Lawrence Tai was hungry for a new tech career after years spent as a QA Analyst and a Business Analyst. He enrolled in the first cohort at Product Gym and then landed a dream job as a Product Owner and later a Global Catalyst Brand Manager at Nike. 75% of Product Gym members land a job offer within 90 days of enrolling, but we caught up with Lawrence four years later to ask “Is Product Gym worth it?” Read on to find out!
What inspired you to enroll at Product Gym?
I graduated with a degree in product and business development. My friend suggested going into QA testing, so I started my career as a QA analyst and worked in Boston for two years. I figured since I’m on my phone and laptop all day anyway that I should pursue an IT degree! I realized IT still wasn’t my niche, but it helped me learn the terms of the technical process. From there, I bridged the gap and became a business analyst in southern California. I love talking to people and thought I should utilize my strengths in communicating between business and tech developers.
During that time, I had met Rich Chen, the co-founder of Product Gym, and he was impressed with my technical background. When he started Product Gym, he reached out to me to see if I’d be a part of their first cohort. I figured I had nothing to lose, but I didn’t realize how much I’d gain!
How did you know that you would be successful with Product Gym?
Each student goes through a vetting process to ensure they’re a good fit for each other. More often, if you are more of an extrovert, you have a higher chance of succeeding because you are more willing to put yourself out there and take risks. The role of Product Manager includes putting out fires, keeping up with teams, and making sure work is moving smoothly. You have to be ready to be on your toes. The vetting process is reassuring that applicants will take this training seriously — they're not just letting everybody in. They don't want to waste your time. Once you’re in, they support you the whole way.
What did you actually learn at Product Gym?
I learned so much at Product Gym! They have dedicated modules that break down product management for a complete beginner. The first one teaches you an overview of product management; another goes into different roles within product management; one focused on case studies; while another dove into interviewing.
I can reteach everything I learned to someone completely new with a totally different background because it was so applicable. If you have somewhat of a technical background and you understand processes, you'll be able to pick this up and hit the ground running. It wasn’t hard to learn — It just requires a bit of technical knowledge and some social skills.
What kinds of soft skills does Product Gym teach?
Product managers need to be able to communicate, empathize, and prioritize, and that’s what Product Gym teaches. I learned management skills, social adaptabilities, and how to read the room. I really learned empathy: how to put myself in someone else’s shoes and understand the consumer audience. As a product manager, you’re creating an end-result that is not meant for you. It’s meant for your clients and you have to understand their needs, wants, emotions, and why they want what they want.
I also learned the cross-functional aspect of working with different teams as a product manager. The biggest takeaway there was learning to ask Why and then learning to say No. The product manager is the glue that holds all the pieces together between development, design, marketing, and legal teams and acts as a gatekeeper for progress and ultimately the storytellers adding value to the product. You have to understand and prioritize the projects in the pipeline and be able to say no to those that don’t add value.
Did you juggle Product Gym while still working?
I started Product Gym while I had a full-time job. I kept a mentality that supported me to make the shift. I asked myself, What is it that I really want? Do I want to change my lifestyle? Do I want to get an increase in pay? How determined am I to make a shift in my career? I was at a point where my day job was mundane and monotonous. I woke up every morning thinking there’s got to be more for me! That determination drove me to keep going.
For the first month, I dedicated 4-5 hours on the program when I got home from my job, but then I quit my job and went all in with Product Gym! Without a safety net of another job, it was all or nothing for me! I trusted the process at Product Gym and knew everything would fall into place. The co-founder, Rich, had gotten out of the 9-5 routine and made a new life for himself — I trusted that I could, too.
Who were your instructors at Product Gym?
The instructors were something I loved about Product Gym! They have coaches as well as instructors, plus guest speakers from the Product Gym network, from Facebook and Google. After I landed a job at Nike, I came in to do informal interviews with the newer cohorts. They brought in different coaches for each module.
What kinds of career support did Product Gym offer you?
The co-founder has a background in recruiting and knows all the processes necessary to succeed as a product manager, so he taught his coaches how to teach. They’ll revamp your resume down to the font and structure and help you update your LinkedIn. They thoroughly explain the interview process from all perspectives.
Product Gym will get you a job, but you have to listen to and trust their process and get your resume in as many hands as you can. At the end of the day, they want you to get comfortable speaking to interviewers about product management. Every interview is practice. The more you talk about it, the more you learn. No one product management role is the same, so learning from company perspectives is invaluable. Once you have everything in order, you go after the company you want!
Because of the resume support I received from Product Gym, I was reached out to by Nike, Facebook, and Amazon before I even finished the bootcamp! I had imposter syndrome, but I went for the job with Nike.
What level of tech roles did you feel eligible for after Product Gym?
Based on my experience, I felt prepared for entry and mid-level roles. They have another course that prepares people for senior-level roles.
Tell us about your first product role after Product Gym! What were you first working on as a Product Owner at Nike?
Nike brought me in as a Product Owner for their digital commerce retail payment team. They had three different vendors doing their point of sale (computers, payment card system, and handheld devices), and we wanted to unify that into an integrated payment system. I wasn't building anything new at that time. It was what Nike calls “keeping the lights on,” which is maintenance and improvement. When I was brought on as a product owner, we successfully coordinated and deployed the integrated payment system to five specific geo locations across 500+ stores within a year!
I collaborated with other product managers, senior product managers, project program developers, and our offshore teams. As a product owner, I worked closely with our senior product manager, helped our scrum leaders, and made sure that our teams were all on the same page and that everyone had what they needed in the cross-functional teams. I made sure everyone understood when new requirements came down the pipeline and what the user journey is, and ensured we released the new features in a timely manner. My role included day-to-day documentation and proactively prioritizing the body of work we call the backlog, and understanding how to maintain our client expectations.
Do you find that you’re still using what you learned at Product Gym on the job?
In my experience with Nike, I was able to apply everything I learned from Product Gym.
What inspired you to return to Product Gym for their Career Acceleration Program?
I was interviewing for a business product owner position for Nike’s global marketplace operations with strategy and capabilities. I needed a refresher, so I went back to the Product Gym community and got the support I needed. Product Gym offers lifetime career support no matter what number of jobs you’re on. After reconnecting with Product Gym, I was able to land what Nike called Global Catalyst Brand Management, but it wasn't a product management role.
What did you learn in the Career Acceleration Program?
I learned to stay in touch with all the recruiters that reach out to you because you never know what could happen in the market. Keeping a good rapport with recruiters is imperative! A simple, grateful, positive response goes a long way, even if you’re not accepting the job at that time.
At this point in your career, was Product Gym worth it for you? Could you have gotten to where you are now without Product Gym?
If it wasn't for Product Gym, I doubt I would've gotten this experience of hopping into brand management at Nike, which was my dream job. Now that I have experience at Nike under my belt I think I can tackle any opportunity that comes my way! My contract with Nike ended in April. I was at Nike for four years, and I feel grateful for the experience.
How is the Product Gym community helping you as you figure out this next step in your career?
At Product Gym, the door is always open. They’ve reached out to me to do interviews and write blog posts for them. I am in constant gratitude for this opportunity. I’ll do whatever I can to help them. Even if I don’t speak to them on a daily basis, we have lifelong mutual support.
What is your advice for those considering self-teaching versus Product Gym?
I can't self-teach. I'm a visual learner. I need someone to point things out for me and I love the structure that Product Gym offers. I’m also an overthinker, so having their support when I had doubts was reassuring.
Some people don’t want to spend the money and think they can find everything on YouTube, and you can. But for someone who doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel, Product Gym has the whole package: the curriculum, resources, coaches, and career support. You’re paying for time and convenience. However long it takes to complete the program, it’s totally worth it. If you have the money and you don't have the time, it's worth it. If you are like me before I started Product Gym — miserable at a 9-5 job that is draining their life away — it’s a worthy investment into yourself!
Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps.
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