Eight practical actions for migrating to the product area

Alice Sabino
Alice Sabino April 21, 2021
Eight practical actions for migrating to the product area
Are you thinking about making a transition in your career and working with product? Learn more about a coworker’s journey who started in HR and is currently a Product Manager at VTEX!

“How did someone working in Human Resources turn into a Product Manager?” I’ve heard this question a lot. That’s why I’ve decided to share my story about how I changed my career.

In 2016, I graduated with a Production Engineering degree and started out by working in Human Resources. However, as time kept passing by, it became clear that it wasn’t what I really wanted.

Since I was working in HR, I knew that career transitions are possible, but any recruiter would ask for experience in tech. So, how could I make that move?

How I prepared for transitioning careers

Today, I can see I didn’t enter the product area by chance. Without realizing it, even when I was working in HR, I’ve worked my way closer to that universe.

First, my team leader passed me a job related to People Analytics. Then, I was responsible for a program related to technology, dedicated to developing Young Talents and, seeing the projects they were going to coordinate, I started to realize that I would like to be involved in similar projects. I also was assigned the task of reviewing the company’s entire performance and evaluation management system, and to do that, I used Design Thinking principles as a model.

That exploration and preparation process was a rich learning experience.

How I transitioned to product

1- I looked for projects related to product or technology in my area.

Recently, most departments have been discussing the need to reinvent themselves. So, I spoke with my managers and asked if I could also contribute. Even without any experience, it was a great opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and learn more about technology.

If a process must be reviewed, how about rethinking it, placing the user in the center and adopting their perspective? Interviewing people to understand their frustrations, building the user journey, conducting ideation workshops… a good deal of being a Product Manager is discovering the real needs of the user and finding ways to solve their problems. During that time, I learned a lot.

Using creativity, courage, and leadership, I managed to get closer to those subjects and, more than that, to have an impact on the area where I was working.

2- I was self-taught and never stopped learning

Creativity means having a portfolio! I established a daily routine, namely dedicating the first hour of my day to studying methodologies, articles, and books that could inspire me. There are lots of resources on the internet that you can use to propose initiatives in the company where you’re working. You’ll find a list at the end of the article.

After having acquired enough knowledge and having managed to deliver some legal projects in HR, I started to get involved in the company’s technology initiatives. In my case, the company had an Innovation department and a multidisciplinary group that supported it.

3- Approach colleagues who understand the subject

I wasn’t working in a technology company, so I sought for areas related to this subject. In my case, it was the Innovation department I mentioned earlier.

I started to take part in those initiatives and bring my contribution to the needs of the Innovation department. For the first time, my colleagues started to associate me to this subject and not only in HR, but in the entire company.

If you work in a company which has a similar product area and you want to make this move, my tip is to approach the people who work there. Asking a product manager for a discussion and making yourself available to contribute can bring you many advantages.

4- I took part in events and courses on the topic

Another very important step was to participate in technology events and courses. I signed up for a postgraduate course in Emerging Technologies, and I started to take part in different communities and product meetups.

For someone who has just started to know more about the product, there are courses available which can help you explore the subject in more depth.

Moreover, there are communities you can join if you’re working in product, but also if you haven’t started yet. It’s an excellent opportunity, not only to better understand the subject, but also to network with people in that field.

After all that time supporting the Innovation department’s initiatives in my company and striving to understand the subject more, I was already working closely with the department manager, and I was seen as a potential candidate. And that’s how the opportunity came up – I was hired by the Innovation department.

5- I looked for a technology opening within the company where I was working

It can be rather difficult to make a transition from one area to another and, at the same time, from one company to another. That’s why, I tried first to find a job in areas related to technology, but in the same place I was working.

Once I got to the Innovation department, I was still not satisfied. By then, I clearly knew my goal – I wanted to be a Product Manager.

As I’ve said before, besides all the dedication, I also needed a little luck. The Data Analytics department decided to test the algorithms for People Analytics, which I mentioned earlier on, as a potential product for the market.

Many months followed trying to validate that product as a real market opportunity. But I didn’t know yet what an actual Product Manager was supposed to do in practice, so I felt the need to seek some examples from the market.

6- I looked for women-mentors in product

Studying all by yourself can be very useful, but theory is not always the same as practice. That’s why having a woman-mentor who worked in the product proved to be very useful in order to be able to handle some real challenges.

What I did was to search in the group I was in, Women in Product, for someone willing to share with me real experiences. I came across two incredible women who became a real support when I had doubts.

With the help of this network, though I didn’t have the title yet, I already was a Product Manager.

It was through one of these women-mentors that I received an invitation and took one more step in my transition.

7- I helped organize events for the product communities

At that point, luck is not always necessary. Many communities allow participants who are not official organizers to handle initiatives. For instance, after some time, I volunteered to be one of the Women in the Product Book Club organizers. After a while, I was asked to be one of the organizers for the Product Tank in Curitiba.

In time, one experience after another, internal and external, I got to be seen as a product specialist in my company and, although I was very much enjoying that phase, I felt it was time to be in a company with a more complex product culture.

8- I joined a company committed to product culture

I sought to be in a company which would challenge me to learn more and more about product. That’s when I found VTEX. The company is increasingly strengthening the product culture through people committed to the subject and willing to take the initiative.

When choosing, one thing that helped was checking company reviews on Glassdoor and checking on LinkedIn for people who worked in the company’s product area. Apart from all this, and most importantly, I was very honest during my interview.

The product area is open to everyone

I believe the product area can benefit a great deal from people with unrelated careers and should be open to professionals with different backgrounds. After all, Product Managers need to have a diverse portfolio in order to understand the needs of our customers and not to run the risk of living in the tech bubble.

I also want to point out that dedication helps through a good part of this journey, but it’s not enough. I know I’ve had privileges and access to opportunities that many people didn’t have, especially in a country so prone to inequalities of all sorts.

That’s why I believe that companies and leaders should be responsible for more equity and, as far as I’m concerned, I will keep encouraging initiatives to achieve a fairer world. Until that day comes, I hope to be able to inspire people who are looking to make a transition in their career, in spite of the difficulties.

Here are some tips for technology and product content

Articles: Harvard Business Review, Medium, Startse, Product Talk, Silicon Valley Product Group, newsletter PM Letter and The BRIEF.

Technology podcasts: Hipsters Ponto Tech, Like a Boss, Do Zero ao Topo, TechStuff and Canary Cast

Product related podcasts: Product Backstage, Papo de produto, Mulheres de Produto, Product Guru’s, JTBD+, The Product Podcast, Aurelius Podcast and Movimento UX.

Product communities: Product Tank, Mulheres de Produto, Women Techmakers, Product School, Mulheres Agilistas and GDG.

Now that you have learned about my career path, if you’re interested in building your future in a company committed to product culture, where your work will have a global impact, access our careers page.

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