01 Sep 2016

How I Got to Google

Shireen Soheili (MBA 2016) asks Prem Ramaswami (MBA 2013) about the life of a product manager
Re: Thomas Eisenmann
by Julia Hanna


Prem Ramaswami (MBA 2013)
(courtesy Prem Ramaswami)

Shireen Soheili (MBA 2016)
(courtesy Shireen Soheili)

During her job hunt for a product manager position, Shireen Soheili (MBA 2016) caught up with Prem Ramaswami (MBA 2013) to gain some insider knowledge of a role cited by the Wall Street Journal for its coveted status among MBAs. Ramaswami, a senior product manager at Google (where he worked for nearly six years before coming to HBS), collaborated with HBS professor Tom Eisenmann to create the elective course Product Management 101. Update: A former business operations intern at the software company Autodesk, Soheili recently landed a product manager job at design firm Homepolish.

SS: What are the characteristics of a good product manager?

PR: Communication is a big one. You need to communicate the next milestones and end vision to people with different backgrounds: engineering, legal, marketing. Empathy is another, because you need to be able to place yourself in your users’ shoes and empathize with their needs to build the correct product for them.

SS: What is the best and worst part about being a PM?

PR: The best part is launching, without a doubt. There is nothing as cool as that first time your product is in users’ hands. But it can also be the worst time, because there are many things that you didn’t realize your users would want or need that are missing. At the end of the day, product managers are judged on execution and the quality of their launch.

SS: Any advice for people who want to be a PM but don’t have a technical background?

PR: I’m a computer and biomedical engineer by training, and spent two years working as a systems engineer at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. I do think technical skills have helped over the years in some of my roles, but that doesn’t mean you need to be a coding ninja. Two students from PM 101 who went on to be very successful had backgrounds as a video journalist and a hedge fund manager. You need to be able to have a technical conversation with your engineering team, but that’s a skill you can build for yourself.

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SS: What is a typical career path once you land that PM job?

PR: It’s a little bit confusing to most people. I started out in 2006 as a product manager, and my title today is essentially the same—but the scope of my products has increased in size. My first role at Google was working on features on a product for Google Checkout. Now I get to work in health search, which accounts for one in 20 queries on Google.com. So the scale and complexity of the product has increased massively. In addition to that, product managers can go from being an individual contributor to more of a group lead. The sorts of skills you use might eventually put you at the head of your own startup, or in a product director or general manager role where you’re leading an entire business unit. Product managers are often the go-to people for founders and CEOs, since they have a sense of what’s going on.

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2013, Section A
follow @premr
Class of MBA 2016, Section G

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