How I went from being a Civil Engineer to Product Manager: My learnings and myth busters

Manisha K, Product Manager, Jar

After years of education in Civil Engineering and a two-year job as a Planning Manager in a large company, I realised this wasn’t my calling and I couldn’t do this forever. I decided to turn my life around, make a fresh start, and discover what I was really passionate about. Today, I’m a Product Manager. Happy and satisfied. But the journey hasn’t exactly been smooth. So here I am, sharing my learnings and myths that I busted along the way.

If I can be a PM, anybody can be.

A little backstory

I hail from a town in Karnataka named Hospet. Following my graduation in Civil Engineering in 2017 and master’s in Project Engineering Management in 2019, I joined Tata Projects Ltd. as a Planning Manager. My role was all about resource planning, budget allocation, monthly reports, annual operating plans, etc. Two years after giving my best, I realized this just wasn’t for me. That it’s time to switch things up and start afresh.

But the thought of being a Product Manager in a fintech firm didn’t even cross my mind at that time.

Of course, the decision didn’t happen overnight. After going back and forth and contemplating my decision for months, I finally quit my job and joined Jar in 2021.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far in my journey with Jar:

  1. Don’t be scared to take the leap — trust your gut.

While I invested years to become a Civil Engineer, I didn’t find it worthwhile. It didn’t mean my career was over. Regardless of how difficult it was, I took the first step and quit my job. I knew I’d figure out the rest in due time, and I did. Given that I had no education or experience in this field, the first two months were naturally quite challenging for me. But people believed in me, and I believed in myself.

It will never get easier, but it will become less frightening as soon as you take that first step.

2. Attitude over skills, anyday.

While skills are important, your attitude towards work and life is what matters most — at least in Jar. From Civil Engineer to Planning Manager to an early stage startup, it was my management and problem-solving skills, along with my attitude, that got me here in the first place, and probably not my work experience. Even during my interview with Prashant (now my manager), we went over my background, the skills I bring to the table, and how I can fit in with the team. I was simply eager to learn, grow, and face any challenge.

3. All you need in ‘that one good mentor’ — I had 2.

I was still figuring out what I really wanted to do and in the exploratory phase when I was about to join Jar. Nishchay had faith in me and saw my potential. So did Prashant. They provided me with an opportunity to demonstrate my abilities. Prashant has been a great mentor throughout my journey. A support system that has helped me with all of the ‘how-what-why’ questions. He even used to share a list of articles, podcasts, YouTube videos, and books to read to help me get the hang of things quicker.

4. Trust the process.

Initially, I had no intention of becoming a Product Manager. I took my time to explore and experiment with different projects in different teams, which gave me clarity. I got involved with every team, from customer support to HR to tech to product. I worked on company policies, UX flows, wireframes, and testing while automating and streamlining some processes. Eventually I realised where my passion lies: in developing products and features.

I finally got comfortable after rolling out two features. Gained a basic understanding of all the processes and what it takes to roll out a feature, including how it is approved, designed, launched, tested, and monitored by various teams. I got well acquainted with it from end to end. And oh boy, that was quite a journey!

5. You’re as good as the people around you.

My coworkers have played a significant role in shaping who I am today. The PMs assisted me in understanding what and how things are done, while the designers taught me how to create wireframes. The tech team sat with me patiently, explaining how things work, from what an API or SDK is to how integration happens and how information flows. Basically everything. The entire team has been extremely supportive.

6. Making mistakes is okay. That’s how we learn.

My journey wasn’t as smooth as it sounds. I made a good number of mistakes here and there. Users would begin to express their concerns and bombard the customer service team with questions.

But at Jar, I was encouraged to make mistakes and learn from them. To never be afraid of experimenting with new ideas.

7. Meeting the right people at the right place really makes a difference.

I was completely new to the fintech industry. Luckily, so was Jar. It was a fresh team of 40 people with no defined boundaries or structure, allowing everyone to wear multiple hats. It was the ideal setting for me to discover my passion.

Meeting the right people at the right time accelerated the transition, exponentially increasing the learning curve.

From being a newbie learning the basics of product, look at where I am today: giving new PMs a walk-through of what all we have done in Jar’s journey and all the features that we’re working on.

Jar has played a very interesting role in my growth. I used to be on the receiver’s end using all these online apps. But oh, how the roles have reversed and I’m on the other end, creating products and features for the users.

Looking back on the time when I was in a dilemma about my career choice but had the grit and hope of turning things around, my life took a whole turn with Jar. Being a Product Manager here today, I am certain that this is exactly what I want to do in life.

I think this is what makes Jar what it is: the people. Our people come from everywhere, from any field, and still find a place here to complete our jigsaw puzzle.

So if you’re at a crossroads in your career and are hesitant to take the leap, just do it.

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