How to become a Program Manager (at Microsoft or anywhere) – uno

Three years ago, I asked myself and several of my mentors within and outside of Microsoft – "What’s the closest thing to entrepreneurship at Microsoft?" The unanimous answer was – "Become a Program Manager on a product that’s about to grow/explode!!" I took the leap of faith and it worked. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it and would recommend it to anyone, who’s passionate about technology, entrepreneurship and design.

Several folks have asked me a gamut of questions aboutthe role of a program manager, but the most common threads of conversations have been around "becoming a program manager at Microsoft."

While the role is called Program Manager, it is similar to the role of a product manager at most other companies including Google, Facebook, startups, etc. At Microsoft, Product Manager is a marketing role. Much has been written about the role by my mentors and people who are much more experienced, so I won’t delve into it. Three of my favorite blog posts (although some posts are dated) on the topic have been:

I’ll share some thinking points and more importantly, resources that I’ve found useful.

1. What do you look for in a PM candidate?
In an interview, we look for the following:

  • Design aptitude
  • Technical depth
  • Raw smarts
  • Customer empathy
  • Project management
  • Raw passion
  • Ability to get things done

So, if you are interviewing for a position, you’re bound to be asked the obvious question  – Why do you want to become a PM?

Ensure that your answers convey that your aspirations, motivations and experiences till date have instilled the qualities listed above.

2, Where to start?

If you’ve decided to become a PM, start by approaching your current activities like a successful PM. I’ve enjoyed reading the following books:

  • The Art of Project Management by Scott Berkun
  • About Face 2.0 (first 50 pages)
  • Design of everyday things
  • Design of things to come

Typically, I’ve seen some of my friends not focusing enough on design, as they’ve not learned it in school. If you feel the same way, then I’ll suggest focusing heavily on design (architecture design, user experience design, etc.)

I’ll follow up with a post which focuses on answering design questions during an interview.


Technorati tags: Program Manager , Product Manager , Microsoft

4 thoughts on “How to become a Program Manager (at Microsoft or anywhere) – uno

  1. How to become a Program Manager (interview tips, resources, etc.)

    Three years ago, I asked myself and several of my mentors within and outside of Microsoft – “What’s the

  2. I was just interviewed for the Program Manager position. I was asked a question to find whether the numbers are Prime or not.
    I was unable to tell the logic for the same. I was able to answer other set of questions like Design an alarm clock etc.
    I was able to tell him about some Microsoft products which even he was not aware of like Visual Studio 2010.
    Is coding an essential skill for a Program Manager?

  3. Hey Nimish,
    Hope your interviewing experience was pleasant.
    Coding is not necessary per say, but it varies from team to team. Having said that, even if the candidate may not know the correct syntax, it is expected that the PM is technically sound and can either write a pseudocode or at least explain the logic.
    Coding questions, if any would be fairly basic. I would recommend anyone to read some basic tech interview book like “Programming Interviews Exposed.”
    Simple coding questions like:
    Determine whether a number is prime or not…
    Find a loop in a linked list…
    Find a the top three integers in an unsorted array…
    – are typically asked..
    hope it helps

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