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Career transition from software developer to product manager

March 13th, 2009 · 4 Comments

Question from a reader

I’ve been a software developer for seven years now. I’m getting tired of coding. I’d like to transition to product management. What should I do?

My answer

Making a career transition is never easy. The key is that you must leverage your strength while identifying opportunity to demonstrate you’re  capable of doing the new job.

As a software developer, your strength is that you have a strong technical foundation, and this will enable you to understand how developers think and work, and work effectively with the development team. You need to keep this in mind. I’d suggest you first to make a transition to technical PM –- product management job that involves a strong technical component. This will make the transition easier for you.

You also need to change your mind set. As a software developer, your tendency is problem solving, which means  you have the tendency to dive into details. However, as product manager, a very important part of your job is to make sure that the product team is solving the right market problem. You need to understand the big picture, and ask "why" before getting into "how". Ask yourself the following questions before you think about "how"

  • Why do we need this project/enhancement/new feature?
  • What customer needs are we adding?
  • What’s the problem statement?
  • Can we leverage any existing solutions instead of developing a new solution?
  • What is the projected financial returns on this product? How are the returns comparing to the cost of developing the product?

You need to establish the mindset that you’re the "mini CEO" of a product. What will a CEO be worried about? He wants to see the product addresses specific customer needs so that the company can sell a lot of the products and make a lot of money profitably. 🙂

I also highly recommend you to take a few product management training classes. I was very fortunate that during early stage of my product management career, I took Pragmatic Marketing’s Practical Product Management course, taught by the dynamic and humorous Steve Johnson. It was one of the best investment I ever made for my career. (I have no affiliation with Pragmatic Marketing, but I really appreciated what I’ve learned from them. :-))

Also, I recommend the following books for anyone who is trying to break into product management:

Tags: Career Transition · Product Management

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