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How important is Domain experience to a product manager or product marketing manager?


Today the Open Network Foundation was announced promoting a new approach to networking called Software-Defined Networking (SDN). SDN allows owners and operators of networks to control and manage their networks to best serve their needs. For example, instead of treating video and voice like a Microsoft Word document, network operators using the OpenFlow protocol can manage priorities. Through simplified hardware and network management, OpenFlow seeks to increase network functionality while lowering the cost associated with operating networks.  The Board consists of representatives of Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon, and Yahoo and members consisting of Broadcom, Brocade, Ciena, Cisco, Citrix, Dell, Ericsson, Force10, HP, IBM, Juniper Networks, Marvell, NEC, Netgear, NTT, Riverbed Technology, and VMware.

In the New York Times article announcing the effort, Silicon Valley start-up, Nicira Networks was mentioned.

As a product manager and product marketing Consultant for the 280 Group and yesterday learning that a recruiter, Olga Ocon, who specializes in recruiting in product manager or product marketing positions has joined forces with the 280 Group, I thought I would take a peek at Nicira.

Plus, I have been saying lately that many start-ups ignore having a product manager at their great peril as the founders who have the original “vision” get overrun dealing with fund-raising, recruiting, retention, HR, finance, engineering, manufacturing, business development, marketing, speaking, sales, etc. so no one at the company is performing the vital functions of product management.

And failing to do so the company slowly starts going out of business.  Why you ask?  HP often cites that something like 75% of their business comes from product introduced in the last five years.  On the other hand, one can cite an example of poor product management processes and techniques as we slowly watch it die: Yahoo.

I noticed that Nicira actually lists positions for product management and marketing.  Further poking around reveals that the founder Steve Mullaney is a former product manager (many founders and CEOs are) as is Paul Fazzone their current VP of product management.  Ah…as we frequently see at the 280 Group, former product managers get the importance of having people focus on product management.  Also, when their product managers product their work products, the Steve Mullaney’s and Paul Fazzone’s know exactly what to do with it.

Looking further at the job descriptions at Nicira it calls for years of networking technology, networking systems, data center networking, compute virtualization, distributed systems, storage, distributed systems, and infrastructure security experience. Which raises a questions us fellow 280 Groupers have been discussing over the years.

How important is domain experience for the product manager and product marketing manager?

To kick of this discussion I will present my view:

Not important at all and it limits the hiring company’s ability to bring in fresh, new views.

A product manager or product marketing manager who has been in the industry too long and with little other experience, will just tend to repeat the same mistakes and probably not know any other way.

Providing the product manager or product marketing is bright and knows how to learn fast (like has graduated from a top school) it won’t take them more than a few weeks to be an industry expert but with ideas from other markets to bring to bear.

What do you think?

May 22, 2011