What it takes to be a product manager (an abridged list)

What it takes to be a product manager (an abridged list)

By Guest Blogger: Gouthami Kamalnath, Class of 2024

Coming from a non-traditional background, I am always eager to learn more about the various roles and industries that students go into post-MBA, their motivations for doing so, and how they were able to leverage their Booth experience to help land their dream role. Ever since I launched at Booth in Spring 2022, I would try to join as many professional development talks as I could to learn more about each industry.

Recently I was able to attend an event hosted by the Kilts Center where alumnus Satyajeet Salgar, ‘07, Director of Product Management at YouTube and Google, was invited to share “10 reasons to be a product manager.” I have to admit the title of his talk piqued my interest, and I was really curious to know what those ten reasons were – he definitely delivered! 

This event was very helpful because it opened my eyes to the world of product management and the various hats a product manager may put on to help build a world-class product.  I really enjoyed hearing about Satyajeet’s professional journey – it’s always heartwarming to hear how alumni found their passion at Booth and then successfully build a career out of it.

After attending the talk, I took some time to think through what Satyajeet had discussed with all of us and here are my key takeaways:

Build empathy for the user
There is no greater champion for the user than you – the product manager. As a product manager, it’s your responsibility to understand intimately the user need and advocate for them through your product. If you fail to understand the user’s perspective, then there is a good chance that your product may not be a good fit.

Develop resiliency
It’s always easier to say yes and go with the flow, but harder to say no. When working in product, everything is a priority and some features are “cooler” than others. It’s up to the product manager to determine if this is a priority for now or if it can be worked on later. How do you arrive at this decision? Use data from a variety of different sources to inform your thinking. This will also help build product intuition over time.

Be an energy giver
What does “energy giver” even mean and why do I want to be one? Satyajeet refers to this as a balancing act between being a macro-optimist and a micro-pessimist. As a macro-optimist, you are excited for the work that your development team does in bringing the product to life. The appreciation you show, as the product manager, for the work done helps build a positively reinforcing relationship all around. While this is essential, it is also important to periodically take a step back and assess if we are really going in the right direction for the product. This is what’s known as being a micro-pessimist, and it will definitely require expending a lot of energy to meaningfully position your reasoning. It’s going to be challenging (possibly even scary!), but if you don’t do it now, then you might miss your chance (in which case it may have already been too late).

What’s Satyajeet’s parting advice? Don’t stress about building product intuition – prioritize getting the job, study other products to understand what they’ve done well and what could be improved, and then see how you can leverage those learnings into your very own product.

Thanks, Satyajeet, for your very concise list of reasons (as someone who enjoys making lists, this was perfect to me!), and to the Kilts Center for hosting such a great event. Really looking forward to participating in future events!