The Skill Sets of Google & Facebook’s Product Managers Demystified

A Deep Data Analysis of 200 Product Managers in the Two Companies

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For more than 15 years, Google & Facebook have witnessed a remarkable rise in product innovation, customer adoption, global expansion, and revenue generation. Today, Google provides seven unique products with over one billion monthly average users each and Facebook serves 2.37 billion monthly average users worldwide. Both companies have generated revenue of 160.74 and 70.7 billion USD respectively in 2019. So, what makes these companies surpass everyone else in tech?

To answer this question, in Knowledge Officer, we analyzed the skill sets of 200 product managers, randomly selected from the US offices of Google & Facebook, with a 50% sample representation from each company. In this report, we dig deep to understand the minds behind these product successes to gain insight into what it takes to become a product leader. We raise the question of ‘what skills do these product leaders possess?’ and ‘what product skills are they missing?’.

Where are these product minds coming from?

Academic Background

‘53% of Google’s product managers are computer scientists or software engineers; 33% of Facebook’s product managers hold B.Scs in computer science or software engineering.’ Click To Tweet

Our data analysis reveals that Google prefers its product managers to have degrees in computer science or software engineering, while, in Facebook, an academic degree in business would be the most suitable for the job. The data also shows that STEM degrees are common among PMs in both companies. On the other hand, while a degree in languages or social sciences is common among PMs in Facebook, it is, in fact, quite uncommon among Google’s PMs.

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The Stats:

  • 53 % of Google’s product managers are computer scientists or software engineers; as opposed to 33% in Facebook. 
  • Facebook has 13% more product managers with business or economics degrees than Google.    
  • 53% of Google’s product managers hold academic degrees in computer science or software engineering, 39% in STEM, 33% in business or economics, and 7% in languages or social sciences. 
  • 46% of Facebook’s product managers hold academic degrees in business or economics, 33% in computer science or software engineering, 22% in STEM, and 22% in languages or social sciences.

Work Experience

‘60% of Facebook’s PMs have had business management roles before moving into product management; 43% of Google’s PMs have had software engineering or data analysis work experience before moving to product management.’ Click To Tweet

We have found out that having prior work experience in product management is the best way to get into a product management role in Google or Facebook. We have also found out that prior experience in a business management role is more common among PMs in Facebook whereas prior experience in software engineering or data science is more common among PMs in Google.

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The Stats:

  • 54% of Google’s PMs and 61% of Facebook’s PMs have had previous work experience in product management prior to assuming their current PM roles. 
  • To get a PM role in Facebook, work experience in business management ranks second and software engineering or data analysis work experience ranks third.
  • 60% of Facebook’s PMs have had business management roles at some point in their careers before moving into product management, as opposed to 49% in Google.
  • To get the same PM role in Google, work experience in software engineering or data analysis is as important as business management work experience.
  • 43% of Google’s PMs have had software engineering or data analysis work experience before moving to product management, as opposed to 21% in Facebook. 

Prior Product Management Experience is not a Prerequisite

‘46% of Google’s PMs take up the role with zero experience in product management, as opposed to 39% in Facebook. ’ Click To Tweet

Prior product management experience is not a prerequisite to playing the PM role in Google or Facebook. However, general previous work experience is almost a prerequisite, as it is uncommon for total freshers to join Google or Facebook in a PM role.

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The Stats:

  • 46% of Google’s PMs take up the role with zero product management experience.
  • 39% of Facebook’s PMs take up the role with zero product management experience. 
  • 70%+ of Google and Facebook’s PMs join the tech giants after gaining work experience in another 3-4 companies, in a PM or non-PM role. 
  • The average years of experience of seasoned PMs joining Google or Facebook rarely exceeds the 7-year range.

What companies build up their product management skills?

The Internal Recruitment Pipeline

‘32% of Google’s PMs are internally developed into the role; 11% of Facebook’s product managers are internally developed. ’ Click To Tweet

Our analysis shows that, for Google & Facebook, internal transfers and promotions are one of the best sources for PMs. Both Google & Facebook create their own product managers– Google being significantly better at this than Facebook. Although Google surpasses Facebook in creating its own team of product managers, yet mobility into a PM role is significantly more restricted in Google than Facebook. Most Google’s PMs are developed into the role after experience as associate or intern PMs while it is easier to get to a PM role in Facebook without such requirement.

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The Stats:

  • 32% of Google’s product managers are developed internally into the role, as opposed to 11% in Facebook.
  • 64% of Google’s PMs have gotten into the role after playing an associate or intern PM role in Google, as opposed to 25% in Facebook.
  • 75% of Facebook’s internally developed PMs have gotten the role without playing any associate or intern PM role in Facebook. 
  • From those internally developed from a non-PM role, almost 66% of them have moved to product management after playing software engineering or program management roles in Google, as opposed to data analysis and marketing roles in Facebook.

Microsoft & Amazon Feeding the External Pipeline

‘22% of Google’s PMs and 11% of Facebook’s PMs have been previous Microsoft employees.’ Click To Tweet

Our data shows that when it comes to external sources of recruitment, Microsoft leads the external pipeline of PMs and Amazon leads second. The data also shows that experience in any of the big four consulting firms, McKinsey, BCG, Deloitte, and Bain & Company, is a good entry point to a product management career in both Google and Facebook. On the other hand, while no Google PM comes from the banking or financial industry, experience in banking or finance is a good entry point to a PM role in Facebook. It is also evident from the data that there is no significant movement of PMs between the two companies. This limitation in movement might be due to the different selection criteria employed by Google & Facebook.

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The Stats:

  • 22% of Google’s PMs and 11% of Facebook’s PMs have been previous Microsoft employees
  • 9% of Google’s PMs and 5% of Facebook’s PMs cite Amazon as a previous employer.
  • 16% of Google’s PMs and 14% of Facebook’s PMs have had prior work experience in one of the big four consulting firms. 
  • 15% of Facebook’s PMs have had prior work experience in Barclays, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, or JP Morgan.
  • 3% of Google’s product managers have had previous work experience in Facebook, while 5% of Facebook’s product managers have had previous work experience in Google.

What product skills do they employ in creating the products we all love?

The Top Skill Sets

‘Business and managerial skills amount to 30% of the total skill set of Facebook’s PMs; software engineering skills amount to 28% of the total skill set of Google’s PMs.’ Click To Tweet

Through analyzing their public profiles, we have discovered that software engineering skills are the highest, most common skills for Google’s PMs. On the other hand, business and managerial skills are the highest, most common skills among Facebook’s product managers. Contrastingly, Google prizes business skills as second while Facebook prizes software engineering skills as second.

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The Stats:

  • Ranked first, software engineering skills amount to 28% of the total skill sets of Google’s PMs; business and managerial skills amount to 30% of the total skill sets of Facebook’s PMs.
  • Second on the list, business skills comprise 23% of Google’s PMs’ skill sets; software engineering skills comprise 17% of Facebook’s PMs’ skills.
  • Data analysis skills comprise 17% and 13% of the skill sets of the PMs in Google and Facebook respectively. 
  • Marketing and sales skills comprise 14% of Facebook’s PMs’ skill sets, in staggering contrast to 7% in Google. 
  • In both companies, skills deemed specific to product management are ranked the lowest or almost the lowest, comprising only 12% of the skill sets of Google and Facebook’s PMs.

The Top Programming Languages

‘Python, SQL, Java, Javascript, C, and C++ are ranked among the most common programming languages among Google & Facebook’s PMs.’ Click To Tweet

In the software engineering skills group, both companies rank software development and mobile application development in their top skills. Although programming is not essential to be able to play a PM role, programming languages appear first on the list of software engineering skills for product managers in Google & Facebook.

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The Stats:

  • Python, SQL, Java, Javascript, C, and C++ are the most common programming languages in Google & Facebook.
  • Python takes first place among Google’s PMs and SQL ranks first among Facebook’s PMs
  • Java ranks as the second most commonly-mastered programming language among PMs in both Google and Facebook. 
  • C ranks as the third most common programming language among Google’s PMs and last among Facebook’s PMs. 
  • Programming languages such as PHP, C#, and Linux appear as uncommon in both companies and do not make it to the top languages list.

The Focus on Leadership & Strategy

‘Strategy, leadership, entrepreneurship, and management are the top four business skills product managers have in both Google and Facebook.’ Click To Tweet
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In the business and managerial skills group, strategy, leadership, entrepreneurship, and management rank as the top four skills product managers have in both Google and Facebook. Business analysis, management consulting, competitive analysis, and financial modelling come next on the list.

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When it comes to data analysis, Microsoft Excel still reigns king with PMs from both companies employing it more than any programming language. Besides the common programming languages, Matlab, Statistics, Machine Learning, and Cloud Computing skills are minorly used, with Google’s PMs mastering them much more significantly than Facebook’s PMs.

Understanding Markets & Going Agile

‘Market research, business development, social media marketing, and marketing strategy are the top four marketing and sales skills among Google & Facebook’s PMs.’ Click To Tweet
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In the marketing and sales skills set, market research, business development, social media marketing, and marketing strategy take up the positions of the highest, most common skills for PMs in both Google and Facebook. Interestingly, Facebook’s PMs almost double over Google in their acquisition of all skills in this category. 

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In the product management skills category, PMs from both companies prize Agile methodologies, project management, product development, and user experience as the most important product management skills. There is no significant difference between Google & Facebook in this category.

What’s Missing in the Mix?

‘Product management is the intersection between business, user experience, and technology.’

Martin Eriksson

After diving deep into Google and Facebook’s PMs’ skill sets, we have found that, in Google, tech skills come first, followed by business skills. Contrastingly, in Facebook, business skills come first, followed by tech skills. In both companies, user experience skills lag behind and cannot even make it to an independent skill set.

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The Stats:

  • In Google, tech skills comprise 45% of the PMs’ skill sets, followed by business skills at 40%, while user experience skills lag behind at a staggering 1%
  • In Facebook, business skills comprise 54% of the PMs’ skill sets, tech skills 30%, and user experience skills similarly lag behind at yet another staggering 2%.
‘User experience skills lag behind comprising a staggering 1% and 2% of the total skill sets of Google & Facebook’s PMs respectively.’ Click To Tweet

The Way Forward

According to the US sample analyzed in this study, it is plausible to deduce that, all in all, both Google and Facebook are highly-focused on building products with an edge in business responsiveness and tech innovation, with Google leaning more towards tech, understandably. This has led to a focus on recruiting people into the PM role, based on having considerable previous academic or work experience in any of the two fields. The ‘user experience’ gap remains unfilled and may have serious effects on how users continue to perceive, use, and love the two companies’ products. More focus on building internal ‘user experience’ expertise would give the two companies a much bigger push, moving forward.

The results of this research remain inconclusive and further research across wider geographies and larger datasets are required to reach conclusive results. In the meanwhile, it is clear that being powered with skills data analysis enables companies to objectively investigate the skill sets of their employees and build skills for the workforce of the future. 

Knowledge Officer provides different such data analysis services which you can further explore in our business page. And if you’re interested in analyzing your own skills, get your free skills gap report from our skills insights page. We also provide several career accelerators to help you and your company bridge the skills gap that you may have. For more information on that, please visit https://knowledgeofficer.com/pro.