily basis. Your brain and your efficiency will thank you!
In addition to logic, I would say that you also have to pay a lot of attention to the tools you discover during Le Wagon, which will be very useful afterwards to make models quickly, to get inspiration from other designs, to manage a project, to communicate? There are a lot of tools of this type on the market, it can be very scary. So you might as well quickly get to grips with the tools that Le Wagon offers and that you can continue to use. This saves a lot of time.
The first thing to know about the job of Product Manager is that there are as many definitions as there are companies.
Manon: Try to understand the user issues behind the lines of code. The daily exercises carried out at Le Wagon allow us to easily project ourselves into concrete cases, and it's really important to pay attention to the statements/specifications that give context and purpose. It is both the former student and the former TA who speaks, but many errors are due to a misreading of the specifications. And the specs are the PM / PO's daily future!
It is also important to test the agile methods: this is perhaps the skill that future PMs master the least when arriving at Le Wagon. During the 9 weeks (and especially during the last 3 weeks of projects) it's really interesting to try to create well-specified tasks, organized in sprint or kanban, and to test dailys with your team in the morning.
At the same time, taking advantage of Le Wagon's network to contact former students who have taken up this path is always really helpful and there are always lessons to be leant.
What is the process for applying for a Product Manager position?
Elina: The first thing to know about the position of Product Manager is that there are as many definitions as there are companies. So the first step is to understand what is expected of you by reading the job description carefully. Are we talking about technical, operational, strategic, UX, data, marketing? In general it's a little bit of all that, but sometimes one of these points is very emphasized.
PMs are not experts in everything, but they are at ease with all the company's business lines.
Jules: The process usually consists of 3 steps:
- A first meeting with the Head of Product or CPO or VP Product or CTO, sometimes assisted by a person from Human Resources.
- A technical test, either in limited time to be done on site or at home.
- One or two additional interviews to meet the team and the founders. Sometimes, one of these two interviews can be an additional technical interview with a developer and/or data scientist.
What are your tips for applying for a Product Manager position?
Manon: Capitalize on your past experiences, they will always be useful: finance, sales, marketing, data... Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. PMs are not experts in everything, but they are comfortable with all the company's business lines.
Don't hesitate to complement Le Wagon training with online courses on agile methods. This is systematically requested during interviews. It is also essential to understand the difference between the different Product Management professions: PO / PM / Head of Product it is not at all the same thing nor the same perimeter.
Finally, clearly identify your motivations: some companies are looking to recruit their first PM / PO: being alone at the controls is extremely rewarding and empowering, but it doesn't suit everyone. Others will thrive in already well-structured product teams where they can learn from their more experienced colleagues.
Knowing much of the technical vocabulary gives additional legitimacy to developers.
Elina: I recommend looking at the questions that are asked in interviews, Thigga has a great article on their blog on this subject. The article lists about 100 questions that help you prepare for a PO or PM interview. You have to have examples, it's a very "hands-on" job, you learn by doing, and that's what will guarantee the wow effect.
On the other hand, it's a job where the human dimension is essential. So in an interview, at the risk of sounding cliché, being yourself is important to determine if there will be a good fit with the company's culture, which will be decisive for your success.
Jules: The coding skills acquired at Le Wagon really help me in my job as Product Manager on a daily basis for various reasons:
- Communication with developers: The knowledge of how technical tools like Github work makes it easier to interact with developers because the PMs can use them themselves. Moreover, knowing a good part of the technical vocabulary brings an additional legitimacy towards developers.
- The ability to challenge developers: when bugs or technical barriers surface, the ability to ask technical questions to developers while having a more global vision of the product, the company's vision and the customer's needs often unblock situations. With these acquired technical skills, PMs are better able to propose alternative solutions that will meet the customer's needs.
- Specification Writing: As a Product Manager, the more you get into the technical details of the specification process, the more likely you are to limit bugs, regressions, QA failures and back-and-forth with the developer due to poor communication. Le Wagon's experience allows the Product Manager to go into this level of detail in the specification process, which ultimately helps to deliver new features faster and more reliably.