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I began my career as a control systems engineer for petro/oil/chemical/cement plants (handled everything from meeting the customer in the field, gathering input, setting up meetings with different module owners to get buy-in, design, dev, testing and handing over the final system to the customer).

Then I switched to signal processing and got an MS and PhD in video compression. I've been working as an R&D engineer for > 2 years been handling large feature requests each taking close to 2 months (again - gather requests from product managers, design, develop, reviews, unit tests, integration, coordinate with QA, bug reports, etc). Though we are head-quartered in NY, our team is spread around the world and I coordinate daily with several teams to get my work through.

I am considering shifting to a program/product manager role and I would like some advice with this. I enjoy innovating and coming up with solution to tough engineering problems, and I often find myself drawn into big-picture discussions and volunteering my opinions on product plans while talking to managers.

My company doesn't have any PM/TPM roles (only Senior Engr., Staff Engr. Principal Engr., Manager, Director, VP, etc.) - so my search will most likely have to be outwards.

I am looking into firms in other domains too - problem is that I am mostly a C, C++, MATLAB, scripting (bash, python) sorta engineer with lots of experience in Agile methodologies and tools that a CS company should be using (version control, bug reporting, code inspection, profiling, etc.). Apart from my writing my own websites in HTML and CSS/ or using Wordpress (with some PHP coding), I have very little experience in mobile technologies or the web stack.

How do I make this switch? Do I need to get a certification first? Any suggestion will help me greatly. Thanks!

Sorry if this question has been asked before!

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    Your title suggests Program/Project management, but the text mentions Program/Product management. At first glance very little of your experience is relevant to project/programme management, though it would clearly inform management of technical IT projects, and Product Management is something very different again, that your experience may indeed help with. You need to clarify what direction (project or product mgmt.) you are seeking and it would also help to know why you want to move in that direction you seem well placed at what you do... – Marv Mills Jul 20 '16 at 8:28
  • Thanks Marv for your reply and I see where you're going. At the first place where I worked, we have had 1 major product - a distributed control system which can be configured for any industrial application. I worked for 12 different clients and provided them with a control system product and each of these was termed as a project (took ~2-3 months each). What would you classify this sort of experience as? Thanks! – ponderingfish Jul 20 '16 at 13:24
  • I cannot answer that, as I don't know enough about the setup, the product, or the process you underwent or indeed anything about it! I am not sure my classification of that is relevant either. If you are claiming that it does give you PM experience then I have no basis and no inclination to argue. What was the size of the project team you managed to achieve these deliveries and what was the split of resources by broad skillsets (i.e. Devs, other techs, Testers, Test Managers, Business Analysts etc.)? – Marv Mills Jul 20 '16 at 15:13
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It sounds like you've done some pretty good research already. I'd say that if you're serious about it, invest in getting qualified (which qualification you go for should depend on the field you're going into - but there's plenty of other Q+A's on that already) as it will make your job hunt a bit less difficult.

Finding a PM job without having been a PM before is (ironically) very tricky, but having the qualification under your belt will show that you're serious about the move to any potential employer.

As an aside, it might be worth speaking to your current employer about your long-term career intentions and see if there's any way of developing that within the company you're in. It may be that they could create a new role for you or add different responsibilities into your existing role - it'd save a lot of the headache of finding a new job outside of your current organisation.

Good luck!

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From my experience with this work I would put your experience as the most valuable asset. Qualifications might look good on a resume, but I my experience I have not seen one that has been valuable in a general sense. I could be wrong, but I wouldn't waste my time on that.

My suggestion would be to apply for as an engineer at a company that has what you look for as a career path. There are several reasons for this:

  • It can be hard to get the job without prior experience.
  • I believe that doing a good job as PM/TPM requires good knowledge in the company's product, technology, culture, and so on. Some hands-on work is the best way IMO to gain this. Also, the people developing the product will be sure about your competence.
  • I think it is good practice to recruit for these positions internally. From the above reason of knowledge, and I think companies that do this are thinking in the longer term.

Mainly things to think about; hope it helps :)

  • Thanks Eirik! I find myself agreeing with you regarding "promoting internally and having strong product knowledge". Sucks that the place that I work has nil scope to shift laterally between product dev and product management. I'll keep you points in mind -- I could aim at product lead positions. – ponderingfish Jul 20 '16 at 13:23

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