Obviously the usual abilities to work well with and communicate well with other employees in your own group and other groups (maybe including the customers) is very helpful.
An analytical mind and approach, while trying not to make too many assumptions before they can be validated, is key. As a Caltech-trained scientist or engineer, you probably have these.
Obviously the people who hired you want some training in and experience in science / engineering. It’s better if your training and experience relate directly to the specific product line you’ve been hired into. For
example, they wouldn’t usually hire someone into a heavy electrical engineering division when that person is exclusively a microbiologist. But they might hire a software engineer into a division which makes
software products for any number of industries with which that engineer may not be familiar, like heavy manufacturing, biotech, pharmaceuticals, or ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits). As a Product
Marketing Engineer, it’s more helpful if your specific training relates more to the customers for the specific HP product line than to the HP product development engineers who design and build the products.
The title PME at HP was and probably still is a “product marketing” job. That is, it is not a “technical marketing” job, which some divisions have as an adjunct to the marketing department, to provide help to both
the “product marketing” dept. and the customers. This is often in the form of more detailed technical assistance like write-ups of specific product use or customization, without going through the field sales
organization’s “application engineering” group and therefore the (customer-paid) factory-based product support group. A PME is also not an “application engineer,” who are more technically competent staff in the
field sales group (but not sales reps with sales quota), who help customers implement and customize their HP products, and are the customer’s first contact point with technical questions and problems.
Therefore, a PME is a pseudo-entry-level marketing person, irrespective of degrees, age, or experience, who gets involved in the “product market-ing” activities. A PME’s job is typically more marketing than engineer.
A “product manager” usually means overall responsibility for at least one specific product, and possibly a manager of people (PMEs). A “product line manager” usually means overall responsibility for several
products, and is usually a manager of people.
So as a PME, you would normally be expected to have at least a beginner knowledge of and some experience in “classical” marketing. That is, you may get involved in any or all of the activities below. This is a quick
review of “Marketing 101.” If any of this doesn’t sound very familiar, it means that HP is probably planning to train you in them to some degree, or maybe just use you as a low-level grunt for a short-term marketing
a. Product definition/re-definition/modification and positioning,
hopefully based on what the existing and/or prospective customers
want. This might include market research to find out what they
want. It will probably include discussions with the product
development (engineering) staff, field sales reps & application
engineers, to see how to provide the customers with what they want.
b. Pricing of products & services, which turns out to be far more
complex than one might think.
c. Promotional efforts for the product/services: As a PME, you may
help define these and the messages, but it’s likely to be high-
level, vs. actually running advertising, E-mail, or social media
campaigns, which is usually left to the field sales organization
and/or the GROUP marketing staff. You may help to define the “mix”
of promotional media, i.e. advertising in print, TV, radio, etc.,
press releases, E-mail and/or postal mail “direct response”
campaigns, social media efforts, trade shows, etc., but you will
probably not run the tactical details of the campaigns.
d. Distribution of the products & services: Will you just have
customers buy from HP directly, or will you use distributors and/or
dealers in addition or alone? Obviously, this could include
discussions with the distributors/dealers. But this is usually a
specialty for the upper-level marketing managers. You could,
though, get involved in tracking the success of the distributors/
dealers as a PME.
e. Customer analysis: You may get involved in “market segmentation,”
i.e. (how if at all) should the products/services be customized
and/or sold differently for different sets of customers in
different industries, countries, etc.? Who are these customers?
How do they act? What do they want? How do they want to buy from
f. Competitive analysis: You may get involved in figuring out what the
competition (direct and indirect) is offering, and how HP can
provide products/services successfully against them. This might
involve “product differentiation,” “niche marketing,” etc., vs.
g. Product and/or Sales Training: You may get involved in writing/
preparing the training materials for delivery to customers and/or
sales reps on how the products work, how they should be sold, how
they stack up against competition, etc. This can sometimes be seen
as entry-level drudgery, but it forces you to learn the product(s),
how to sell them, etc., fairly quickly, so you can be an effective
asset to both the customers and the sales force, and therefore the
h. Marketing plans: You may get involved in providing input to these,
and clarify why the plans make sense given the competition and what
the customers want.
Also understand that a PME’s job (or even a product manager’s) is a high-responsibility but low-authority job. That is, you’re expected to get a lot of stuff done through other people, essentially cajoling them into
doing it for the benefit of themselves, their group, the customers, and the company, but you have no authority to require them to do it.