Working alongside development teams, design teams, and company shareholders, product managers and technical project managers ensure that ideas come to fruition. From top responsibilities to average salaries, Thinkful experts Jim Jones and Anne de Ridder break down what to expect in these career paths. For those pivoting into these in-demand, tech-adjacent fields, Jim and Anne demystify the typical interview process for these roles and what to expect in the technical assessment. Plus, learn how Thinkful is graduating students with the experience and portfolios they need to land a technical project manager or product manager role.
Jim Jones, Technical Project Management Immersion Instructor at Thinkful
Anne de Ridder, Technical Expert Mentor at Thinkful
The key traits of managers are fundamentally similar. Product managers require more social acumen, as they might be fundraising or presenting a new innovation to a group of investors. That's a different skill than a project manager who is all about motivating the team and leading with empathy. Product managers are more publicly socially engaged while project managers are more internally socially engaged, with their team.
Anyone can be a project manager if they apply themselves. If you are organized and enjoy new, different, and challenging experiences, you’ll love project management.
People don't always realize that they have an aptitude for project management, but everyone's done a project of some kind, whether they planned an event like a wedding, birthday party, or travel. At Thinkful, we take those basic, instinctive experiences and offer students the terminology, discipline, and tools behind project management.
Project managers often begin their career as business analysts and associate/assistant project managers. With experience, project managers evolve into roles as Senior, Chief, Vice President, or Director of Project Management.
The best way to rise up the project management ladder is:
Depending on the company, a project manager could be considered for a product manager role, and a product manager could be considered for a project manager role.
What certifications do you need to have in order to land an entry-level TPM role?
Not every entry-level TPM role will require specific certifications. Some hiring managers may be more interested in hearing about your on-the-job experience and industry knowledge.
If you do want to earn that extra badge of approval and get certified, many professionals decide to become a Certified Project Management Practitioner (CPMP), a Certified Scrum Master or get the Project Management Professional certificate from the Project Management Institute. Entry-level project managers may want to start by getting low level certifications, including Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) or Professional in Business Analysis (PBA).
What are the typical salaries of a technical project manager?
The average starting salary for a technical project manager (TPM) is currently over $60K. The last three Thinkful technical project management immersion graduates were employed at $68K.
For entry-level project managers who don't have coding in their resume, their salary typically starts at $32K. For a technical project manager with some kind of technical background, their salary jumps to $48K-$120K.
Remember that other factors aside from experience, such as location, will also play a factor in salary.
Does the interview process for a technical project role include a technical assessment?
The interview process for project management has shifted from discussing interpersonal and project management skills to performing a test to assess if a candidate can actually write a requirement. At Thinkful, we prepare students for this kind of interview. Thinkful students learn how to take a list of user requirements and put them into a functional or systems requirement mode.
Make sure your resume is unique, highlight the skills you have, and how they connect where you’ve been to where you want to be. Qualities that stand out in a TPM resume are having proven TPM skills, how they discuss their skills, and in their cover letter, how they draw a line between where they were to where they are and want to be. It doesn’t hurt to include something fun, quirky, and personal. A resume that stood out recently listed in other skills: adept at the kazoo!
When applying for TPM roles, having a portfolio adds immense value to your job application. Thinkful students graduate with a portfolio that shows that they can write code and run it as a project. The projects included in their portfolio show they have experience running a short-term technical project, experience with coding, and it offers them a presentation they can share with potential employers.
What are the typical salaries of a product manager?
The salary range for product managers varies depending on where you work, the size of the company, and how much experience you have. Typically, product managers can expect the following salaries:
What does the typical career path look like for a product manager?
The journey from an associate (junior-level) to product manager (the title of mid-level roles) to senior-level role is tied to the complexity and breadth of projects you work on and increasing levels of responsibility. Each company typically has a job ladder that outlines key competencies you should have within your level, and once you demonstrate mastery of those, you move to the next level with the new set of competencies. Keep in mind that depending on the type of company you work for (startup versus established company), you may have more responsibilities.
As an Associate Product Manager, you will likely be paired with or supporting a more senior-level person. Typically, associates have one project, work with one team, and much of their focus is on delivery. At this junior level, product managers are gaining experience and demonstrating the quality of work they do. They are asked to give input on strategy, get to participate in user research, and work on product launch, but they aren’t often leading it.
The shift from Associate to Product Manager usually happens after you’ve successfully demonstrated your ability to deliver on your projects consistently over time.
As a Product Manager, you now will own your own product. Product managers have full responsibility for a product or product capability, and they are responsible for the full range of product management activities from strategy through delivery. Depending on the type of company, a product manager may work directly with the delivery teams or there may be a separation between strategy and delivery, where PMs are on the strategy side. During this career phase, complexity will increase. A product manager will own multiple workstreams and direct multiple teams working on a larger product or multiple product capabilities. A mid-level product manager is always refining the product strategy and roadmap, improving the existing product or adding new capabilities to meet target market needs.
The path from product manager to senior product manager usually happens after you’ve successfully demonstrated your ability to deliver on your projects consistently over time.
For a Senior-Level Product Manager, complexity and breadth increases again. A senior-level role owns multiple discrete product lines or product capabilities that may be related but are not dependent on each other. Seniors develop strategy and roadmaps for each one; they have multiple teams working on their projects; and they may have other Product Managers and Associate Product Managers working on the delivery of their product space. Seniors are more involved in broader product strategy for a company or department, working closely with whomever they report to, such as a Product Director or Vice President.
Are there other tech roles that easily pivot into product management?
Many product managers move into Product from other related career paths:
While it’s helpful to have prior management experience when pivoting into product management, the Thinkful curriculum supplies students with the right tools to become a qualified candidate for product management roles regardless of previous experience.
What does the product management interview process look like? Does the interview process include a technical assessment?
After an initial phone screen, product management candidates usually have a series of interviews, one with team members they would work with, another with product management peers, and a third where the candidate does a presentation.
The two interview sessions with potential teammates and product management peers are to learn more about what the candidate has done, how they’ve handled different situations, and how they’ve worked with teams.
It’s standard for candidates to give a presentation based on a problem statement. The problem will be something like, “Assume our company wants to go into X market. You’re the PM for this effort. Propose an initial MVP and roadmap” or “Our focus area is Z and our target users are A and B, what product enhancements or additions should we be considering?” The candidate is given 2-3 days ahead of the interview to prepare, and can pull together whatever presentation agenda they’d like. The candidate is usually asked to timebox their work (up to 3 hours). This presentation is given to members of the interviewing team, other stakeholders, and the hiring manager. The presentation gives the interviewers a sense of how the candidate approaches problems, and thinks through the entire product space from market strategy through product MVP/roadmap.
What do the curriculums for Thinkful’s Technical Project Management Immersion and Product Management bootcamp cover?
Thinkful’s Technical Project Management Immersive is 12-weeks long and focuses on the foundational principles of running a technical project using different methodologies, such as predictive, traditional waterfall, Agile, and Scrum methodologies to run a sprint. The curriculum provides students an enormous toolkit of resources (templates, methodology, and concepts) that they then choose from when preparing for their role as technical project manager. Every organization is different, so it’s important that our students know which tools are necessary for which job. We give students the tool kit and teach them how to use it, then it's up to them to know which tools to use when in a new environment. Some of our students go on to pass their Scrum Master certification after going through the curriculum.
In Thinkful’s Product Management bootcamp, students not only learn product management basics, but they get experience practicing and doing the work through capstone projects. Each capstone builds on the last, so by the final capstone, students are doing the full range of PM work, from strategy through design. Having that exposure and experience gives Thinkful students a leg up when they’re just starting out and will accelerate their journey. Thinkful graduates will start a little ahead of others who don’t have that background.
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