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Transitioning from an Engineer to a Product Manager

Saurabh Pareek

Director, Product Management at PayPal Inc.

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Problem

As a senior software engineer, you are an expert on your subject. As a PM, you need to be more of a generalist; knowledgeable about all aspects of the product. What are the best steps to take if a software engineer decides to make a move into product?

Actions taken

First, you will need to ask yourself a couple of questions about what type of PM role you are looking for:

  • Do you want to be a PM at a large company with more mentorship and guidance? Or do you want to be a PM at a small company with less structure but more ability to make decisions on your own.
  • Which aspect of PM interests you the most? The business strategy? The user experience design? The technology? You can find a role where KPIs are based around the part that is most interesting to you.
  • What aspects of PM do you have the least experience with?

You will need to answer these questions in order to best determine which of your weaknesses you need to address and work on before making your move.

"A good way to learn about the aspects of PM that you are not familiar with as a software engineer is to talk to your current PM. Engage with your PM about your team's KPIs. Take time to learn how your PM tracks progress and where goals originate from. You can even ask to take ownership over tracking a KPI that you work on. By doing this, you will have an opportunity to observe the results of your work and make decisions, to bring to your PM, about how to proceed."

As a software engineer, it is likely that business and design are the two broad aspects of a PMs job that you are least familiar. In order to familiarize yourself, first with design, you can do some simple exercises such as observing the UI of apps you use now. What do you like or dislike about the experience? Putting yourself in the customer's seat will help you to begin thinking like a PM. A good resource for design content is Ideo. To beef up your business skills, you can take some intro courses to pricing and finance. Coursera has material on this from Wharton business school.

Lessons learned

When hiring a PM I don't necessarily care if they have had prior PM experience. The most important thing is that they have an understanding of the business and even an industry specific skill set (ie: if it's a mobile app, they have experience with mobile, etc). Secondly, decision making skills and sound reasoning is very important in a PM.

"Industry specific skills and knowledge do not have to come from a previous job. If you are interested in moving into a different product than you've worked on in the past, it is possible as long as you work to achieve industry knowledge. It is a good idea to set a timeline for yourself and set short term (ie two week goals) in which you want to learn one new thing or read a certain book to gain knowledge and skills for your desired role."


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Saurabh Pareek

Director, Product Management at PayPal Inc.


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