Rohan Gupta was ready to transition into product management – he had mentors and support from his employer, but still needed formal training. Rohan enrolled in Product School to quickly reskill into a product management career while working full-time. Rohan gives us insider’s advice about making the shift from coding into product management, the difference between entry-level and senior product jobs, and how to get the most out of a product bootcamp like Product School.
What were you up to before Product School and what inspired your career change?
I was a software engineer at GE when I met my soon-to-be mentor, Liam Doyle, on a service trip in Africa. At the time, Liam was a Product Leader at Salesforce, and he pointed out my strengths – not only could I talk the technical talk, but I was also a social person who could articulate problems well. Before meeting Liam, I had never considered product management because I figured it would move me away from coding and make me less technical. Since then, I've realized that the term "technical" is relative. Being technical is not just knowing code but also understanding the everyday applications of technology. That conversation with Liam planted the seed that product management might be a good fit for me.
When I had the opportunity to join the team at Harness (a software delivery platform), I started in DevOps. I asked one of our product management team leads if he would take me on. He said that he would coach me on the side to see if I was capable, so I essentially started working double shifts. I would work as a solutions architect for Harness and study product management on the side. Even with the coaching, I realized I needed some formal training, and that's when I found Product School.
Since you were already working in tech, why was a product management bootcamp necessary for your career transition?
As a software engineer, you learn to code in college or online, but there's no playbook to follow when it comes to product management. You have to find product managers who can guide you in the product management process. Being able to learn that process was important to me because I wanted to learn the fundamentals.
Also, product management is such a broad field! It moves beyond customer discovery and understanding the technology into business revenue, how to go to market, how to pitch your product, and how to effectively communicate. Communication is crucial for any role, and learning at a product management bootcamp where you're interacting with different people provides a critical skill that translates beyond product management.
There are many product management bootcamps now — what stood out about Product School?
One of the founding product managers at Harness recommended Product School to me. He had heard from his product management network that the Product School course offers excellent fundamentals and helps students get their hands dirty with real-life product management work. Now, whenever a new product manager joins our team or reaches out to me, I point them to Product School.
What was the Product School application process like for you?
It was straightforward. I signed up online and provided details on what I hoped to gain from the bootcamp.
How did you pay for Product School tuition?
I treated the bootcamp like an investment in myself. I saved up for it, and I funded it myself. Some companies, though, have a budget for employee education and can subsidize a portion or all of the tuition for students.
Since you were working while completing the online course, what was a typical week like at Product School?
I had a traveling work gig, so I would be in a different city every other week. Because Product School was online and remote, as long as I was on the ground, I could hop in and join the class without a problem. It was a very engaging class; not one where the professor is simply talking at you. We would do sample interviews, adopt a persona, pretend to be a customer, and simulate the real-life engagement that one would experience as a product manager.
Our cohort was able to collaborate on group assignments. We had a Slack group, and our instructor would put us into breakout rooms during class to work on assignments and projects. We would work together to deliver a pitch at the end of class.
Did you get to apply what you were learning at Product School to your job as a Solutions Architect at Harness?
Yes, 100%! I learn best by doing, and being able to apply what I was learning to my actual job was what accelerated my growth the most. I would do the assignment, send it to my instructor for grading, then take that same assignment and try to put it into my company's context. I would have one-on-ones with my boss, Uri Scheiner, where he would review my homework and give advice on improvements. It all reinforced what I learned in the classroom, and everything I learned in the school applied to my job.
What was your favorite project that you worked on at Product School?
My favorite project was the final project because it ties everything you learned in the course together to test if you've learned everything. The final project involved a product kickoff, otherwise known as a product pitch. Using a real-life example, we needed to understand the problems that users were facing. I took one of our features involving Amazon's ECS service and pointed to a real problem that users were facing. I came up with a pitch deck, a spec, and some pseudo marks to present to my instructor and the team. I had to convince them that as the "stakeholder," we needed to address the problem sooner rather than later. The project involved a final pitch, which included stats, data, customer discovery, the spec, the mocks, and the go-to-market strategy. In the end, you present to the whole class, and everybody gives feedback.
You're still working at Harness, but you've moved into a product role. As a Senior Product Manager, what kinds of projects are you currently working on?
I was lucky enough to get in with the founding team and learn how product management works at Harness. This meant that I was put on a lot of different projects. As a product manager, I wrote the specs, collaborated with the CEO and my boss, and designed a new experience for our end users.
We're moving from a one-product company to a multi-product company, and we're now launching our next-generation platform. This platform caters to all of the different products we're launching. I'm part of the leading team for the CD product which is launching alongside the new platform effort. We work closely with the sales team, helping them understand existing customers' or potential prospects' pain points and why our software delivery program might not solve their problems. Part of my day-to-day job involves discovering those things and prioritizing them for engineers to deliver in subsequent quarters.
What are the differences between an entry-level product manager versus a senior-level product manager?
My first product management role involved much more groundwork and not a lot of strategy. I would discover the problem, address it in a spec, and kick it off with our engineering team.
Once you're in a senior product role, you get to plan out a roadmap and strategize certain facets of the business. You get to be innovative at the senior level. If you're lucky enough to be part of a new product, then you're in the driver’s seat. You get to think beyond the problem in front of you.
The beauty of being a product manager, especially at a startup, is the freedom to learn things from scratch. You can take risks and apply what you learn in creative ways.
What advice would you give someone looking to make a transition into product management now?
From my experience, jumping into product management without help is challenging because product management is not taught in college. Most product managers I've seen have domain expertise and the ability to strategize and guide R&D in the right direction. For this reason, I recommend taking a course like Product School rather than self-teaching.
I would also suggest that folks reach out via LinkedIn or even the Product School alumni network to meet people. That's the only way you'll have a shot to break into the industry. People want to see how you problem-solve and navigate gray areas, so by networking and asking the right questions, you can prove that you're genuinely interested in product management.
What has been the biggest challenge or roadblock in this career change into product management?
The biggest roadblock for me came down to personal choice. I wondered whether I wanted to do solution architecture forever, whether it was something I could see myself doing 5-10 years down the line. I couldn't see myself doing it for that long. If I shifted into product management, I wouldn't have to travel as much, and I could still be technical. I could engage with users and customers, solve problems for them, design my solutions, and run them by engineering to be built. The hardest part was taking the risk because there was no guarantee that I would have landed that slot on our product management team.
What do you wish you knew before enrolling in Product School?
It's not easy to self-teach this material. When you have an instructor or a mentor, the material resonates more. When you're learning from someone else, you get to understand their synthesized version of product management, along with how it applies in the real world. Product School gives you so much helpful information and so many tools, even outside of the classroom, including product spec guides, go-to-market strategy guides, guides on designing a sprint properly, how to do customer delivery, and more. I highly recommend it.
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