Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Margaret Finch, Senior Product Manager at Samsara
In honor of International Women’s Day, 280 Group hosted a virtual panel discussion on how trailblazing women paved their way into Product Management. We heard from PM veterans, like Margaret Finch, their success stories, lessons from past failures, candid feedback on how to tackle gender parity in PM, and actionable insights to move forward with. Watch the Facebook Live video of Trailblazing Women in PM: How to Blaze Your Own Trail.
A little about you…
I got engaged in January, so most of my recent free time has been spent learning how to plan a wedding! I’m originally from Florida, and have lived most of my life on the east coast. I’ve been living in the Bay Area for almost three years now. I’ve completed four marathons and I’m contemplating signing up for my first triathlon this year. Other hobbies include traveling, going to hear live music, and listening to podcasts. My most random interest is my love of the TV show Survivor (yes, the one that’s been on the air for 20 years), and I want to apply for the show one day!
What was the biggest hurdle in entering or transitioning into product management?
When I started my search for a PM role, I had six years of work experience, but none of that time was in a product management role. Most PM openings that I came across were looking for experienced PMs. As a job seeker, it felt like a catch-22 – I needed PM experience to be considered, but how could I get PM experience if no one would give me a chance? Well, I applied to dozens of PM jobs anyway. There were many that rejected me, but I made the case in my cover letters and initial phone screens that my experience in marketing and business was very relevant to product management. Once I found an opportunity that needed a business-minded PM, I was able to secure the job.
What experience or training was most helpful in landing the job?
My Product Marketing experience at LinkedIn was most helpful in landing my first PM job. As a PMM, I conducted user research, contributed to the product design reviews, and owned the go-to-market planning – all very relevant tasks for a PM to know (plus, these are all tasks that PMs may own at a smaller company). I didn’t work directly with engineers, though, so I told my coworker PMs that I was interested in transitioning into Product, and asked for opportunities to learn more about the development process. I was very fortunate to have supportive colleagues who gave me projects that I could work with engineers on. These side projects became the engineering stories I would talk about in interviews when I was recruiting for a full-time PM role.
What do you find most interesting about product management?
I love designing products and features from scratch, and practicing “blue sky” design thinking. Early in my role as a PM, it struck me that I felt like an inventor. I also love being the decision-maker for my product area, and getting to see through metrics if the decisions I made were good ones.
What do you think will be your biggest asset to help you advance in your career?
I think my biggest asset is my communication skills, specifically my ability to adjust my communication style to different audiences. PMs need to be able to effectively communicate with engineers, customers, executive leadership, and many other stakeholders.
What advice do you have for women that are entering product management?
Don’t get discouraged if you get turned down multiple times; getting into the product management field is tough! Keep practicing, and if you’re hitting a wall, consider changing your recruiting strategy. For example, when I was trying to pivot into PM, I wasn’t getting interviews at the large companies. I changed my strategy and started looking exclusively at startups and smaller companies.
Many women get discouraged into thinking that they’re “not technical enough” to be a PM. It’s certainly beneficial to understand how to work with engineers, but don’t disqualify yourself due to this belief. Instead, I’d recommend brainstorming ways to work with engineers in your school program or current job. Even simply attending more engineering-driven meetings can help get you exposure to the language and culture.