By Kevin Stevens on August 18, 2017
I recently introduced a series which I hope will be of use to new product managers in markets outside of Silicon Valley. For the first installment I am focusing on a few resources that really shaped my view of product management over the last three years.
Silicon Valley is full of classes for aspiring PM’s or PM’s who are looking to reach new heights in their careers. Intelis is based in Dallas where the cupboard of resources for true product management courses is somewhat more bare, and courses are focused mostly on young developers learning to code.
A few years ago, I made the decision that having a few PM / coding skills would come in handy down the road and enrolled in a few classes on popular online learning marketplace Udemy. Coursera, EdX (I took CS 101 from Harvard here), Codecademy and Khan Academy also provide free or low cost classes for anyone looking to learn a new skill.
I focused on a few coding languages and a high level overview of web development. Below was my Udemy curriculum with a synopsis of each course.
The Complete Web Developer Course — Build 14 Websites: This was the first class I tackled upon enrolling in online courses and was a great entry point for someone with limited knowledge of website tech stacks. This 10 section class spans 245 lessons and covers intros to HTML5, CSS, JS, jQuery, Wordpress, PHP, SQL, and API’s (including Google Maps’ and Twitter’s APIs). Additionally, you’ll learn how to setup an FTP to send files to and from a sample website you build early on in the course. This class won’t dig deep on any topic, but after it I felt a rudimentary understanding of how web development works at a high level.
The Ultimate Excel Programer Course: I know, I know, no one programs in Excel anymore but hear me out. For anyone who has never coded before, and three and a half years ago this was me, programming macros in Excel is a great starting point for two reasons. The first, VB in Excel corrects your syntax and makes it obvious where your code is broken. There’s even in a function that allows you to run through your code step by step which not only allows you to correct it easily but shows you exactly which lines of code correspond to action. The second, learning a language with assistance was invaluable when I moved to languages like R, Python, and SQL. Suddenly, coding didn’t seem so unfamiliar anymore.
The Ultimate Python Programming Tutorial — This course was my first into to common programming terms like strings, boolean, and lists. However, I had learned some terms like loops and else in the Excel programming class above. This course focuses on the basics of Python, a great language especially for data applications. The most useful skill in this class is learning to define and call functions through out your code. This is something that proves useful if you are running the models consistently with the same variables.
Applied Data Science with R — Full disclosure, I am a stats junkie. It was my favorite class in grad school and I continue to love it. Just knowing how to run and interpret regressions the right way (and knowing their limitations) is an immeasurable skill. This course will walk you through some basics in the R language and a few key concepts in statistics (though I’d recommend a full course on stats if you’ve never taken one). R is a powerful tool for statistics and having even a minimal grasp on it will allow you to run models and explain them with ease given the vast amount of packages available in the R library. Think of R as a multitool in your pocket.
Note: while I did not take a class on it, I highly recommend anyone looking to be a PM learn SQL. I was lucky enough to have a colleague teach me the basics and then I expanded on my knowledge through YouTube, Stack Overflow, and other online resources.
One great thing about product management is that due to its immense popularity as a career path, there are a plethora of books from which to choose. Here are a few of my favorites:
Hooked, Contagious, Inspired: I placed these books in the same category because they all have different approaches on how to create and implement products people love and how those products gain traction. Hooked focuses on how to build products that consumers will use repeatedly while Contagious turns its attention to methods that are used to get ideas and products to catch on. The combo is powerful: how to build habit-forming products and how to spread the word. Inspired takes a slightly different approach focusing on how to decide which product opportunities fit best with your mission, how to implement Agile once you’ve decided how to move forward and how to manage the expectations / goals of management.
Agile Product Management with Scrum (short form of Essential Scrum): This book is the resource for learning Agile at a high level and provides best practices for implementation. There are two versions here, the first which while shorter still provides valuable techniques for organizing your product team and the second which is the long-form for more granular learning. This book is most similar to a text book and should be required reading for anyone getting into the field. It’s likely you won’t stick to the techniques word for word but they do provide a framework for product strategy.
The Lean Startup: This is the quintessential product read for PM’s in startups, and for good reason. As you develop a product and companies grow, the natural inclination is to make the product and process that goes along with building it more complex. Eliminating a focus on simplicity and clarity of vision is all too common. This book will keep you focused on moving quickly based on data insights.
One of the traits that I believe helped me quickly evolve during my time as a PM is being highly curious. This took a few different forms; 1) don’t be afraid to take inspiration from your competition or products that do things really well. There are sites that collect product inspiration, use them! 2) Listen to really smart people who’ve already accomplished the goals you wish to achieve. Much like product being a popular topic for books, it is also the foundation for many popular sites and podcasts since most founders are indeed product focused.
Product Hunt (site and podcasts): The reason for using PH is simple, great people posting great products on the site, and great people discussing great product on the podcast. Want to see what’s coming next? Visit the website. Want to hear from successful product owners and founders. Listen to the podcast. (Note: they haven’t posted a podcast in a few months, but the previous ones are still amazing)
Little Big Details: A fun website that posts unique, and sometimes hidden details that make a big difference in UI / UX. Most of these insights come from companies you might have heard of like Apple, Amazon, and Google.
This Week in Startups: It’s no secret that jason has one of the best podcasts in Silicon Valley and for PM’s it is a must listen. The great founders that visit this podcast often share how they solved their biggest product issues from all stages including ideation, implementation, and the strategy behind it all. Even if you don’t hear a product insight on an episode, there’s no doubt you’ll learn something about startups that you can relate to or use in your day-to-day.
This Is Product Management: This is Product Management is a podcast about a variety of topics and where they intersect with product management ideas. Past topics have included, IoT, APIs, Venture Capital, and storytelling. The diversity of topics will broaden the way you think about product strategy and what outside forces shape it.
Silicon Valley Product Group: Marty Cagen (author of Inspired mentioned above) and Chris Jones post once or twice a month on all aspects of product management. This is a must read for a variety of reasons but among my favorite is the breadth of topics on the blog. Marty and Chris write on product, product leadership, diversity in product, strategy, vision, and much much more. This isn’t just a good read for product mangers but for those who manage or work extensively with them as well.
The availability of resources for aspiring and evolving product mangers is immense. I’ve selected a few that really guided me during those first few years where I felt a bit underwater at times. I would love to hear from you and any resources you’ve found valuable on your journey as a product manager.