There comes a time for all of us, I guess, when we look back at what we’ve done so far and look ahead and think about what we want to be doing with our lives.
Oddly enough, I've been doing this quite often in my life, mostly around the times when I was changing jobs (and in the old days it also meant companies).
The trick, however, was that never before was I so sure of what I wanted to do in my life, what I wanted to be and how exactly I would get there. I was working as Quality Assurance for the last 10 years. Now I want to be a Product Manager, and the change of roles will be interesting and gradual.
In the beginning…
Before I speak about the change, let me shed some light on the path traveled to get here.
Up until now I was never too sure about what I was going to be when I grow up (interesting statement since growing up is something you should never fully do). When I was 14 and had to select which High school to enroll in, I had no idea what I wanted to do in my life, so I went with the general high school (standard amount of math, language, chemistry, history and physics classes) but also some extra electrical engineering and computer science along with it - a novelty for that time as this was 25 years or so ago.
Four years later I still wasn’t sure that this was the path I wanted to take, but decided to study at Ljubljana Faculty of Electrical Engineering. The first year was rough, but things improved over the next few years as classes became less theoretical and involved more practical thinking and problem solving.
My first job actually came via the obligatory internship where after some months at the company, they decided to keep me on as a student worker. I was a System Engineer (fancy title - loved the work) and a few years later ended up in another company where they didn’t know what to do with me, and I was still exploring my path, so the company asked me to help out with some internal systems. This is how I became customer support with some light manual QA testing involved.
A few years later I was still figuring out what I wanted to do, but I learned something very important, I learned what I did NOT want! I switched jobs and became the tester, QA as we prefer to call ourselves and I LOVED it. It’s the best job ever, you hunt for problems, bugs, and try to make things work, and often tell others how things should work. The work also means you are heavily involved with product managers, developers, designers, users, marketing and commercial teams. Ten years of QA experience has helped me gain a lot of extra skills and knowledge and it also gave me an idea of what I wanted to do next.
I want to be a Product Manager. I want to be the one understanding users' pains and simplifying their lives, helping businesses reach their goals and aligning them with product goals. Instead of being at the end of the line, I wanted to be at the front of it, affecting the direction and do my best to ensure success from the start.
How is it going so far…
And so my journey of transitioning to the new role begins.
Once I made my decision the next thing on my mind were the big questions: What does this mean? What skills and knowledge do I have? What am I missing?
In my time with d.labs I was very fortunate to have a chance to work with amazing product managers, both those involved with the product on my teams and those working within d.labs on the other products. One benefit of long exposure to their work meant I observed and experienced different styles of PMs, from those completely devoted to every single detail to those only interested in the final result (the path to get there fully entrusted to the developers), from calm and collected to lively and quick end everything in between.
My research involved reading articles, listening to podcasts, talking to people, thinking about it, basically a lot of thinking and researching.
I’ve realized that my QA role and the way the product manager role is generally defined is quite similar.
Both roles need to be conscious of what the user needs or expects, with QA focusing on the past and present and PM focusing on the present and future. Both need the skill to communicate with all parties involved. QA is more focused on customer support and developers, and PM is more focused on the business side of various stakeholders and involved groups of designers and copywriters.
Let’s take a look at the differences between the roles:
Both roles are interested in the same outcome, to benefit the users and the business. They are just looking at the problem/solution from a different angle. Both roles want the work to be built properly and work correctly and the PM is already focusing on the next steps.
And this problem solving aspect of the PM job is what really got me addicted to the idea.
The first step to knowledge is to realize what you don’t know, and therefore I outlined everything I was lacking.
The next step was getting the help I needed. As communication is very well established in d.labs, I had the ample opportunity of expressing my wishes to my Lead and even the CEO and had talks with both of them on what I’d like to do in the future. Both supported me and promised to help me out with my wish.
Soon after, I was allowed to be included in the activities of the company's product managers, and was even part of the group mentorship where, along with a pair of my co-workers, I had the privilege to be mentored by a very experienced PM.
My Lead started talks with our client on finding opportunities where I could learn and grow and perhaps get a chance at the product management role. During this time,I was patient and waited for the opportunities. I trusted my company to create an opportunity, and they did.
Expectations for the future…
Now that I'm taking on a new role I still have a lot of learning to do, and I hope to do it well and quickly.
My advice to anyone thinking about changing their career or just wanting to try something fresh, something new would therefore be:
- Think about what you are doing and what you want to do.
- Think about what you are good at.
- Think about what you are missing.
- Be curious, ask questions, observe what others are doing, learn from them.
- Read, listen, watch, find the method that suits you best and go for it (example, I like to walk a lot so any audio methods of learning are best suited for when i’m walking)
- Think of all of these things as learning and growing opportunities (even mistakes!).
- Be patient, good things will come to those who wait.
- And last of all… Find what you like doing and it will never seem like just a job!
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