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Senior product manager caught in middle-management hell - not sure what to do next

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
Hi all,

TL;DR: Senior level product management generalist can't decide if he should go a more technical route, an MBA/more business-y route, or take a shot at starting his own thing (but feels he has no advanced skills and no ideas).

I don't have a formal CS degree, but rather an engineering degree. I somehow ended up in several internet marketing and product management roles over the last 7-8 years, eventually working my way up to Director level for a large media company managing the mobile apps (iphone, android, mobile web, etc).

I was laid off, and had pretty awful luck trying to find another director title, and ended up taking another manager level product title. At this point I feel really burned out, and like a worthless middle-management generalist.
What are your suggestions for keeping my career moving forward?

Here are my skills/thoughts/etc:

- I'd consider myself an advanced beginner at writing some code (PHP, python, SQL, etc), but don't really want to be a full time developer.
- I enjoy the marketing aspect of growing a company, but really only if it's for myself. When working on other people's products I just don't care that much. (I know some SEO, SEM, and ecommerce type stuff)
- In the field of software, fortunately my interests align with the trends these days: mobile is awesome (and I have experience building these apps), big data is very appealing to me (no experience), and possibly security.
- My typical day-to-day involves roadmap planning, running scrums/sprint planning, working with developers and designers on UX decisions, creating marketing materials for product launches, etc.
What's my next best step? Running my own company would be a dream, but since I'm not a specialist like a developer or designer, it's hard to get contract work.
- I could look into an MBA and try to keep climbing the corporate ladder (I suspect I'll eventually get another director level gig), but becoming a VP of product management somewhere seems to be a very daunting and stressful task.

I'm about to turn 34 and feeling pretty depressed. What skills do you think I should focus on to move forward? Get the MBA and just keep grinding it out? Focus more attention to a small business which is what I really want, but have NO idea where to start? (I've wanted to do my own thing for probably 10 years but never was able to come up with an idea I really wanted to focus on. Most ideas I have just seem to have too much competition or don't scale well enough).

My interests:

- health/nutrition
- style/fashion
- big data (maybe combine with health?) though I can't write much code
- self help
- travel

Any guidance would be appreciated. I've been indecisive my whole life and am tired of going down the path of least resistance.
post #2 of 3

Just like you I am product guy and I share your take on being a senior VP at the company that works on the product that is not yours. The truth is, in our field you're either running the show or eating shit. Unfortunately, shit tastes bad and we are back to the first option :-)

 

Some time ago I found myself in almost the same position and I chose to start my own gig. It required thinking, saving money and figuring out how to support the household while being in a start-up mode, but it was worth it. While I am still trying to develop the business, I feel much better overall. I did not pursue an MBA because degrees from pedestrian colleges are dime a dozen--and frankly you can learn everything on your own--and I would not be able to get into the top 10 without a major change to my lifestyle. I do want to continue my education but in a different field, e.g., design, science.

 

When I ran into the same issues as you have, I ended up doing some travel, a whole lot of reading and basically pursuing my passion. At the end this is worth to me more than a nice salary, as being a well paid cog does not change the fact that you're just a cog. So do not give up, take time off and something will come up. Think on the bright side--you're a product guy! Your job involved running a mini company with all the departments that a typical corporation may have, so why not do it for real? 

 

P.S.:  Think big and act small. If you keep postponing things, you'll never make is.

post #3 of 3

I feel you.  I don't really have much time to post here, but feel free to email me at the styleforum email, and maybe we can talk on the phone.  I think that a good route for you may be to get in on the ground floor of a start up.  Although you feel that you don't have any ideas, you seem to have a lot of skills that are applicable to any number of companies, and many startups would be happy to have you.  Of course, you'd probably be working long hours for peanuts and possible future equity, but it's doable.  I've seen it done many times (though the flip side is that many fail as well.)  Having worked for a salary at something I was good at, but had little enthusiasm for, and now working for myself, I can tell you that for me, at least, I much prefer working for myself.  And one thing leads to another.  The experience and capital you gain doing one thing can be used to pursue other opportunities.  

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