We have previously talked about the trend in tech companies towards giving more relevance to Product Management positions, as well as the explanation of why is this happening. Now, let’s go deeper into the advantage that software engineers have over other candidates when pursuing Product Manager jobs.
1. They Talk the Engineers’ Language
We bring this up time and time again, because it’s so important. Product managers who work with technical teams need to know how to talk to them, as they will always be between the business and technical side of a product.
Many candidates have had vast educational and work experience in the business world, but not as many speak the language of engineers. Software engineers transitioning to a Product Manager career path have the technical knowledge to translate the business’ needs to a product feature that needs to be developed or modified. Moreover, they can start determining feasibility before talking to the engineering team.
2. Lean Thinking: They Work Smarter Not Harder
The concept of ‘Lean’ can be applied to many different aspects of business, from team infrastructure to the products they build, the basic tenets being to maximize efficiency and cut down on waste. There is some controversy over whether this way of working benefits or exploits an employee, with some thinking that it’s a way for management to cut down on costs and resources, whilst still expecting maximum output from their employees. However, when done right lean thinking is the embodiment of ‘work smarter not harder.’
If you’re hoping to get a job at one of the bigger tech companies, or a hot new startup, the role probably involves lean thinking. Especially as companies are working towards also being sustainable in the environmental sense, the trend of ‘lean and green’ isn’t going to go away any time soon. The best companies expect their Product Managers reduce waste, test and fail fast, learn fast, make data-driven decisions, and see the bigger picture. Almost every software engineer is familiar with lean software development, which may give you an edge against candidates who don’t have that technical experience.
As an engineer with lean software development experience, you’ll be able to shift your thinking towards lean product management more easily, as the core concepts are the same. Lean thinking in product management involves putting customers first and making decisions based on data rather than conjecture, basing roadmaps on customer value rather than features, and looking for ways to work more effectively as a team.
For further reading, we recommend picking up a great book, such as The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen. You can also read our exclusive interview with the author to really dive deeper into the topic.
3. Growth Hacking
Companies expect their product managers to be able to drive growth for the products they manage. Growth remains one of the most important goals for businesses both small and large. It might seem a little obscure to connect the dots between growth hacking (a marketing practice), product management, and software engineering, but bear with us!
Growth hacking became a hugely popular buzzword back in 2010 and, much like lean thinking, doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. It exists in every space both digital and IRL, and although it’s seen to be the domain of marketing experts, engineers can easily be growth hackers. In fact, early adopters of growth hacking were engineers, thanks to their ability to know exactly how to make people move around their websites and follow the user journey. One of the first growth hacks came from Hotmail, by adding “Get Your Free Email at Hotmail” as a tagline at the end of every user’s email, which led them to go from 20 thousand to 1 million users in 6 months.
That’s not to say that a product manager should be solely concerned with manipulating users into doing exactly what they want (that brings up the complicated question of ethics in product). However, having an engineer’s knowledge of what people want to click on, how to get their attention, and what turns them away will be instrumental in making products for them.
Making the Transition
So if you’re a software engineer looking to transition into product, what’s the best way to do it?
The first thing to do is get your portfolio in order. You may already have one which showcases your experience as an engineer, but it may be useful to look at it from a product management perspective. Highlight the work you did with the product manager and how involved you go in processes outside of actually building and coding.
Another way to get some PM experience before applying for an official role is to build something of your own. Having a side project which you manage yourself will not only give you valuable experience, but it will show your creativity and entrepreneurial thinking, setting you apart from other candidates. Even if the product doesn’t take off, you’ll have more to talk about in an interview, and learning from failure is key for good product managers.
Of course, some things can’t be taught. Luckily, there are industry-recognised Product Management certifications to teach you everything you need to know. If you already have a little product management knowledge but no official experience, this will help to consolidate what you know and prove your prowess. If you are a complete beginner looking to get started from scratch, a certification is a great way to break into product and learn from the experts.