Austin Z. Henley

I work on AI + developer tools.

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PM is the choose-your-own-adventure role


A year and a half ago, I left academia and started as a program manager at Microsoft.

But before that, I had no idea what a PM was or what they did. I had virtually no exposure to the role. I had never worked with one, never learned about them in my college classes, and didn't know how they interacted with other roles. I really knew nothing about being a PM!

I only had experience as a software developer and as a researcher. In my mind, those roles have well-defined definitions with tangible deliverables. Software developers take requirements and produce software. Researchers take an unknown and produce knowledge.

What does a PM do?

During my interviews, I asked several PMs how they defined it. Some of the responses I got were:

Now that I have been in this role for over a year, I've seen that there is no single role that is PM. It is different for each product, team, and individual.

I've seen PMs execute in a number of ways:

People get frustrated that the role is so broad and doesn't always have tangible deliverables (e.g., lines of code), but I'm learning that is actually the power of a PM. They get to adapt to the situation to move the product forward. Each week can be wildly different.

It really is a choose-your-own-adventure role.

A few books I'd recommend for anyone interested in product management:

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