Meet the week’s Humans of Product, Andrew Bowker. Based in North Carolina, Andrew loves to “have fun, be active, hang out with friends/family and have a couple of beers”.
When he’s not exploring parks with his almost-three-year-old daughter, you can find him hiking mountains, wakeboarding down at the lake, or renovating his most recent D.I.Y. project; a “fixer-upper house”.
According to Andrew, “North Carolina is where it’s at. If I drive for two hours, I can be at the ocean. And if I drive two hours the other way, I can be at the Mountains.”
On top of this adventurous lifestyle, he had an amazing adventure getting into the Product Management industry.
“I was transitioning at a nonprofit, and the startup ecosystem in Raleigh, where I lived, was really booming at the time. When I was in a nonprofit, I was in a small business operations role, so I got to wear a lot of different hats. I really wanted to jump into startup land to see what was like.
So I just looked at job descriptions and I stumbled on Product Management. I said to myself; this is me on paper. I really, really vibe with a lot of these job descriptions. You get to wear a lot of hats, do a lot of different things and use a lot of different skills.
“I applied to a bunch of places and got shut down repeatedly. Product Management is notoriously tough to break into, especially if you don’t have any experience.
I decided to take a different route, which was to land a job adjacent to Product in and expand into a Product Management role at that company. A “land and expand” approach.
Everything was going well; I joined a startup as a Customer Success Manager and did some Product work on the side to gear up for that switch. But then I found an opportunity to join a product acceleration program back at my Alma Mater at NC State as a part of their MBA program.
I thought to myself, I can go back to school, get an MBA, and launch products as my schooling. What a great deal! I can come out of business school with a product or a business of my own. So I went back and took that amazing opportunity. I failed a few products while I was in school, but gained a ton of experience and knowledge. I was able to leverage this in interviews and eventually landed a Product Manager role in Big Tech.”
When delving into the conversation of choosing between Startups and Big Tech companies, Andrew shared,
“You need to assess what will be the best fit for you. What are your goals? What kind of outcomes do you want? What kind of experience do you want? Who do you want to work for? What kind of skills are you trying to develop? When you answer those questions, you can then boil it down to what type of company and what kind of fit is going to be the best for you.”
Andrew is now working at IBM in the Product Management space for AI machine learning products in IT infrastructure.
“Even if you’re not in tech, you know a little bit about IBM because of the commercials or your granddad worked there.
With everything becoming digitized, we’ll increasingly rely on IT infrastructure teams to keep the world moving. Every time you swipe a credit card or book a flight, there’s a ton of data interchanging between you, the devices you use, the company that you interface with, and many different third parties.
Being on the back end of that is really cool. It’s both scary and gratifying to know that if you could hit an off switch for all the services that we provide to our customers at IBM, the world would literally go into a frenzy. It would be crazy! I love getting to work on products that have a huge impact.
In my job at IBM, I am working on a really cool product that is revolutionary in a lot of ways for our particular niche of customers. Enterprise IT environments are extremely convoluted and confusing and it’s often hard for operators to understand where everything lives in their environment.”
“I’m working on a product that helps you visualise that. It helps you to discover everything so that nothing’s left behind and things can be easily navigated. You can also get creative from there with the ability to do root cause analysis, identify areas of impact when issues occur, and solve problems faster.
The main goal is to help enterprises avoid issues. For instance, let’s say a major airline’s website goes down and people can’t book flights. Well, they lose a ton of business because people go book their flights on a different website. It’s all about avoiding those outages and helping our customers have great user experiences for their own customers.”
Andrew now shares his experiences around Product Management with students enrolled in the Tech Programme at NC State and is also very active on LinkedIn. He has amassed a huge following on LinkedIn by sharing advice on how to break into Product Management.
”I’m trying to make it a little bit easier so people don’t have to take the land and expand approach like I had to six years ago. So I post actionable product content every business day.
My best advice would be to create your own experiences. Especially for Product Managers or aspiring Product Managers who don’t have that on their resume or are having trouble translating the experience they do have into Product experience.
I always say build your own product. In today’s world, there’s a lot of tools out there that enable you to build products in such a short amount of time, even in a weekend. You don’t even have to know how to code anymore. They call these no-code tools and it just lowers the barrier for people with ideas.
In the past, if you had a lot of ideas but didn’t know how to code, you were stuck twiddling your thumbs because you didn’t have the technical ability to implement those ideas. Now, if you’re that person like me, you can just spin up your idea pretty quickly with no-code tools.
You can then formulate an entire product improvement plan around your idea and spin that in interviews. Through creating your own products, you will touch all the right points and help interviewers see that you have the skills they’re looking for in the ultimate Product Manager. That’s my number one piece of advice”
With the current digital and evolving world we live in, the Product space is always growing and buzzing with creativity! Sometimes people think that you need to be, as Andrew calls it, “a crazy ideas person” to be a great Product Manager or in a product development role,
“But here’s the thing…. it just really boils down to solving problems. Just think about getting started in your day, or even think back to yesterday, and think about all the things that annoyed you. That’s where ideas come from. All you need to do is just solve those pesky problems in your life.”