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Getting Out of The Classroom is Product Management

Cole Mercer, Senior Product Manager at SoundCloud, shares how to prepare for a role as a product manager, the role of intuition in product management, and how to land the best job opportunities.

There isn’t an industry standard course or curriculum for learning to become a product manager. Most colleges don’t teach it, and while there are some training programs and courses available, it’s often hard to tell if the curriculum is suited for modern product management.

In this episode, Cole helps listeners determine what skillsets beginning product managers actually need to learn and what experience is required to be successful in the field.

Cole also reminds listeners that there are some skills that can’t be learned and that what you learn in the classroom must be adapted to every situation. In particular, he speaks to the challenges of figuring out what type of product management role you’re best suited for. For example, some product managers are very data-driven, while others are more strategic. Cole encourages listeners to get experience to find out what type of role they’re best suited for.

Regardless of the role, Cole encourages listeners to use intuition instead of relying purely on quantitative data. “There are some KPIs that you don’t know you should be hitting”, he says. To start thinking like a product manager, Cole encourages listeners to continually question assumptions:   

“You just have to make a habit of backing up and asking why repeatedly and making sure that the options that you’re presented with from stakeholders are in fact the only ways to do things, and then you figure out how to execute.”

Cole is a really great speaker. Interviewing him was like having a coffee meeting with a mentor. Aspiring and beginning product managers will learn a lot from this episode. You won’t want to miss his story about how he first broke into product management.

Here are the highlights: 

  • What Cole believes product managers need to learn to be successful today (6:30)
  • Cole describes how what's learned in the classroom can differ in practice (11:50)
  • Cole outlines the innate skills he believes product managers need to have (14:10)
  • Cole's suggestions for thinking like a product manager" (22:30)
  • Cole describes his biggest takeaways from his time as a product manager at SoundCloud (24:20)

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