How did I stumble to a career in Product Management - KJ Gopika, Product Owner, Lulu International Exchange

How I Started

I started with the typical engineering degree in Computer Science.

In my 2nd year of college, I apprehensively attended a boot camp organized by a community exclusively for women. Throughout my college days, I had seen only guys fiddling with tech or building cool websites outside of college hours. The bootcamp turned out to be an eye-opener where I got to interact with so many amazing women developers and programmers. That was when I realized that a huge supportive and inclusive tech community exists outside of the college.

Afterwards I ensured that my learning and growth wasn’t just confined to the academics alone and used to attend community meetups to keep up with the latest in tech, industry and also network extensively. 

After attending such events I came to know there was a big section of people who weren’t even aware of those opportunities outside. So I started conducting events,workshops and hackathons within the college with the support of the department and volunteered outside through communities. I enjoyed coding & solving problems & facilitating opportunities and by the time I was about to graduate, I saw my girls building event websites for our college fests!

I got placed in an MNC via an online coding competition and joined them.

I worked as a backend developer and worked extensively on databases. I worked there for close to 2 years.

In between job hunts for a new role, I was asked if I would be interested in the role of a Product Manager. They wanted someone who can understand technology, communicate well with stakeholders and think user-first. I fit some but not all the criteria but was willing to learn.

After reading extensively about it,I made my first trade-off(Developer v/s PM). I realised it was a great opportunity to try something new and I took a leap of faith.

How I started with product management - resources & help

All I had was up my sleeves when I took up the role was what I read extensively on the topic. My manager gave a lot of curated articles on FinTech & UX to familiarise with. 

I read several blogs and newsletters including and from Medium, Mind the Product, Coursera, Product School, Product that Counts, Lenny’s Newsletter, Silicon Valley Product Group, Shah), Product Hunt,,Optimizely blog etc.

I also researched on user experiences,prototyping and design principles. How to crack the PM Interview was a very good book as well.

I also used to read a lot of engineering blogs from Hackernoon, Uber, Swiggy, Airbnb etc

I did not pay for any courses because I felt quality resources were available freely.

I hadn’t worked with mobile applications before and I had to learn the technical know how’s first- the development frameworks,hybrid v/s native, Android/iOS, mobile analytics etc as well as about payment & banking systems for the domain.

I also learned to do research and market analysis which additionally helped in figuring out where we stood and where we had to go aligned with the company’s mission and values.

I did not have another PM experience to compare or another PM in my company to trade notes with. I had the freedom to shape the role for the product and myself in my journey.

And experience surely trumps the learning that you get from all the readings. Things may not go smoothly from design to production. There would be multiple iterations of design, bugs in live release, estimations gone wrong, efforts needed doubled, technical debts which was unknown, unplanned leaves of team members, new members joining and existing ones leaving, sudden business deadlines, push from growth and marketing teams for feature additions and so on. Only after going through the different situations, you learn to handle them better and over time the quality of your decision making will improve.

Advice to someone who wants to become a product manager

I was an ‘Accidental PM’ but I have truly enjoyed every minute of it. Every day is filled with new challenges and I don't think the learnings would stop.

If you are someone who loves writing code or has build code, can communicate and negotiate pretty well and wants to truly solve challenges and make lives easier for users, this is the perfect career for you. You will get to don a lot of roles as a PM. 

A lot of companies hire MBA graduates as Product Managers because they might be able to understand the business goals and help execute it efficiently. If you also have a technical background, it would really help understand and empathize with the engineers and negotiate while planning for efforts and when trade-offs are required.

If you have an interest in psychology/cognitive behavioural sciences, you would be able to plan for user study/focus and research groups. It would enable you to empathize with the user and figure out how and why people act or behave in certain circumstances. There is a lot of thinking that goes behind choosing a color or the placement of a button!

Being able to analyse data is also necessary because a lot of  decisions are based on it and not personal instincts. What you might think personally works for the product might not be the best decision in the big picture.

Always talk and share your experiences and learnings with other product managers. You will gain a lot of understanding about the different approaches followed in different companies. The role of a PM is vague and often interpreted differently in various companies with roles at times having more emphasis on either design,tech or business. I call a lot of PM's in different companies to hear about their experiences,challenges and processes followed.

It is to be remembered that there will not be that instant gratification that you would get once your code is deployed bug-free. You might actually launch a product with so much planning and effort only to not get the traction you hoped for or to get it shadowed by a competitor feature. You might do extensive research and prototyping only to have it shelved at the last moment upon consensus.  While you need to be able to connect with the product it’s important not to be emotionally attached.

Be open to thoughts and criticism and try to inspire and ignite that same excitement that you feel about your product/features within your teammates.

This is a great article about PM to know more about it:

Being a PM is not that glamourous behind the scenes. However, there is nothing more exhilarating than hearing your product making someone’s life a tad bit easier.

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1 Replies
Sethu Sathyan
2 years ago

Thank you Gopika for sharing about your transition to a Product Manager. I came acorss two podcasts on Product Management recently. Adding it here:

Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman -

Product to Product -