How to Successfully Transition From Engineer to Product Leader

Venki Subramanian

VP, Product Management at Reltio



Previously I worked as an engineer in an international company. The company had an opportunity that required someone with my specialized skills to move to the United States. As part of this change, I became fascinated with the real problems my work was solving and how it created an impact. In my engineering role, I focused on the technical aspects of the problem and wasn’t required to think about the big picture. Since I was closer to my company’s customer base after I moved to the US, I got to ask more of the questions I was interested in. A specific product I worked on had engineering and product teams based internationally, so I had the opportunity to act as a bridge between our team and customers. Once I began taking these opportunities, I realized in the long run, I wanted to be a product manager, which required a role change. The question for me was how I could transition successfully?

Actions taken

There were two major ways I thought about transitioning to product management:

  • I could go cold turkey, and start applying for product management positions until I had success.
  • Transitioning internally within my company, since I was familiar with the nitty-gritty of the product and domain.
  • My learning curve focused on product management, not a new product and organizational structure.

Once I knew how I would make this switch, I started to express my interest in product management more openly with my management team. In my opinion, many people ignore this step without realizing that collaborating with peers is essential. Talking with peers is helpful, but expressing interest to those who can make it happen will be more beneficial.

Secondly, I started to invest in myself in order to fill my knowledge gaps. I joined an evening MBA program and used it, not just for another degree to add to my resume but to learn the skills that would allow me to be successful in a product manager role. In my experience, I focused on the knowledge aspect rather than adding another check on my resume.

Lastly, I focused on my brand building. I’ve found that throughout my career, it is important to focus on my brand. Especially in the product world, product managers are always associated with their products, internally and externally to a company. My brand building involved spending extra time helping the product team, lessening their workload, and gaining practical experience. By offering my help, I was growing awareness of my name and interest in the position.

I felt as if the combination of expressing my interest, filling my knowledge gap, and building my brand put me first in line for a product role when the opportunity presented itself. Since the hiring board knew my interest and work ethic, it made it easier to transition into this role rather than hiring an external candidate.

Lessons learned

  • Obtaining a product manager role is only the starting line. Once you begin this role, the challenge starts, and you will need to push yourself to succeed. The more time you’ve spent growing your skillset, the easier this transition will be.
  • The three steps are integral parts to successfully gaining a role in the product department. By withdrawing a single step, you may not be offered an opportunity, or it may take longer than you desire.

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Venki Subramanian

VP, Product Management at Reltio

Leadership & StrategyEngineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementTeam & Project Management

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