Some of you may consider or even dream of pursuing a Product Manager role. I would like to share with you my career path and the main drivers that led me to this role. I hope you’ll find my tips useful and will help you grow your career regardless of what role you’re aspiring to.
My story started at the AGH University where I studied Biomedical Engineering and wrote my first 'Hello world' program. I was interested in technology and amazed by how quickly you can deliver a digital product or perform a fix on a software – the opposite of the hardware. That, combined with my passion for technical novelties as well as a natural flair for science, made me decide to pursue my career in IT.
I was always interested in management positions. I watched my mom at work and thought that being able to help others grow and achieve their goals would be a great job. Despite my aspirations, I knew I wouldn’t get a managerial role right after my graduation as I didn’t have enough knowledge, skills nor experience. That’s why I started attending various IT meetups, trainings, conferences and webinars, mostly related to Project Management, Agile and Scrum. My friends, who used to work at GE back then, told me that it was a great place to grow my professional career. When I was offered an IT Support role at GE, I accepted it without hesitation and was extremely happy with the opportunity I was given.
Start at GE
At the beginning I wanted to get familiar with the company's culture and structure, which I believe is essential in order to grow one's leadership career. At the same time, I did my best to excel in my position, learning complex processes and exploring our tools. From the very beginning I focused on looking for improvements and ways to do things right – and better. I used to consult many teams when seeking the knowledge and aimed to standardize the work and write guidelines for other teams. It’s also worth mentioning that I started my GE journey simultaneously with “Managing IT Projects” postgraduate studies, which were supposed to move my career to the next level. And they did – after a few months I was co-managing the Application Portfolio.
GE also taught me to step out of my comfort zone. Talking in the foreign language and working with different cultures was challenging at the beginning, but becoming proficient in it paid off sooner than I had expected it to happen. Back then, I didn't even look back and already gave presentations to the CIOs.
Another thing that contributed to the growth of my career was networking. Relating with others was something that came naturally to me and what I really love doing. The network I've built in GE helps me not only find better solutions to the problems I encounter but also achieve my goals quicker. I’ve always liked helping others and making people smile, so I wanted to connect with other people not only by doing my day to day job. Affinity groups sounded like a great way to do that so I decided to try it out. I’m lucky enough to say that the connections I’ve made, skills I’ve learned and the knowledge I’ve gained by participating in these groups are one of the key factors which have shaped myself and my career. Last but not least, the leadership skills that I gained throughout my career led me to the point of becoming Inclusion and Diversity Group Leader.
Promotions and learnings
I took over new projects and new roles, continuing to improve processes and involving and motivating my colleagues. My manager noticed that I am a problem solver and an initiator, and decided to promote me twice within the same team in 20 months.
I was an owner of numerous applications, including co-managing Application Portfolio and taking over the role of a Business and IT Risk Leader. These roles excelled my communication and project management skills and taught me people, risk and compliance management together with many other skills relevant to my future career. I was getting more and more responsibilities together with the ownership.
In the meanwhile I was given the opportunity to do the CliftonStrengths training. GE enabled me to participate in numerous soft, technical and management programs, but the strengths test really changed my perspective. The test results made my people skills obvious to me and from then on I was sure more than ever that I wanted to develop my career around people. Based on the experience I gained by leading many initiatives on different organisation levels, I was aware of the fact that a good leader is an honest, empathetic and active listener. People she’s cooperating with have to trust and respect her.
Last but not least, I like to take up new challenges and I am not afraid to step out of my comfort zone. For this reason I decided to apply for a new role in a newly formed team and try out my skills in product management. Time to become innovative and visionary.
Product Manager role
Becoming a Product Manager and shaping a new product from scratch was more than I would have ever dreamed for. The experience I gained in the previous 4 years was essential, however the technical aspect of the job as well as the HR business knowledge were new to me. This was a great challenge and what I want to emphasise here is that lack of this knowledge wasn’t my disadvantage. It pushed me even harder to become better and now I am proficient in my job. However, I wouldn’t have accomplished that without help from my coworkers; my people skills came in handy as well. The technical members of my team were patient with me and helped me to understand Data and Analytics. At the same time I got support form numerous HR business employees, including my clients. That's one of the things I like about my company the most – people here are incredibly helpful and supportive. I learned a lot and built great relationships with the team alongside our customers. The lesson from this experience is: Be honest and ask for help when you don’t know something. It will pay off, always!
The PSPOA training was another breakthrough in my PM career. Apart from learning a lot about Evidence Based Management and Product Owner Stances, I broadened my knowledge of Product Vision, Mission, Strategy and Goals. I learned that PM is not simply a liaison between the customer and the technical team; PMs are the bridge, the enablers and great communicators. That experience has brought my product development and strategic planning skills to the next level and right after the training I incorporated a few ideas into my product.
Lastly, the thing that surprised me in this role was the aspect of refusing – I didn’t know I would have to say no so often. This was the toughest thing for me to learn, but I knew that a good manager is always transparent and doesn’t promise things that aren't achievable.
I know that this quote is repeated over and over again, but it’s true. If you truly want something, you can accomplish it. Don’t give up when you encounter an obstacle. Get up, shake it off, take lessons from it and continue the journey to your desired destination.
When you have a plan, anything is possible. By setting goals and planning your career, you will accomplish vastly more in a shorter period than you ever imagined before.
Building strong relationships and networking are things that will help you succeed in your career and accomplish your goals faster. If you don’t know where to start, an amazing way to network and grow is mentoring. The decision to participate in a mentoring program was a great turnpoint in my career.
Learn as much as you can at the job, but also from the training. Both soft and technical training has enabled my career development.
And finally, I would like to emphasise that I am happy that my way to the Product Manager role was the way around. Working on many different initiatives was a unique opportunity to learn and develop essential skills that allowed me to become the best PM I can be.