Breaking Into Product and Tech by Microsoft Product Leader, Ali Vira

What is a PM?

Typically, product roles align to one or more of the responsibilities below:

Project Manager or Technical Product Manager

  • Planning, designing, and execution of projects or products.

  • "How do we turn this vision into reality?"

Product Manager

  • End-to-end product design, requirements, road-mapping, implementation, risk-analysis, user adoption

  • "What should we build and why?"

Program Manager

  • Process optimization & improving business performance - or a blend of both Project and Product

  • "How do we make this better?"

What is a PM- Beyond the Buzzwords

Product Vision & Strategy - Driving Execution - Cross Functional Collaboration - Communication - Risk Management and Unblocking

As a PM, your job is going to be to identify the best problems to solve, to solve those problems, and to make the business money.

You will interface with, and empower customers, developers, designers, upper management, compliance teams, and your peers to ensure that you`re building & delivering the best possible solution.

You are the primary instrument to make sure that everyone gets what they want.

What skills do you need?

The name of the game is `interdisciplinary.


relating to more than one branch of knowledge.

"an interdisciplinary research program".

If you`re managing the design of a product, should be well-versed in how different aspects of that product should come together.

Valuable PM Skills

1. Customer Empathy

What should we build? Why should we build it? Who are the users? What are their needs? Is this the real problem? How will we measure success?

2. Design (more than just looks!)

User-Centered Design, Human Factors, Mock-up Design, Lifecycle Design, study Ul Breakdowns, take a Design Course.

3. Business

Stay current (TechCrunch, Y-Combinator), create SWOTs and build strategies.

4. Technical & Data

Software Architecture, familiarity with programming concepts (1-2 high-level languages), hackathons, basic statistics - trends, analysis, significance

5. Relationships & Communication

Where should you build skills?

Growth Mindset: Learn, Adapt, Apply

  1. Build something! Analyze & strategize!

  2. Do a product tear-down with friends. Identify opportunities to improve or own something on your day-to-day.

  3. Study Great Products

  4. Shadow a PM

  5. Participate in a hackathon (non-technical participants are still valued!)

  6. Build your website from the perspective of a PM

  7. Take a free design course or boot camp

  8. Join student design teams or volunteer.

How technical should a PM be?

  • Myth: You need to have a Computer Science degree to be a PM.

  • Being "Technical"! = Knowing how to code.

  • Being Technical can mean...

    • Ability to breakdown complex technical concepts.

    • Desire to learn and adapt to new technologies.

    • Asking the dumb questions

    • Being enthusiastic and curious

Your Bread and Butter

  1. Get good at breaking a big problem down into smaller problems.

  2. Always, always, always ask questions

  3. Try it out - don`t let perfect stand in the way of good.

What is a resume really?

A promise that describes what you can deliver, based on what you`ve already done.

Like an essay, a resume should craft your story - what you`ve achieved and what you stand to achieve.

A resume should deliver a blend between the skills you possess, and the impact you`ve created.

What goes into a resume?

  1. Name & Title

  2. Basic Contact Information

  3. Skills (Technical & Non-Technical)

  4. Education

  5. Work Experience (Paid or Unpaid)

  6. Volunteer Experience

  7. Side Projects & Leadership

  8. Accomplishments & Awards

  9. Interests, Objectives, & Summary.

Resume Do`s and Don`ts


  • Lead each bullet with a unique, relevant action word

  • Ensure each bullet has an associated skill and/or an impact

  • Align your content & titles to the job to which you`re applying

  • Be concise, keep your sentences short (ideally 2 lines max)

  • Experiment with sans-serif fonts (instead of serif fonts)

  • Look at the resumes of others, learn, iterate - and ask for feedback!


  • Don`t go over 1-2 pages (typically 2 pages is for > 10 years of experience)

  • Don`t use qualifiers/adverbs without associated impact

    • E.g. "Greatly enhanced the product" vs. "Improved revenue by 67%"

    • E.g. "Massively decreased spending" vs "Reduced costs by 56%"

  • Be careful with industry-specific acronyms & jargon - your resume could be screened by anyone

  • Don`t include content you can`t speak to

  • Don`t spend too long on cover letters

    • Cover letters typically go unread, unless the company is < 50-100 people.

Resumes - Metrics. Metrics. Metrics.

Resumes - But I don`t have metrics!

1) You can seek out your former employer or coworkers to solicit metrics

2) You are allowed to estimate your impact

Don`t write down anything you`re not comfortable getting called out on, but you are the expert on whatever you worked on. If you can walk me through the justification, that`s just about good as having the raw data.

In fact, that walkthrough demonstrates a good analytics mindset.

Resumes - The F-Pattern

Research indicates that people read in an "F-pattern". Consider structuring your resume content accordingly, especially if you`re using two-columns.

The most important is in the upper left corner, the least important is in the lower right corner.

Resumes - Additional Tips

  • You can adjust your job title to better suit the role you delivered (within reason)

  • You can use color to highlight your impact, increasing recruiter readability by 54%

  • Lead with impactful action words, but avoid words that minimize your responsibility/leadership: e.g. Facilitated Communication

  • Adjust your resume based on the job for which you`re applying

  • Don`t have direct work experience? Projects count!

Resume FAQ: To include old experience or not?

We`ve all been there.

If you have old experience, or are early in University/College and only have High School experience, it is fine to include it - until you don`t have to anymore

1) Pivot the experience to best reflect the skills & impact required to land your desired position

2) Work (via the tips in your breakout rooms) to gain new, relevant experience.

Resume FAQ: Grades or Experience?

This will vary from company to company, but on average:

  1. High grades + extracurriculars/experience/projects = awesome

  2. Low grades + extracurriculars/experience/projects = great

  3. High grades + no extracurriculars/experience/projects = alright

  4. Low grades + no extracurriculars/experience/projects = not so great

Your grades are just one part of a complete picture that employers look at.

Resumes. Check Yourself

  • Are my skills coming across in this bullet or section? Which skills?

  • Is my resume telling a story? What story is my resume telling?

  • What impact have I delivered?

  • Are my action words relevant and unique?

  • Is my resume concise, easy to read, and easy to understand?

Interview - Types of questions.

1. Behavioral: Tell me about your experiences and your personality.

  • Tell me about a time you had to influence someone.

  • Tell me about a project or team that you led at work.

2. Product and Design: Show me your product sense and decision making.

  • What is your favorite product and how would you improve it?

  • How would you design an ATM for a blind person?

3. Technical: Can you understand and communicate technical challenges?

  • Explain how the YouTube recommendation algorithm works.

  • Can you compare pros/cons of X different sorting algorithms?

4. Analytical: Can you leverage data to solve a problem?

  • Our user sign-offs dropped by 50%. Tell us how you would approach this?


Questions you should always be ready for:

  1. Tell me about yourself

  2. Tell me about a project you`ve worked on

  3. Why are you leaving your job?

  4. What do you want in your next role?

  5. Why do you want to work here?

[2] Product Interview Guide:

1. Scope the problem

  • Ask clarifying questions

  • Identify potential customers, competition, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats

2. Know your customer(s)

  • Build personas (demographics, behaviors, needs and wants)

  • Identify customer cohorts and problem hypotheses

3. Product ideation

  • List potential ideas

  • Select and justify an idea by tying back to needs

4. Go to market and measure success

  • Describe risks, explore ways to bring idea to audience

  • Create metrics

Product Interview Guide

[3] Technical Interview Guide:

Similar to Product - break a big problem into smaller problems.

  • Ask clarifying questions

  • Identify:

    • Users

    • System Considerations

    • Functions & Requirements

    • Components

    • Assumptions

  • Draw a system diagram

  • Identify algorithms, data structures, trade offs, efficiency and improvements

[4] Analytical Interview Guide

Framework is very similar to the Product Design question (re: clarifying questions, users, requirements)

  1. Be aware of and define funnels & timelines

  2. Generate and test hypotheses

  3. Propose a solution

Interview Tips

  • Practice. Practice. Practice.

    • Have answers ready for typical questions

    • Practicing white-boarding, or at least, writing down solutions

    • Practice out-loud, interview with a friend

  • Study the company

    • SWOT analysis, and have questions ready

  • Think out-loud, and summarize/recap where possible

  • STAR/PAR strategies, be detailed where it matters

  • Have copies of your resume and recommendation letters handy

  • Engage

    • "May I have a moment to think about this?" - have a sip of water

    • "Do you feel I`m on the right track with this solution?" - don`t be afraid to ask for a hint/check in.

Interviewing. Check Yourself

  • Have I practiced responses to interview questions? Out loud?

  • Have I performed a SWOT analysis for the company?

  • Have I thought about my story? What are my passions? What makes me unique?

Networking - Where to look

Certain tech companies can receive > 2000000 applications in a year. Networking is essential to increase your adds - plus it`s good for your career!

  • Hackathons

  • Conferences, Career Fairs, Engineering Conferences

  • Facebook Groups, Linkedin Groups, Slacks, Discords, and other professional associations

  • Meetup

  • Eventbrite

  • Friends & IPN!

Networking - The Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a quick summary of yourself, your skills, and your objectives.

  • Start by introducing yourself

  • Summarize your history

  • Summarize what you do

  • Explain what you want

  • Finish with a call to action

Networking - The Elevator Pitch Tips

  • Write it down - but practice, practice, practice out loud

  • Take your time, but time yourself

  • Make it conversational - don`t be a robot

  • Create multiple flavors of your pitch based on your goals

    • E.g. Meeting a recruiter, meeting a colleague, or meeting a founder

  • Tell a story and showcase your passion(s)

Networking. Check Yourself

  • What steps am I taking to expand my network?

  • What kinds of people am I trying to target in my network?

  • Have I created and practiced a compelling elevator pitch?

Playing to Your Strengths

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a tech degree to land a tech job.

You do however, need relevant or applicable experience.

You can gain relevant experience, from jobs that are not in tech.

Think about how to leverage your passions to build or advertise skills.

Think about the stories that make you stand out, use those stories to build your career, use them in the interview.

It Gets Easier

It is normal to:

  • Get rejected. Even for experienced professionals, rejections can outnumber interviews.

  • Flub interviews. Especially for your first few, or early on in your cycle.

  • Feel overwhelmed. Being uncomfortable is how you learn! You don`t need to be an expert at everything, you`ll build off your strengths.

  • Feel envious. You can always make more, and some people are always going to be one step ahead. Focus on being the best you that you can be.

Ali Vira, Microsoft Product Leader.