Are you a software developer/engineer looking to make the move to a Product role? Then look no further - here are the steps you need to take!
Step 1 - forget everything you know about Product from a developer's view (sort of)
I wrote this post on the back of being asked to answer a question on Quora about the easiest part of moving from software engineering to Product Management. As I thought about my answer I was surprised to find myself struggling to come up with anything that was 'easy' about moving from development to Product Management. In the end, I said as much in my answer - that there are big differences between the two and it's not an easy career switch. In my mind there were a few key conflicting ways of working and areas of focus:
- A developer is led but a Product Manager leads
- A developer or engineer works on short, defined tasks but a Product Manager has a long-term vision and defines short-term goals based on that
- A developer/engineer is usually one of many in a product team, but a Product Manager is usually alone or one of very few in a product team
- A developer understands one area of a product at a deep level but a Product Manager understands all areas at a 'deep enough' level
Those differences are significant and mean a developer looking at how to become a Product Manager has to take into account the shift in perspective and mindset that they need to make, on top of simply learning or enhancing their Product Manager skills. This makes the transition often more difficult than for someone working outside of the Product industry.
So the first step a developer should take is to begin the transition in how they view products. And this means you need to 'forget' your approach to Product as a developer and learn to approach it as a Product Manager. I'm not advocating you disregard the tech side entirely, as it's still one of the fundamental aspects of Product, and a good product requires good tech. But your approach has to be completely different.
Step 2: learn the other aspects of Product
As a developer, you are likely 100% focused on building products through code. Your goal is to create the best product you can in terms of the tech you use and the standard of coding you provide. You might appreciate other aspects of the product(s) you build, but rightly they are not your main concern.
Moving to a Product role means understanding and appreciating other things that feed into a good product, such as:
- user experience and user interface design
- business and commercial goals and outcomes
- customer needs and feedback
As a product developer you have probably come across each of these to a degree but without the focus needed when you step into a Product Manager role. Each of these will now exert as much (and sometimes more) influence on your decisions and your product. So understanding the why they are important, and what each brings to a successful product is very important.
Product Management-specific aspects
In addition to those other areas that impact on a product, to become a Product Manager you also need to learn the specific specialisms of Product Management. These include:
- defining value
Each of these are skills and abilities that are required in Product Management, and we cover each in our online Product Management Course because they are not simple skills and often are not encountered until you are in a Product Management career. Learning these will further help to change your perspective beyond the tech side.
Step 3: start as a Business Analyst or Technical Product Manager
Developers/engineers tend to be the type of people who like detail and certainty. I say 'tend' because it's not universal, but often they are the types of people attracted to development because it offers these things. Product Management, however, is a career where you will come across a lot of uncertainty or "grey areas".
For that reason, the move from developer to Product Manager might be easier if you select a more detail-heavy role in Product as your first. You might want to begin slightly outside of Product as a Business Analyst - BAs are much more detail-oriented by necessity than most Product Managers, but have sight of the other aspects mentioned above. It's a good way to get experience that touches a lot on Product but remains focused on detail. And then when you are ready, you can move from Business Analyst to Product Manager as the change is minimised.
Alternatively, if you feel ready to enter Product Management, there are lots of opportunities to do so in a Technical Product Management role. These jobs call for a deeper understanding of tech than their non-technical counterparts, and they are often pitched at former software developers or engineers as a result. This allows you to enter Product where your knowledge and experience is far more of an advantage than other Product roles, and where other aspects of Product are of less importance (particularly in UI design).
Step 4: make the move and enjoy!
The final step, if you've not already entered the industry, is to tailor your CV/resumé to Product Management and start applying for jobs. Convey your passion for Product and explain why you moved from being a developer to being a Product Manager. We have more tips on writing your CV and applying for jobs in our Product Management Course, and we also offer a CV/resumé checking service for course members.
Getting your first job in Product Management might not be easy but it will be worth it - in my opinion Product Management is a great career!
If you are looking for to start your Product Management career, whether or not you are a developer/engineer our online Product Management Course will take you from beginner through to pro.