Why a Philosophy Major is Excellent Preparation for a Career in Product Management

Studying philosophy is often ridiculed has having little pragmatic value. When I chose to major in philosophy as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, I was not thinking about my career at all: I was trying to resolve questions about the world I was deeply confused by.  After I graduated, through luck, I stumbled myself into a position where I could pursue product management. After working in product management now for 10 years, I don’t think there is a college major that would have better prepared me for the job. Here’s why:

  1. Philosophy is a bridge between science and the humanities, analogous to how product management is a bridge between many multidisciplinary functions (engineering, marketing, business strategy).
  2. Reading philosophy requires you to get deep inside the world of the philosopher. You must take great effort to understand the philosopher’s vocabulary and mental model, similar to how product managers need to understand the worlds of their users.
  3. Philosophy forces you to think extremely rigorously. You won’t get by with half-baked ideas. Subtle mistakes will make your argument fall apart. Such sharp thought is required when devising requirements for an application. I’ve found my courses in Philosophy of Logic to be especially relevant when communicating formal system details.
  4. Reading philosophy, in a sense, is like reading code. Philosophers’ usage of words can be extremely technical. Often you have to read a paragraph dozens of times before it makes any sense. Sometimes, breaking through in your understanding of one phrase will unlock a deep new world of understanding and possibility.
  5. Studying philosophy rips down your own assumptions and biases. A friend of mine walked out of a lecture in a state of nervous breakdown after seeing his conception of the world shattered by the ideas of Ludwig Wittgenstein. As a product manager, you need to be able to recognize, test, and shed your assumptions about how products and people behave.
  6. Studying philosophy helps you understand and envision a product’s context in society. A philosophical way of thinking will help your formulate a meaningful purpose for your product, inspiring company employees and end users.

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