After progressing in the technical field as a software developer to a technical lead, I decided to give up my coding skills and become a Product Manager instead! There is a radical change in my daily work life. Overall, I feel happier and is glad that I have a bigger chance to make a positive impact on the success of the product.
In the following post, I will be sharing a little about my journey before becoming a product manager. The good and the bad about being a product manager with a strong technical background. And also some less spoken but ugly truth about being a product manager.
At the early days of my career, I drop out from NUS to work full-time on my cofounded startup One Third. Our product did not fulfill the promise it shown despite early traction, I decided to move on while my partner continues to run it like a consultancy business now.
I moved on to become a software developer in Tinkerbox Studio, with the aim to improve my coding skills and also learn how to work together with a team of experience developer to tackle a different kind of projects. Then I move to become a technical lead in two different startups, one tackling enterprise project while the other is in the FinTech space.
Although I am always in the coding job, I never quite like just diving deep down and work on it every day. I like to explore and see the stuff I build used by other people. I like to interact with users and find out what they truly want. However, I never make the leap of moving towards product management even though I feel like is a really interesting role.
Thinking back, I think one of the biggest reason that stops me previously is the difficulty in managing stack holder expectation. I finally decided to take the leap and the experience couldn’t be any more positive!
I get to really make the call about building product! Previously as a coder, I am the engineer. My knowledge in the craft help to solve the “how” of building a product. I don’t really get to contribute to the other areas. Being a product manager now, I am responsible for defining what to build, when to build and why should we build it.
Connector to everything
In short, I am now in the middle of everything. I get to understand how different parts of the operation work together. I work with the business and management team to discuss different ways to monetize the product. I work with a designer to translate this requirement into mock-up and beautiful screens. I then work with the tech team to turn this screens into an actual product that is being used by our users.
Being an engineer previously, during discussion even without the tech team, I am able to evaluate the feasibly of a certain idea. I have enough understanding in the domain that I am able to give a really rough estimate of how long it is going to take. Not the actual time it will take to complete the feature, but a rough estimate that is enough to compare alongside commercial importance and judge if it is feasible to proceed with it.
From my understanding, the different product manager is actually stronger in the different area. A product manager with design background tends to be able to execute the translation of requirement to a better UX design that could potentially brings higher value. A product manager with a business background is able to understand the commercial viability of certain feature better. A product manager with tech background is better at scoping and building the right feature. Depending on the kind of startup, I feel that a product manager with a tech background is a huge value-add to a tech focus startup.
One of the bad thing for me is moving away from coding. I no longer able to focus and do as much deep work as I use to. I can’t just sit at my desk for the whole day without getting interrupted. There is always a discussion for new features, an improvement on existing feature, or metrics to draw a conclusion from.
I am learning to live with not fully knowing the “how”. Whenever there are an interesting challenge and new feature to build, I use to be leading the tech team to find out how we can tackle it. Now, I have to learn to leave with the unknown. Being a product manager, I have to learn to trust the team on the other side to solve it.
The Ugly Truth
As much as product manager seems to be in the middle of everything and look to have influence in everything, it is not always glamorous.
No one actually reports to you
Most product manager does not have anyone directly reporting to them. Engineer, designer, and marketer each have their own team lead as the direct report. Being a product manager, most of the time I am influencing without directly managing them. This is more of an art to master.
Let the fire burn
Sometimes, I know that things aren’t going as expected but I just have to let it burn. Being a product manager, I have to prioritise and tackle important tasks first. There are always urgent things that required fixing. But on occasion when I feel that the ops team could handle it, I need to make the hard decision to allow the engineering team to work on a better solution that always tends to take a longer time to implement.
At the end of the day, every job has it’s good and bad. It always the belief and passion that drives us forward. While working as an engineer, I thought that I just needed a better product manager when things don’t go my way. But the switch to product manager allows me to understand that I actually really enjoy being a product manager.
Early conclusion and the hearsay from others stopped me from taking the early leap. I am glad that I took the leap now. If there is a chance, will you?
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In the day, I am a technical product lead. At night, I am a maker, engineer, and designer. I enjoy learning and building new things about tech, products, and startup. You can find me on Twitter or on my blog.