• Laura Stringer

What's in a name?



The other day I saw a comment stating that "most of us didn't go to college for product management", and it got me thinking. My product management journey has been a little unusual, since I spent so much time in traditional corporate environments, but I realized something interesting about my college experience.


My degree, back in the day, was called "Information & Decision Systems". That makes it sound like an IT degree, and that's where traditional corporations always tried to place me.


Looking back, it was absolutely a product management program. There were required courses in computer science, business, project management. And there were a lot of elective openings, more than other majors at Carnegie Mellon. I filled those elective spots with graphic design and psychology courses, and an independent research project on user experience.


I also took a graduate level course on using the internet to improve business processes; the first of its kind at a top-25 business school. I was so enamored of the practice that the following semester, I served as TA for that course.


The major’s capstone project was to build a software product from scratch. The client was assigned to us and gave us our grade. That meant we weren’t just building something. We also had to do everything from customer interviews and requirements analysis to UX design and documentation.


Our assigned client was exacting and asked for a lot, so client management was a major factor in the success of my team. (We earned an A from this challenging client.)


After a long career fighting the IT pigeonhole, I realize that my degree wasn’t simply an IT degree. It was a product management degree, with perhaps an unfortunate name. Not just that - most of my jobs, even with titles like "IT Analyst", were product roles, also unfortunately named.


Bottom line - when looking at your experience or your degree, don't just look at what it was called. Look at what you actually did. You might be surprised!