I’m learning Product Management, send help! #LearninPublic

Jun 2021 5-minute read

Learning in public means sharing what you’re working on with other people. It might be your hobby, side project, or just random facts you learned. - Shu Omi

For the longest time, my career North Star is to build a process or system that brings people together to solve important problems. That conviction has guided me to bring people together to increase gender diversity in tech (TechLadies), improve access to tech education and employment opportunities (Developer Circles), and move to San Francisco to work with communities & companies globally.

All my experiences have been programmatic in nature, whether creating or scaling programs, and I thought about what could be right for me next in the tech industry.

Product management struck me as an option because of how massive scale can be. It’s easier to find a product used by a billion people than a program participated by that amount of people. So over the next 6 months or so, I will be learning product management - understanding what skills are needed, trying my hands at these skills, and sharing my progress in public.

Why learn in public

I’m no stranger to sharing my learnings with the public, even the supposedly embarrassing stories about failing my startup or getting fired from one. I did it because I wished I’d heard these learnings while I was struggling. What I didn’t expect were the connections* made from my stories… and to be honest, it was nice to be flown in business class as an invited speaker.

Because I’ve benefited from public sharing, I’ve always encouraged my mentees and women making career transitions to share their progress in public, as early as they can. Some of them are uncomfortable with this idea, and I now understand why.

Sharing a retrospection is different from sharing progress. A retrospection protects the storyteller because what is done is done and any helpful suggestions from the audience are abstract at best. Learning in public is different though, the audience (if there is one) can co-create the story with ideas, support, or negativity. Learning in public is scary.

But alas, I will eat the words I’ve told my mentees. 😅

How I’ll learn PM

To be intentional about how I learn PM, I’m adopting the 70/20/10 model because I learn best when I make things and because that model sounds kinda cool. Applying this model means:

70% of learning happens on the job through doing the work

  • Create >=1 side project demonstrating PM abilities
20% of learning occurs through others from feedback and coaching
  • Speak to 7 product managers across a range of leadership levels and types of PM
  • Build “board” of mentors, >=3 PMs <- these are PMs I can readily reach for questions
  • Sit in 3 PM meetings
10% of learning occurs through formal training
  • Read Cracking the PM Career book <- This is the one book to rule them all
  • Join PM conferences and meetups

I’ve already started the process earlier this June and I’ll share my learnings and updates slowly over the rest of the year. So far I’ve:

Create >=1 side project demonstrating PM abilities

  • Shortlisted ideas and gather feedback on how to choose and prioritize these ideas
Speak to 7 product managers across a range of leadership levels and types of PM
  • Spoken to 5 PMs and learned that there are different types of PMs (internal, consumer, PMF, growth, specialized, generalists, etc). It was also interesting to learn how people crafted their career paths.
Read Cracking the PM Career book
  • On page 92, and attended 2 talks by the author
Join PM conferences and meetups
  • Attended Women in Product & Product Con

Want to help?

This is the part of the post where I ask for help and share a cat photo I found on the internet to help my case.

Did it work?

I’m looking for more PMs to talk to, esp folks who have made a switch into PM from program management, PMs in their 2/3rd year of experience, and manager of PMs. I don’t know if this is possible, but I’ll also love to be a fly on the wall at meetings too.

Want to help? Hit me up at elisha.tan@gmail.com or @elishatan on Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin.


*Side story: My most memorable talk took place at an art gallery in Armadale and among middle-aged people and teenagers, a biker guy in his 30s stood out. He didn’t look like the usual audience profile for a tech event, I spotted him napping at the gallery cafe earlier, so I’ve assumed he’s just there for the AC or food.

But when it was time for Q&A, he was the first to raise his hand and take the mic. He shared how he tried chasing his dream, failed too, and my story of failing and picking myself up comforted him. That inspired him to try again. He looked like he was about to cry, and I quickly mumbled a thanks because I was about to cry too. It’s been 3 years since that talk and I still occasionally think about the Armadale biker guy, I hope he’s well.