Rohan Kar, Product Management Academy
My Journey to Product Management
As a 90s kid in India, I vividly remember life pre-Internet, when Amazon was just a river, Google search didn’t exist, and you needed an actual paper map to travel. Contrasting that with the vast improvements in my life that came after, started a lifelong passion for technology as a catalyst for positive change in the world.
So when it came to deciding a career path, I wanted to get as much exposure as I could into building great technology products. When you simplify it, three things determine a successful product: what you build, how you build it, and how it’s adopted. Product management is the only role that’s deeply embedded in all three areas.
I was naturally inclined to major in computer science and engineering for my undergrad. While I was strong in software development, I wanted to develop myself into a more well-rounded technologist. So I moved to the U.S. to pursue a Master of Information Management and Systems (MIMS) at the U.C. Berkeley School of Information. Berkeley provided an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the societal impact of my decisions on how technology is designed, built, and used.
As my mentor AJ likes to say, product management is both art and science. The art is all about situational leadership, influence, and the ability to drive outcomes despite imperfect conditions. Science is the technical knowledge and analytical skills you bring from areas within product development, like UX research, systems design, and data science, as well as areas outside product development like sociology, economics, and operations. PMs don’t necessarily make all the decisions — they just ensure the right ones get made. One’s ability to make better product decisions is ultimately limited by the scope of understanding of your problem space. So I think the more perspectives you bring into product management, the more you get out of it.
It was really important to me to be a part of a company that does well and also does good. I had always admired Palo Alto Networks as one that was working on the cutting edge and also making a difference in the world by keeping everyone digitally safer. When I encountered the PMA job listing on Berkeley’s internal careers site, I was immediately excited and applied right away. That’s how it all started!
About the PMA
The Product Management Academy is a two-year, rotational PM program for new grads. The rotations provide breadth and depth of experiences and give exposure to different customer challenges we solve as a company. It also introduces you to the unique problem-solver style of product management here at Palo Alto Networks. It fosters a high degree of analytical and product rigor by virtue of being on high-impact projects where you will be constantly challenged to deliver different outcomes while learning by doing.
Each year, the PMA welcomes a small class of six to eight PMs. The close community aspect is one of the most important things to me about it because we all support and learn from each other. Not only that, but the mentorship I’ve received from product leaders throughout Palo Alto Networks has been tremendous, and it was an important part of why I chose the program.
There’s really no prescribed path to a successful product management career. Everyone creates their own through their unique backgrounds and experiences. In a way, we’re all trailblazers! If you’ve realized product management is the right role for you, then I think the PMA is a fantastic way to start. We move very quickly and at a high level, so you have to be ready to hit the ground running. It will accelerate your growth and allow you to take the next step towards becoming a product leader.
In my first rotation, I was placed on one of our most successful products: WildFire. I’ve enjoyed the full spectrum of opportunities working across the company to strategize key areas for business growth, writing specs for new features, defining key performance indicators (KPIs) for the next stage of my product, and helping deliver a platform to general availability (GA). When I took the job as Palo Alto Networks’ first PM in the PMA, I couldn’t have imagined the professional fulfillment I would achieve just in this past year alone.
Working at Palo Alto Networks
A huge draw for me joining Palo Alto Networks was the scale at which our products affect customers. As the world’s leading cybersecurity company, we help protect over 70,000 organizations, who then serve millions of people like us around the world. We are customers of our customers. By protecting them from adversaries, we, in turn, protect our own digital way of life. The benefits of working for an industry-defining company where you can grow and try new things is invaluable. It’s still early days for us so I’m constantly excited about what we do next.