Another accidental PM — How I got started as a non-technical product manager.

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Credit: http://www.bryanfriedman.com/2014/06/09/being-a-product-manager/

There’s a big debate going on about being technical or not as a product manager. Some say it is essential, others say there are different kinds of PMs. I am one example of how a non-techy woman made it into product management and I am gonna tell you about it, because it still feels like it is too hard for non-techy women. I wanna encourage everyone to go and pursue their dream. Why? Because product management is f*cking awesome!

Here’s my story

When I finished my very un-technical degree in socio-economics, a mix of sociology, economics, business administration, and law, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, despite the fact that I was already 28. Yup, I studied part time and worked part time as a customer service rep in a call center for Germany’s second largest e-commerce company OTTO GmbH & Co KG.

This is fun, but what is it?

My part time job actually landed me my very first position with a start-up in a “real” job. I became Project Manager Support for a high end fashion market place. I was to build a customer service and client support team. While I was hiring people, training them, and working out the general service approach I thought was best for the company, already eyeing cool tech solutions to get us to the next step, I also noticed that our self-made market place was an amazing idea, but the client login part was, well, not done yet.

So I started making suggestions about what to improve to my boss, one of the two founders, and he usually agreed and told me to do whatever I feel is best for the company and talk to our developer. The very first developer I have ever worked with. He was quite a cliche, living in his house in the middle of nowhere in Denmark. He considered moving to Germany if there was a glass fibre connection available. It wasn’t at the time. He loved nerdy t-shirts and his sweatpants that were a bit too short around the ankles. He was not the most talkative person and we were only allowed to call him if he gave us explicit permission.

After a while I got used to his style of working and I learned how to express myself in our written communication to ensure that we were both on the same page. He was very patient and he thought of everything that I did not think of, when making plans. At the time I had no idea that I was sort of PMing. It took a few more years until I noticed.

I wanna be my own boss!

I got laid off after a year because the startup wasn’t going as expected and after a few organizational changes, that made my life quite a bit harder, I was not really sad and I felt ready for my next adventure. I was unemployed for one month in which I worked out a business plan and applied for funding from the state and my city. They granted it and makeupland.de was born, an online shop for strictly cruelty free (no animal testing) makeup brands, that at least offer some vegan options and are considered “indie”.

I built my online shop using an open source shop system, customizing it with plugins and learning just enough php and css to change the translations and colours. I kept working continuously on the shop for the first years. I made plans and had ideas and tried to find the right add-ons to accomplish that. Needless to say, this only worked half of the time and there was a lot of trial and error involved. Once I felt that I had created the shop I wanted, I started to get a bit bored. Now it was just retail. And minor improvements in the store.

Unfortunately, the world, well Germany, apparently wasn’t ready or just did not need this kind of online shop. After being quite successful and exceeding expectations in the beginning, the revenue eventually dropped to a point, that I felt uncomfortable not to have a job with a secure income to pay my rent. So I started working part time again. The shop never really picked up again, but it is still around. It is my hobby now as I am very passionate about makeup and animal rights.

This is the real deal.

It was time to find a “real” job again. A friend recommended esome advertising technologies to me and suggested a position as an account manager in the ad tech/social media ad agency company. But I had other plans, they also had an opening called Product Manager and it sounded almost overwhelmingly interesting. Plus, I had finally found the job title that described what I had done in the past and loved so much. I was certain what I wanted to be when I grow up. Being 31, it felt like a good moment to figure that out.

I applied and luckily, my friend’s recommendation and the fact that there was no one with a wide range of PM experience around, got me that position. I was hired as a Junior Product Manager since I haven’t had PM officially on my resume before. I was happy that I got in.

I first started out as the makeshift tech support to get into the overall topic of social media advertising and the internally developed tool. I was certain I knew quite a bit about social media advertising, alas, I was wrong. I did learn a tremendous amount about in the meantime though. (Maybe I can get a gig on TV as an expert now?! Let me know, if you know someone, who knows someone, who has been on the local news or something, thanks!)

It took a moment, until I was able to break free of the tech support role, stand up for myself and make it clear that I am a kick-*ss PM, but most importantly, I got there! This is my dream job and I love it. I wouldn’t wanna do anything else.

When I grow up, I wanna be a product manager!

About me: I am Lisa Mo, that’s short for Monika, 33, passionate about product management, agile methodologies, learning (right now web development) and makeup. I’m headed for the Great White North, Toronto to be specific, at the end of October. I am always happy to connect and chat about my experiences and what I have learned so far, sharing knowledge is fun!

If you liked this, your applause is much appreciated! You can also find me on Twitter and all the PM slack teams, like Product School, ProductStack or Mind The Product, etc. 😉

Written by

Product strategist, decision facilitator, team enabler, problem solver, design sprinter, agile enthusiast, intersectional feminist.

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