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Necessary Skills of a Product Manager

Ben Erez

Product Manager at NA

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Problem

"As I have been a product manager for several years now, I have been asked if not having technical skills has held me back in some way. My thinking about this is that the engineers on your team are ultimately the ones who need to be thinking about how to build the product programmatically. So if I did know how to code, would that even be helpful?"

Actions taken

For my particular role as a product manager, I have been at a couple of consumer startups where the users themselves were not engineers or technical in any way, so most of the complexity was hidden behind a simple user interface. After all, most of the things that drew those customers were everyday things a person can relate to. In my current role that is true while a bit more specialized to designers. I'm still not building something for engineers. As a product manager, I bring to the table empathy for the problems our users encounter while collaborating and the ability to get people to rally around those problems in an effective way. I don't need to code or read code. Personally, I think that for myself, knowing how to code would not help me better execute my role. I have made up for it however by building better relationships with the engineers on my team and asking them what they think about certain things. I ask a lot of questions.

"What are the tradeoffs?"

"If we build it that way, is it going to be faster?"

"Will it break more and/or introduce more bugs?"

"What are the benefits in the next few months if we take the extra time to build it now?"

On the other hand, I think there is a category of the product manager role where knowing how to code is extremely important. Consider the company Stripe for example, which provides an API for developers. In this case, the user who implements Stripe is a developer. They need to know how to set up an entire company's payment system using the code, alongside all the documentation that Stripe provides.

Lessons learned

  • I do not think there is such a thing as an objectively great product manager. I think it just depends on the environment and the context of the role. Using sports as an example, someone might be a really poor teammate on one team because they have a certain system, with a certain coach who has a specific style or strategy. However, if you put that exact player on another team to be successful, their skills can be highlighted rather than diminished. I think this is true for product managers as well.
  • I think building relationships by asking questions is useful in the same way as is doing a lot of testing on the product, filling a lot of bugs, and providing steps to reproduce the bugs. It demonstrates a lot of credibility with the engineers on the team that I am actually using the product because I understand it and know how it works. While my opinions are not based on understanding the code, they are deeply rooted in my understanding of the users and what they do.
  • I think there are a lot of people out there who maybe transition into product management from engineering that have a background where they can navigate a code base. They, rather than someone like me, would definitely have an easier time doing their job successfully at a company like Stripe or with other similarly technical products, where developers are actually the users.

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Ben Erez

Product Manager at NA


Technical Skills

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