A Self-Taught Data Product Manager Curriculum – Best Books to Read to GET THE JOB

Lillian Pierson, P.E.

Lillian Pierson, P.E.

Reading Time: 9 minutes

You’re a data professional who’s curious about possibly stepping up into a data product manager position? Amazing! Keep reading so you can discover what the role is all about, the best books to read to become a self-taught data product manager and land the job, as well as what superpowers you’ll want to develop before seeking that role.

a guide to a Self-taught Data Product Manager approach

In today’s post, we’re going to talk about 3 books in particular:

  1. Product Management’s Sacred Seven
  2. Designing Data-Intensive Applications, and
  3. Cracking the PM Interview

This content is also available in video format:

But if you prefer to read instead of watch, then read on…

A quick side note about why I’m covering this topic – I’ve recently been inspired by the evolving “Data Product Manager” role. Back in 2017, I came out with a series which I turned into an ebook called “A Badass’s Guide to Breaking Into Data.”

This ebook went viral. Lots of people got the book and it helped them make the transition to getting into the data professions. So, I wanted to start working towards developing something like this for Data Product Managers and this is the first installment.

I’ve got a challenge for you real quick. Stop reading here and in the comments below tell me your best answer to the question: “What is a data product manager?”

 

Answering the question, “What is a data product manager?”

The definition of “Data Product Manager” is nebulous, especially when we seek to compare it against the “Product Manager” and “Data Professional” roles.

Are “Product Managers” a type of data professional?

Not really! The “Product Manager” role, in general, is a very data-intensive role. In fact, some people would categorize it as a role within the “data professionals” spectrum. That said, being a former data consultant to 10% of Fortune 100 companies and a certified product manager myself, I have my doubts about that classification.

Why? Well, product managers are ALWAYS required to have subject matter expertise within the industry in which they are managing products – but product managers don’t always manage data products, so product managers do not always have data expertise.

Are “Data Product Managers” a type of data professional?

Maybe. Sometimes, it depends on what’s expected of them…

Let’s take an example from the crypto industry. You can’t be a Web 3 Product Manager and know nothing about blockchain technology!

The same goes for SaaS products and data products. If you’re managing data and AI products, then you could say you work in the data industry as a product manager, but that doesn’t exactly make you a data implementation professional, right?

In fact, you may NOT have ever built a data solution in your life, but you could still be working as a manager of a data product. You could still legitimately call yourself a “Data Product Manager”.

If you’ve never built a data solution, are you really a “data professional”? That’s up for debate! Let me know your opinion in the comments below.

Opinions aside, product managers manage all aspects of development and launch for a company’s products.  This includes things like ideation, research, design, development, performance evaluation, and launch – and that’s just for starters.

Now, let’s talk about becoming a self-taught Data Product Manager.

Data Product Managers (DPM) are expected to cover all the same types of responsibilities as product managers, and then some. Where a product manager uses data to guide their decision-making in terms of product development and launch, a data product manager often uses data more deeply. 

A DPM often goes deeper into the data science and predictive analytics to guide and govern all of the decisions around the product. So, instead of stopping at the data analyst level in terms of evaluating data on a product, a DPM might actually be asked to build machine learning models and use sophisticated data science algorithms to uncover deeper insights that will then inform product development decisions, launch decisions and overall product strategy.

In short, a Data Product Manager is a product manager (1) who manages data products, and (2) who has a sophisticated working knowledge of data science, data engineering and machine learning, and (3) who is able to uncover deep data insights related to their products, to help make better informed and educated decisions about product development, product launch, and product strategy.

It’s often a more data-intensive role than other types of product manager roles. 

Oh and for the “self-taught” part – that is self-evident, no? (pardon the pun 😉 )

The Best Books To Get the Data Product Manager Job

If you want to become a self-taught data product manager, you definitely need to read each of the following titles.

1. Product Management Sacred Seven

I love this book for so many reasons. One of the things I love about this is the fact that it is so modular. You can basically pick up in the area of your interest and learn so much from the pages of this book. This book spills the tea on everything from tech business strategy, to pricing, to data privacy.

I really think it should be called “The PM’s Bible” just because the information it contains is so incredibly valuable.

Just to put a little perspective on the value of this book, I’ve spent over $50k on business coaching and courses related to growing my own business – and we’ve hit multiple six figures in my data business and helped other new data entrepreneurs do the same in the first seven months of their businesses.  And even with all of that, I’ve seen stuff inside this book that was truly just “ninja shite.” It just totally blew my mind. I can’t say enough good things about this book!

In terms of what others have to say – it has 393 reviews on Amazon with a 4.8 star rating. It is a new book, and the gist of the book is basically this:

The authors themselves are already accomplished seasoned PMs themselves. They ended up surveying and interviewing 67 product managers from the world’s finest companies across 4 different continents. They took all of that research findings and they basically broke it down into an essential framework for what makes a truly great product manager. 

your guide to becoming a self-taught data product managerThey found 7 core pillars that distinguish an average product manager from a truly great and exceptional one. Those are: 

  • Product design
  • Economics
  • Marketing & growth
  • Psychology
  • UI/UX
  • Law & policy
  • Data Science 

The book covers each of those topics in-depth, and within each of these pillars, it shares insider strategies developed from within the walls of the world’s most innovative tech companies. 

 

What it is NOT

IT’S NOT a book that you pick up to learn how to craft your resume or to answer interview questions. It doesn’t show you how to get a job, prepare for an interview or get up to speed in order to land a PM role…This book is for PMs who want to go from GOOD to GREAT.

The authors are Parth Detroja, Neel Mehta, and Aditya Agashe. If you want more from them, they’ve got a few other books and they’ve also developed something called Product Alliance which is a program that helps people land jobs as product managers. Their other book is entitled “Swipe to Unlock,” a business + tech strategy primer, which is an extremely reputable book about getting skilled up in business and technology strategy.

Why it’s valuable to aspiring DPMs

The topics in this book are pretty sophisticated if you don’t have a solid product management background. Even if you just read through this book and you only takeaway half of it, I think that doing so will help you develop a perspective that would be immensely helpful to you as you are building out your career and skillsets as a data product manager.

 

2. Designing Data-Intensive Applications

If you are a data professional and want to become a self-taught data product manager, I recommend you read this book before trying to make the transition. The reason that I love this book is because it is an excellent high-level overview of the data engineering and software engineering requirements that go into building data-intensive solutions. Of course, it’s a very popular book amongst data professionals and at this time, it has 1,852 reviews with 4.8 star rating on Amazon

read this if you want to become a self-taught data product managerThe author of this book is Martin Kleppmann and he has a blog and an 8-series course that can be used as a companion.

Why this book is vital to the success of self-taught data product managers:

If you’re coming into a company and you’re a PM for a technical product, then you need to have a good understanding of how all the technology works in order to properly support your teams of engineers and designers. You really need to understand the consistency of the tech that makes your product.

But if you’re coming in as a data product manager, then it will absolutely be assumed that you understand the data systems and the data technologies that support those data-intensive solutions, right? 

The thing is I know enough data professionals to know that’s not always the case. Some people come in with an data analyst background, others have spent years building data visualizations. If you haven’t had the chance to get into the nuts and bolts of software and data engineering that supports data-intensive predictive applications, this is as good a time as any to make sure that you’re up to speed on how the technologies work. This understanding is a pre-requisite to becoming a DPM.

3. Cracking the PM Interview

This book is all about how to get a job as a product manager, data product managers included. What I really love about this book is that it gives you an insider perspective into product management. It also gives you tips on what to look for in companies that you might potentially want to work for. It really helps you to understand what types of companies would be a good fit for you given your personality and your ambitions, and what types of companies would not. 

In terms of what other people are saying, it’s got 1,288 reviews so far with a 4.5 star rating. It’s overwhelmingly popular. 

Like the PM’s Sacred Seven, this is a book that’s been derived from expert surveys and interviews. It’s a compilation of well-experienced, highly esteemed product managers sharing the stories of their careers. That includes how they landed a job and got promoted, and what their experience was like in various companies.

The book is full of great takeaways.

The authors help extrapolate the core details. For example, if you know you want to move up the career ladder and get promoted quickly, the authors recommend that you seek a product management job in a start-up environment first.

The book is full of interview questions and guidance on how you should answer those questions, as well as resume before and afters.

Why this book is important to read for anyone who’s considering becoming a data product manager.

You don’t want to go into a new job flying blind. You don’t want to take a job at a company that looks cool from the outside, until you really understand the culture and the nuances of working as a PM at that company. This book really helps you understand what it is actually like to work as a DPM in all five big tech companies. It also includes information about all kinds of awesome startups! This will help you to avoid getting yourself into troublesome situations or landing a job that doesn’t make you happy. 

The authors are Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro.

They’ve also written another highly esteemed book called “Cracking the PM Career”. They also have some career guidance or coaching books for software engineers. It may be worth reaching out to them if you’re considering becoming a data product manager. Also, it’s worth it if you’d like that extra bit of guidance from world-renowned leaders.

 

Ask any DPM (especially a self-taught data product manager)… a big part of being a great data product manager is developing a keen expertise in data strategy development. If that’s something that interests you, I’ve got good news…

I’ve got a step-by-step checklist & collaborative Trello Board planner for data professionals who want to get unstuck & up-leveled into their next promotion by delivering a fail-proof data strategy plan for their data projects. Check out the Data Strategy Action Plan now!


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