Design to product management: a rewarding journey.

Mar 14, 2023 4 min read
Design to product management: a rewarding journey.

By Tatyana Gruver

Changing careers after spending a decade climbing the corporate ladder was terrifying. I worked as a designer for 10 years before I became a product manager.  I hesitated for a long time before finally taking the leap. Once I did, I felt a sense of excitement in my career that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

I hope my story can inspire others who want to make a change but are petrified of the consequences. I’m here to tell you it is worth it.

Becoming a designer felt like a natural choice.

My parents were both designers and owned a design studio. Growing up, I spent my days there with them drawing, doodling, and playing with design software.

I went to art school starting in junior high and then went to college for Visual Effects. I got my Bachelor's degree in Media Arts and I specialized in animation and character rigging. Unfortunately, I graduated college during the economic crash of 2008.

It was a struggle to find a job, but I ended up at a tech company doing 3D modeling and training simulations. I went on to graduate school and earned a degree in Entertainment Technology. After that, I worked in game design and location-based entertainment.

I began working at small startups and found that I thrived with that level of autonomy. The company I was at was mostly engineers. As a designer, I found myself filling not only my own role, but also the role of product manager (PM). I talked to customers, figured out business cases, and helped my team be productive. One of the most enjoyable parts for me was the sizable impact I could make on the small company.

Eventually I joined BetterUp as a designer and to my horror, I felt bored. I knew the issue wasn’t BetterUp as I had vetted the company before joining and believed in their mission. The problem was the work itself. It no longer made me feel inspired the way it once did. I didn’t like being a designer anymore.

I realized I no longer wanted to be a designer.

I talked to my manager and began working with a BetterUp coach to figure out a plan for my career. I didn’t want to leave BetterUp, but I also didn’t want to stay as a designer. I missed the “wearing many hats” feeling I had at my previous startup. I craved work where I could work directly with others rather than a more introspective creative role. I wanted to learn new tools and change up my routine. I realized I had been designing for so long that it was beginning to feel monotonous to me. I wanted a new challenge.

My boss suggested I look into being a product manager. To my surprise, the role exactly matched what I was looking for. Still, I hesitated. What if I wasn’t good at it? Would I be able to go back to being a designer if I failed at being a PM? I also felt horrified at the idea of starting over. I’d spent ten years crawling up the corporate ladder only. To go back to square one felt like failure.

My coach was the one who gave me the push I needed. They listened to my fears, validated my feelings, and encouraged me to give it a try. I’m so glad I did.

Making the first leap was the hardest part.

I feel fortunate that BetterUp gave me the opportunity to try something new. To my surprise, I didn’t have to start my entire career over from the beginning. I’ve been able to use many of the skills I gained when I was a designer, like understanding the end user’s vision and iterating on a project until it’s perfect. On top of that, I've added new tools and abilities to my belt that help make me a great PM.

I love that my workday now feels like a buffet of different new challenges that all keep me engaged in what I’m doing throughout the day. My skills in big picture thinking and collaboration make me successful as a PM, which in turn, makes a big impact at BetterUp. Since I became a PM at BetterUp, I’ve helped grow the team from 4 to 23 people, led a project refreshing the member experience, and helped launch BetterUp Care–a new product for mental fitness.

I’ve even found that my background in design gives me a unique viewpoint on the role of a product manager in ways I never expected. Because I know how to use Figma, I can whip up prototypes when others are busy. I’m also able to speak to user experience in a way that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise without my previous work background.

You don’t grow without taking risks.

Making the decision to change my career after a decade of experience was no walk in the park. Taking the first step was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. Some days, I still feel like an imposter and have trouble attributing my success as a PM to my own hard work.

The important thing is to believe in yourself and take a chance. It also helps to have supportive people in your corner, rooting you on. Sometimes that’s all you need to make the leap.

Someday I could grow tired of being a product manager and change careers again. Next time, I’ll be better at believing in myself. But for now, I’m loving learning and growing every day on the job.

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