Matt Lemcke has moved from film to bookkeeping to hospitality – he was even a Character Performer at Disneyland for a spell! Now, he’s working on his next big move: a career in Product Management. Matt tells us all about being a student in Thinkful’s Online Product Management Flex bootcamp. Find out the best advice he’s gotten from his Thinkful mentor, how he’s using his work history to boost his tech résumé, and what he’s adding to his product management portfolio.
What did you do before Thinkful?
I have a bachelor’s degree in film, but I worked my way up through the hospitality industry and eventually migrated into hotel management. I’ve worked as a camera operator, a bassist for a few different bands, and a bookkeeper at a political accounting firm to pay the bills. I even worked at Disneyland as a Character Performer and Entertainment Host while getting my MBA at Woodbury University. Over the last few years, I had thought a lot about getting into tech. I tried to put myself out there by directly applying to jobs but every employer was looking for more experience than I had. That's when I knew it was time to look into bootcamps.
What motivated you to enroll in the Product Management track at Thinkful?
As I talked to the Thinkful admissions team during my bootcamp search, they told me what a Product Manager does and I realized it was essentially what I was doing in the hospitality industry already: working between the users/guests and the executives to figure out how to make everything work. I had already put in the time to get my master's and build my leadership skills on the job, so I love that the Product Management track gives me the opportunity to hone skills that I already had.
Did you look into any other bootcamps before you chose Thinkful?
I drifted toward Thinkful because I needed a school that leaves time for a full-time job because I needed to work. They offer Flex options and online programs, so that I didn't have to worry about getting to campus physically and I could still work my job. I like that Thinkful is a self-paced program, too. Thinkful has milestones they expect you to hit based on their understanding of how people learn, but they're not unrealistic.
Why did you choose Thinkful’s Online Product Management Flex Bootcamp instead of another online bootcamp?
The career team at Thinkful truly sealed the deal for me. I like that they will teach you product management and then help you navigate the process of finding a job. I've seen many friends try to switch careers without guidance. For me, Thinkful’s job guarantee made me feel like the leap was worth it. The opportunity to have a mentor to help me with my résumé and give me the vernacular that I needed to get the job was a huge boost. It made me feel like they were committed to me as much as I was to them.
How are you paying the tuition for your bootcamp?
I took a loan with Skills Fund to pay for Thinkful. I like that I have 6 months to complete my bootcamp and 2 months to find a job before I have to start paying the loan back. They also don't have a penalty for full payment. If I'm lucky enough to land a job with a much higher salary than what I'm making right now, I can make larger payments and have less interest.
What was the application process at Thinkful?
It was an easy process! They had an interview for fit and that's how I ended up in the Product Management track. I was upfront about my lack of coding knowledge which was okay with them. They mostly wanted to make sure I was ready to make the commitment to the work.
What have you learned in the product management curriculum at Thinkful so far?
We started with solidifying general business etiquette, which I had learned in my master's program. For folks who haven't worked in an office environment or haven't worked for stakeholders, Thinkful shows students how to talk to people who are making the decisions for a company.
On the technical side, I've been fascinated by the whole section on User Interfaces. We were introduced to programs like Figma, Loom, ProductPlan that help you build wireframes and roadmaps!
Do you work with other students online at Thinkful?
I don't exactly have a cohort. Since Thinkful is all online, it’s quite individual. I have a mentor who I meet with twice a week, which I love. I get a ton of feedback in this program. The mentors and the coaches evaluate your projects so that you truly get a chance to understand what you can improve on.
There are in-person Meetups and Thinkful encourages us to attend them, but my current job does not lend me a lot of flexibility to get to them. We have a couple of Slack channels, and I follow a few channels to see what other people are working on. If I want, I can go on and see other people's capstone projects in my program as well as the other Thinkful programs. The chances are there for more interaction if I want it.
What's the learning experience like at Thinkful? How are you actually learning product management?
There's a lot of reading. They break it down into modules. You read about a specific topic – right now, I'm reading about A/B Testing. At the end of the reading, there is a guided assignment. I usually sit down and try to get through two or three modules, depending on how long they are. Some of them are graded and I get feedback. Others aren't and I speak to my mentor about those. I usually work on the program in the evenings after work.
I'm a tactile learner and most of the Thinkful curriculum is reading-based. The biggest thing my mentor has helped me with is adjusting the practice exercises based on my learning style. He's given me extra assignments to help me practice things the way that I learn best.
Who is your Thinkful mentor?
My mentor is a working Product Manager who's already spent seven years in this field. I can't say enough how valuable my mentor is. Twice a week, I have someone to bounce ideas off of, ask questions, and get a real look at what it will be like to work in the industry. One week I asked him, "Do Product Managers actually use roadmaps?" and he told me exactly how they're used in the industry. It's reassuring to know that the course material is so relevant.
My mentor is also excellent about not giving me answers right away. Instead, he asks leading questions to help me find my own answers or he might point out something that I missed completely. I've had dozens of lightbulb moments with him. He's not the encyclopedia with all the answers. Instead, he's teaching me how to puzzle my way through everything so that I can do it on my own.
What’s the best piece of advice your mentor has given you so far?
When I was finishing my first capstone presentation, he said, "This is fantastic. You've put together a good project. Let's make sure this is the worst thing you've done in the program." It was hilarious! He truly showed me how I could grow and improve. It's a weird approach but I agree – I do want this to be my worst project! I want every project after this to be even better than this first one.
What are those Product Management Capstone Projects? Can you give us an example?
The first Capstone Project was to design an app; I chose to design a fitness app for Peloton. The assignment guided me through the whole process of finding my KPIs, OKRs, goals for the app and how I would measure them, designing an MVP, and user research interviews. It was an intense project. I compiled it into a 15-slide presentation deck that I presented to people in the program who gave feedback and asked questions.
The whole assignment is designed to introduce you to exactly what you'd do as a Product Manager in a safe setting. It took all of what I already knew on the business-side, but it pushed me to get in touch with users to get feedback for the final version. I realized after I talked to users, that they weren't interested in certain features I'd designed. It's not worth putting development work into a feature that people didn’t think was interesting. I can already see my growth as a product manager after this project.
Are the projects you're working on going to be included in a portfolio at the end of the program?
A lot of this work is good practice to be able to have something to talk about in a job interview. My personal goal is to build a functional portfolio or at least project links on my LinkedIn to showcase what I've worked on here at Thinkful. I'd like to lay my projects out as case studies, so hiring managers can see the creation process and have something to talk to me about afterward.
Has Thinkful already started prepping you for the job hunt?
Yeah! I've had one mock interview so far, which focused on how I would present my past job experiences. One of the upcoming modules is about career-building. It walks through cleaning up résumés, sprucing up LinkedIn profiles, and building portfolios. Right now, my résumé is solid for hotel management. The challenge will be taking my career history and changing it to present in a different way.
I like that Thinkful is already talking about my career and I’m only a quarter of the way through the program! Thinking about my career is exciting. I've started taking notes about things to add to my résumé and what to talk about in interviews. I feel confident that when I finish this program I'll be ready to put myself out there. I know there will be at least a dozen interviews, but at least I won't be prepping for those after I've finished this six-month program.
What’s your goal for your future career as a Product Manager?
With my background in hospitality, I’m hoping to land a job at a company like Hotels.com or Travelocity. I can show them what users want to see and also understand where the company is coming from at the same time. I bring life experience that someone who recently graduated from college doesn't have, especially in a position that requires patience, balance, respectful communication, and being the middleman. I can bring the training and leadership that I already have as well as my ability to talk to anyone. Talking with executive-level people without being afraid of them, but also being able to talk to the public is basically the in-between that I've worked in for the past 15 years.
So far, what has been the biggest challenge for you in making this career change?
The hardest challenge has been the lingo. There's so much to learn! Also, gaining the confidence to put myself out there. I need to be able to confidently tell someone in an interview, "I know you don't think I have what you want but here's why I'm exactly who you want to hire.” I’ll likely need the most help when we get into the more technical curriculum like learning SQL and Python.
Do you have any advice for someone starting an online bootcamp?
Have confidence in yourself and take the chance! And buy a comfortable chair! If you're willing to invest the time, it's totally worth it.