I’ve never had a stable, long-term career plan. In fact, when I went to college I didn’t really understand what a career was. I knew of a few professions — teaching, healthcare, firefighting, and doing things that involved giant offices in the city where people like my father went to work and worked somehow with money. Oh, and creative professions like designing things or performing in theatre. That was pretty much the extend of my understanding around the options available for my future.
For better or worse, I didn’t have the luxury of growing up in a place with vibrant creative minds put to business use like Silicon Valley. No, I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey where the science/math nerds and the rest of us were kept very separate. Fast forward 29.5 years and here I am, a Director-level employee (in name only, not actually, but close enough) of a serious tech/software company. And I love the industry I’ve landed in. Somehow. From that little girl who had no idea that this type of job or company even existed growing up.
What I don’t love is my profession. If I thought that there was nothing in the corporate world that could fulfill me I’d learn to deal with it. The more I work, though, and the more opportunities I have to dabble in some other roles within the company by weaseling my way into projects, the more I’m reminded that my heart is in product management. Not marketing.
It’s not even that I’d be fully satisfied in product marketing (though that would be better than corporate) because all I want to do is get my hands dirty defining requirements for a product and ensuring its delivery with a quality user experience. Nerdy? Yes. But that’s what I want to wake up every morning to do. Not writing endless press releases hoping someone will pick up a story. I dislike the lack of control over my success or the ultimate quality of output in PR. And I know myself well enough now to realize that a career that focuses on ongoing work versus projects is what does me in over the long term. I’m too ADHD to maintain the level of focus required over the years on ongoing work. I can work on the same product but I love the agile cycle of releases. There’s a definite start and end to each phase. And so you can celebrate your successes, or learn from your failures, and move on.
The challenge is I’m pretty good at corporate marketing. When I keep my mind focused on it. I was a journalist before, and I understand how reporters think. When I’m at the top of my game I can craft some pretty clever stories that will garner industry attention. I’m rather unique as a corporate marketer because I don’t just broadcast a message from product marketing, but I think very strategically on how to align this message to a story various audiences will understand. Sometimes I even create my own stories… which wouldn’t be ok in a big corporate but in a startup sometimes anything goes that works and doesn’t mess up what other folks are doing.
But, I know I want to be a product manager in my 30s. I’m really excited about some of these projects I’ve thrown myself into at work. I don’t actually have the time to work on them successfully and also do my main job as good as I should. That’s mostly because in PR there’s no winning. There’s always more you can do. That is the feeling that eats away at me. Yes, I just helped land a major piece in one of the nation’s leading papers and yet, that’s nothing. Even that victory was tainted with the fact that part of the message in translation got miscommunicated and some colleagues are upset. Can’t I just spend my days building awesome products that make people’s lives easier, better and more fun?
I wish I could make the transition in my current company, but I don’t think that’s possible. While there are many benefits of negotiating a director title upon joining a very small startup, future mobility within the organization is not one of them. Challenging, more so, because I have a director-level title with what I assume is manager-level pay, so it makes everything all the more complicated. Plus, there just aren’t open head counts for a product manager with no experience, and I’m not sure I’d be a good product manager on our particular product. I’m having a ball working on wireframes for a project that’s a bit of a cross between marketing and product, and I just don’t see that type of job being something I can ever obtain at my current company.
And I’m more than dedicated to my current company for the next 1.5 years at least. Why? Well, the rational reason is I need to vest my shares until my 4 year mark. But the real reason is I have a vested interest in the success of the company and that of my colleagues. I don’t have any good friends at the company but I care about the folks I work with nonetheless. I see my role in Corporate Marketing as one of the keys to this success. There’s a lot of other very important moving parts, and ultimately I can only do so much in broadcasting our message to the market, but I think I can do a lot to help. And now, I’m also heavily involved in one of the other key parts of the business – keeping our customers engaged and happy. So it’s nice to be reminded that I do have interests and passions that align with real jobs (versus unpaid hobbies.)
I just worry I’m waiting too long to make a switch in my career. Today, if I really wanted to, I could probably position my story to make myself hirable for a junior-level product manager position in certain types of startups. At 30, I could pull that off. Even if it meant taking a bit of a pay cut. Now, at the moment I am gaining valuable experience in this area, sort of, due to the projects I’m involved in outside of my official day job. So there’s value there in building up that experience, references, examples, etc. I can see some really good outputs from the work I’m doing now should I somehow figure out a way to manage my schedule and get everything done. But my biggest concern is that if I need to take some time away from work to have kids in a couple of years, I’ll be hard pressed to return to work after and leap into product management. It’s better to make the switch before I have kids, get some real experience, and then I can maybe take some time off or freelance in that area. Right now I’m looking at my best professional options during such a phase of my life being PR consulting or writing bullshit, non-strategic corporate marketing content. That makes me vomit a little bit in my mouth.