How Aspiring Product Managers Should Select a College Major

I would recommend not doing a business major. While I’m sure you can learn valuable things in business courses, this could be a tragic lost opportunity. Your mind is in a formative state in college: your goal should be to stretch it as far it will go, watch it break apart, and then figure out how put it back together. Think less about what major will look good to potential employers and more about creating a blend of coursework that will cultivate the modes of thought you will need to thrive. Here’s what I suggest:

Computer science + whatever humanities area you are passionate about.


Computer science will teach the technical underpinnings of product development which has pragmatic value, but more importantly it will illustrate how far formal systems can go, which is very far. A humanities discipline, in contrast, will show you realms where formal systems are impoverished, lacking, and misapplied. Navigating this tension between the technical and non-technical is at the essence of product management. Product managers must understand the logical and business underpinnings of the products they guide, but they also need to know how to imbue a product with purpose, beauty, and meaning.

If your school offers it, a multidisciplinary major like cognitive science might be perfect since it bridges computer science, neuroscience, linguistics, psychology, and philosophy. It would force you to reconcile radically different ways of conceptualizing the human mind. Your brain will bounce around between ideas like a product manager’s brain bounces between engineering, design, and sales.

Taking heavy coursework in both computer science and (e.g.) art history could be bad ass. If you can both understand how to architect a software application and write a convincing essay about why the public finds a sculpture scandalous, you are on your way to product management.

Another strong choice would be a mix of computer science and philosophy. Instead of repeating myself, see Dan Schmidt’s answer to Philosophy: What do philosophy majors do?

I think a business major is a bad way to go because it is too pragmatic for the stage of life you’re in. You should spend college fostering a deep sense of purpose that will inspire you your whole career. You can pick up the business skills along the way as you need them to achieve your vision.

This post appeared originally on Quora.

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