It requires thousands of hours of collaboration to create even one product; professionals across multiple sectors design, build, test, revise, and update the item before it reaches the customer. Like painters working with a full color palette, product managers shape the work of different teams to meet one product vision.
Product managers rely on excellent information management skills to extract knowledge from data for use in business decision-making. Senior product managers even work with high-ranking stakeholders to develop product strategies and product marketing campaigns.
While many product managers come from a technology background and hold a bachelor's degree in information technology or computer science, PMs must do more than crunch numbers and analyze data. Top professionals have excellent "soft" communication, problem-solving, and leadership skills to motivate their teams and achieve optimal results. For this reason, many senior professionals pursue graduate-level management education.
Product manager salaries are typically high. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports project managers (as a group) earn a median annual wage of $98,420. Product managers at top companies make far more. A Google product manager with two to four years of experience earns a (base) average salary of $160,000, per Glassdoor data.
What degree do you need to become a product manager? This article examines that question. It covers:
Technically, product managers don't "need" any degree if they have the right skills. Professionals can work their way through the ranks, often starting as junior project managers. Entry-level positions offer much-needed experience managing day-to-day activities and individual projects. Industry-specific experience is also useful. For instance, those in the defense industry benefit from a military background, especially when combined with formal business education.
A master's degree can deliver several excellent options, depending on one's career goals. Professionals in the tech industry may pursue a computer science degree that includes management coursework. Another popular option is a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Finally, many professionals opt for a Master of Science in Information Management (MSIM).
Information management involves gathering and organizing information (typically with cutting-edge technology and data science techniques) to advance business management practices. Degree programs typically address data collection and business, similar to many modern MBAs. As a result, many product managers choose to earn an MSIM degree.
Having an MSIM can lead to excellent opportunities outside a product management career and its sister professions like project management, program management. and product development. Graduates can become chief information officers, business intelligence engineers, senior analysts, IT managers, senior IT consultants, and more.
The benefits you derive from an MSIM program depend on several factors, including your previous experience and education. The University of Washington offers three tracks—two for early career professionals (one traditional speed and the other accelerated) and one for mid-career professionals. The early career tracks are for those who either just graduated college or have fewer than five years of relevant experience, typically in an entry-level role. Graduates from this track can qualify for mid-level roles but may need to work a bit before landing top jobs. Earning this degree as an early career professional can also help you change careers and start working in product management.
The mid-career degree caters to those with at least five years of experience. These professionals may be trying to specialize their skillsets or feel their current education has taken them as far as possible. For these students, a master's degree may be the push towards a senior product manager position they seek.
A master's isn't the only product management credential. Professionals can benefit from management certifications at every stage of their career paths, including as associate product managers and experienced product managers. Top organizations for certification programs include Product Manager HQ, The Association of International Product Marketing and Management, and multiple universities (including Boston University). These programs can cover basic and advanced product manager skills like developing a product roadmap, pricing, marketing strategies, utilizing market research and metrics, Scrum techniques, and designing products. Successful product managers often have multiple credentials, so don't feel pressure to choose between a master's and certificate. You may ultimately find both beneficial.
MSIM curricula differ by school. Most programs include a combination of STEM and business topics, but the focus varies by program. For instance, most schools offer cybersecurity coursework as a core course, but not every program offers cybersecurity as a specialization. At Indiana University - Bloomington, known for its business school, students can take electives through the MBA program.
Common core subjects include analytics, data management, information management, data science, cloud computing, IT architecture, IT management, ethics, project management, and statistics. Still, the marrow of most MSIM programs involves electives and specialization. This is where students position themselves for niche careers in product management or a related field. Popular specializations—each with unique education requirements—include information architecture, computer science, user experience, product/program management, and data science.
MSIM programs are quite practical. At University of Washington, students in the business intelligence specialization learn (among other things) to extract insights from data and create and use business intelligence systems. Data science students learn programming and machine learning. Product management students receive leadership training and study how to guide a new product through its lifecycle.
MSIM admissions requirements can be demanding, depending on the program. Top schools typically expect higher standardized test (GMAT or GRE) scores and undergraduate grades. They may set a minimum undergraduate GPA—often 3.0 at top schools. Applicants should expect to submit their resumes and several letters of recommendation. Again, if you're applying to a competitive program that caters to experienced professionals, your resume, letters, and even personal essay should reflect your experience. These programs may set a work history requirement of five years or more.
Many MSIM students come from a STEM undergraduate background and hold undergraduate degrees in information technology, computer science, or data science. If you're applying to a STEM-focused school but don't have the requisite background, you may need to complete bridge coursework in programming or statistics. Inexperience may limit your options.
Top information management (and related) programs include:
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