What a career as a project manager looks like

Product management bridges the gap between the technical side and customer-facing side of product development. Kari Calvario, Director of Master’s Admissions at Carnegie Mellon University, explains that product managers “really [have] that broad role of overseeing [a] product and…all of the different components that a customer might need or problems that a customer might want to solve.” (02:22)

There are several different career paths that product managers can take. Students in the Master in Product Management program at Carnegie Mellon University typically find product management roles in many different kinds of companies, including everything from start-ups to large organizations like Facebook or Microsoft. 

Kari points out that over the last few years they’ve “seen [their] students become more and more interested in working for a start-up because you have the opportunity to really jump in right away and make that impact.” (07:52)

Typical product management salaries for MSPM students range depending on the size of the company they end up working for. In 2020, their mean salary was “$123,000 base [without including] a signing bonus or anything like that,” which was a bit lower than usual due to COVID-19. (09:18)

What skills do product managers need?

It probably comes as no surprise that product managers need a varied skill set in order to do their jobs effectively. Nevertheless, Kari points out that because there are “lots of different flavors of project managers,” requirements can vary. (03:50

For instance, “some will be more technically adept [and] have the ability to solve those technical problems” whereas others will excel at “connecting with customers,” Kari elaborates. (03:53)

However, regardless of what kind of product management you gravitate towards, excellent product managers have specific, transferable skills in common.

“What’s most important…is to really be able to make these strategic business decisions, to lead teams, [and] to drive the development of the product, and so, there’s a lot of things that I think make that up, but it’s that ability to think strategically, to connect, and to balance that with the ability to do some technical work as well,” Kari explains. (04:26)

Admissions requirements for the Master in Product Management

When it comes to admissions for their Master in Product Management program, Kari explains that Carnegie Mellon has chosen “a holistic admissions review” because “there’s no one flavor of product manager so there’s no one flavor of admission applicant.” (11:00)

Nevertheless, there are a few key things that Carnegie Mellon looks at when considering prospective MSPM students.

First of all, the MSPM is a program where “you’re going to need those technical skills. You’re going to need to be successful in those graduate-level computer science and business courses.” (11:11) If you don’t have experience in those kinds of courses, you’ll need to fill in the gaps with practical experience.

Other than that, Kari points out that the two main questions the admissions panel considers are “can [they] be successful academically?” and “can [they] be successful professionally?” (12:07) Ultimately, the MSPM admissions team wants to feel confident that their students will be able to complete their coursework and attain their future professional goals. 

What makes Carnegie Mellon’s Master in Product Management unique

There are very few programs out there that are specifically designed for product management, but that’s not the only thing that makes Carnegie Mellon’s MSPM unique.

Carnegie Mellon “is known for being just incredibly innovative and for really looking ahead…at what opportunities there are,” Kari tells us. (13:52) This quality allowed the university to identify the industry need for a product management program years ago. 

This led to the development of an extremely intentional, well-thought-out program. Kari explains how thorough industry research laid the groundwork for the MSPM:

“To be able to go out and hear from the industry and say ‘here’s what we’re looking for, here’s what we wish our product managers had,’ and then we built our curriculum around that. Then we did more research and we heard from those industry leaders who said ‘actually, we also want [your graduates] to have some work experience. So then, we built in the internship…capstone projects…this real-world experience, and so, it’s this direct feedback from this industry where we’re sending our graduates.” (16:04)

Indeed, there’s no better way to prepare for a career as a product manager than by doing a program that was designed in collaboration with the product management industry itself.