After years of putting his law degree to use, Andrew Chen, now 39, decided he wasn’t happy—so the Bay Area resident decided to make a change. He left corporate law for product management and hasn’t looked back. Here, Chen shares why he made the change, and how Glassdoor helped.
As told to Jillian Kramer.
Law school was intellectually stimulating and profoundly interesting. I thought being an attorney would also be a safe career move—I studied history in college, which pretty much qualified me to work in any restaurant in America. But I didn't think about the actual day-to-day experience of being a corporate attorney; I only thought about the practicality of the profession in the abstract.
When I started at a law firm, I didn’t observe a lot of innovation and creativity in the work—especially at the lower levels. During the first many years of being an attorney, the work consists of document review, research, technical drafting, and transaction process management. It’s only when you get to the higher levels—think: when you become a senior associate or partner—that there is more creativity and strategic thinking involved; but as a junior associate doesn’t get that.
I also didn't feel a sense of fulfillment beyond the particular current transaction at hand. The legal function is traditionally a back-office one that doesn't often have clear, observable impact for a business or organization. It often didn't feel like there was a larger purpose to my work.
While a lack of representation in terms of minorities is prevalent in many industries, I found it to be especially severe in corporate law. The entering cohorts were more or less diversified, but the composition seemed to get increasingly monochromatic as you looked up the ladder. It didn't seem plausible that so many minorities were unqualified for promotion or partnership.
Corporate law has notoriously punishing work hours, so work-life balance is bad by default. And I struggled to find lawyers who seemed to genuinely enjoy the work, feel fulfilled by it, and feel like they had a good work-life balance with their families. I looked around at senior lawyers and law firm partners and realized I didn't want that kind of career path for myself or for my family.
I wanted a career where there was an opportunity to build meaningful relationships with team members; where there was a shared sense of mission, of doing good, impactful work I was proud of each day; and a reasonable work-life balance—of not feeling like I was constantly “on call.”
I looked to the tech industry because it felt like the inverse of corporate law. The industry, by its definition, involves innovation and creativity because you are creating new products to improve users' lives. Product management, in particular, seemed like a creative blend of strategy, design, data/analytics, and team building—which felt like more universal and transferrable life skills.
And, while it’s not perfect, the tech industry has meaningfully better representation in terms of minorities—at least compared to law firms. That was really important for me in my next job.
I also saw the tech industry offered a better work-life balance because you are measured more by your output than by your input, so there is more incentive to work efficiently and effectively.
To make the transition, I started networking with people already working in the industry to ask them for informational coffee meetings. I read online forums to understand career and industry issues that people already in the field were discussing, as well as the industry jargon. I invested a lot of time learning about the tech industry—reading blog posts and attending meetups and networking events—and also teaching myself critical technical skills to demonstrate credibility. I paid attention to job postings in the industry to see what kind of qualifications and experience they highlighted, then thought about how I could tailor my own story to those criteria, and what kind of career moves I could make in the interim to increase my qualifications and experience.
And yes, I was a little worried: Anyone making a big career change will encounter challenges, including questions of their credibility and some healthy skepticism. Hiring managers are not fond of taking risks on unproven career changers—even if they might turn out successfully.
Luckily, the tech industry pays somewhat less attention to prior background and more attention to what you're capable of and what you can get done. This made transitioning into a product role in the industry more feasible. And I eventually landed at Google, working as a product manager.
I used Glassdoor extensively. During the early stages of research, I used it to learn more about the company culture and to read all-up employee reviews of the company. Hearing both positive and negative stories was very insightful. And when I got called for interviews, I used Glassdoor's interview user feedback content to learn about other candidates' interview experiences and gain insight into the interview format and structure— I was even able to see sample questions asked.
And when I was finally offered a job, I used Glassdoor's salary range information to get a sense of where my offer packages stood in relation to reported ranges. This was very helpful for making sure that I was being presented with a fair offer, and helped me negotiate certain things.
Now, in my new career, I get to work on innovative and creative content, and I feel that there is a real, observable impact in our work when you see the products you're building improve the lives of users around the world. And I have a much better work-life balance and can spend more time with my family. I feel a lot of happiness and fulfillment and can do work I am really proud of.
*Quotes have been modified for clarity and length.