td;lr: Having a good understanding of the technology your company uses is crucial, but expecting your product manager to code is not.
I was viewing a recent job ad for a London-based startup which ended up pushing my buttons. They described a working week:
You will work on wireframing our latest product offerings and internal automation tools one day (using Balsamiq), implementing and testing the latest growth hacking theories the next (PHP), fine tune our KPI dash (React) whilst having a day to day responsibility of owning and maintaining the development backlog (Kanban).
Having worked in startups before, I’m used to getting my hands dirty: it’s part of the job of being a good product manager — you live and breathe the product, the technology and the business. But requiring a developer with specific programming languages is a step too far.
Are you looking for a developer, or a product manager?
A quick Google for “Should a Product Manager be able to code”, didn’t really help:
- Should product managers be able to code? (it depends)
- Should Product Managers know how to code? Steve Jobs couldn’t… (no)
- Should a Product Manager know how to code? (no)
- Are you a Product Manager? Here’s why you should learn code? (yes)
- Should a Product Manager be able to see commits and discussions of the dev team (yes)
- 7 ways learning code helps Product Managers be great (it helps)
Understanding is key — not coding
Clearly ‘pure’ product managers without any technical knowledge won’t cut it either. They won’t have a clear understanding of the technology and how to best utilise it. So how do you get the balance right?
- Discuss technical challenges, rather than programming languages
- What best practices and techniques does a PM use to reduce tech debt?
- Look for collaboration and discussion between product and developers
I’ve had a love of tech ever since I started working and I moved from agency work to product 7 years ago. I’ve got broad experience in everything from SEO, UX practices, to systems troubleshooting and tech debt. Most importantly, I can work with development and business teams of any size to deliver customer value, despite limited resources.
As a product manager, my development knowledge hasn’t really been questioned, but I’ve noticed that this trend happening more often. Unless you need a developer, not a product manager, the question is moot.
My answer is a simple question:
Are you looking for a developer who knows product management, or a product manager who knows development?
(I’m the latter)
What are your thoughts and experiences on this?