Technical Product Manager is a specific type of Product Manager role that is growing quite rapidly with the rise of highly technical products like APIs and Machine Learning. As a Technical Product Manager myself, I can affirm that it is absolutely essential to approach the Product Manager job for certain products with a deeper technical perspective. And this includes how you approach Technical Product Manager interview questions.
The top four technical product manager interview questions you should be prepared to answer are:
- How Do You See Your Role as a Technical Product Manager Differing From a PM?
- Tell Me About a Technical Product That You’ve Worked on.
- Do You Have Experience with X, Y, Z Technical Concepts/Products?
- What Is Important to You when Working with Engineers?
The interview process for Technical Product Managers can be slightly different than the typical Product Manager interview. The hiring team will want to ensure that you have the skills necessary to perform in the role. In this article, we will go over four of the top questions that are the most essential to prepare for in a Technical Product Manager interview so that you can put your best foot forward.
1. How Do You See Your Role as a Technical Product Manager Differing From a PM?
When interviewers ask this technical question, they want to understand a few things. Firstly, they want to ensure that you are aware of the distinct role you are interviewing for. They want to check that you are on board with it as some folks do not actually want to be hired as Technical Product Managers. Second, they want to get a sense of what your understanding and prior experience of the role is as it can drastically differ between companies. Therefore, this question is primarily testing your understanding of the role and experience so far in the role.
How to Answer
Answer this question honestly with your unique perspective. However, here are some things that will be great to demonstrate your understanding:
- As a Technical Product Manager, you will often need to be more involved in the technical scoping of your products than a regular Product Manager.
- You will need to be willing to dive deep into understanding the product area in question which is likely a bit more technical than other products.
- Technical Product Managers may work closer with engineers than other Product Managers when it comes to scoping out solutions for your products.
Demonstrating not only an awareness of these duties but also a desire and enthusiasm to perform them will go a long way in showing your preparation for the role.
2. Tell Me About a Technical Product That You’ve Worked on.
With Technical Product Manager roles, the interviewers typically are assessing two levels of technical knowledge. The first is general: do you have the awareness of and interest in the technical side of your products? Have you had an engineering education, been in technical roles, or worked on technical products before that would have given you this insight?
The second is more specific and pertains to the particular domain knowledge for the product you are interviewing for. For example, have you worked with 3rd party API integrations, Natural Language Processing, NoSQL databases, etc.? This definitely depends on the company and role you are interviewing for. Typically, the general understanding and knowledge set is more important than the specific domain knowledge. A good grasp of the former gives you the foundation to pick up on additional technical concepts more easily.
Compose Your Answer
Because of the above, in your answer, you want to talk about a technical product you have worked on, even if the specific product is not the exact domain of the role you are interviewing for. You should demonstrate that you were not afraid to dig into the gritty technical details and work with engineers on solution scoping.
A great addition to your question would be to highlight a difficult technical tradeoff or decision that was made and describe the evaluative process that led you to that decision.
Remember, when preparing for this question there’s no need to try and become an expert in the specific technology that the product you are interviewing for pertains to. Rather, make sure to show you have a strong, general technical “thinking cap” that you know how to use in a future role regardless of the technology.
3. Do You Have Experience with X, Y, Z Technical Concepts/Products?
The context of this question is similar to the one above. While it is definitely a plus if you have worked on the specific technology for the product you are interviewing for, it is not a requirement.
For example, a Hiring Manager for an Enterprise API Product Manager role would much rather hire a candidate that is strong across the board in Product Manager skills and has technical experience, but maybe has not specifically worked with APIs before, than someone who is weaker in general skills but used to develop APIs. Being a great Product Manager is mostly about product-agnostic skills.
So, for this question do not be afraid to answer honestly. Be careful about over-exaggerating your domain knowledge or experience because the interviewer will definitely drill down. With this question, it is better to just be honest and demonstrate that you have other strengths and are excited to learn than to lie and later seem like you are not strong in a supposed skill.
4. What Is Important to You when Working with Engineers?
This question isn’t specific to Technical Product Manager roles, however, when interviewing for this role there are a few specific things you may want to highlight.
Collaborating with your engineering team members is probably one of the most significant parts of working as a Product Manager. Interviewers ask this question to ensure that you would be someone who would be a great addition to the team and someone who folks would want to work with. They also are looking out to hear a sense of leadership from you as a Product Manager has to lead your organization towards the best product outcomes in many subtle ways.
Some of the main things you will want to highlight in your answer include:
- You view the engineering and product relationship as that of team members and highly collaborative. You enjoy getting to know your engineering team members and building a relationship with them, especially any engineering leads or managers you work with.
- It is important to you to have open, structured channels for communication between yourself and your engineering team members.
- It is important to you to help vouch for and sometimes defend the needs of the engineering team against the other competing priorities of the organization.
- It is important to you to make sure that solutions to projects are as well defined and scoped as possible before starting implementation in order to reduce churn on projects. In particular, you take ownership of helping to scope technical aspects of projects, and enjoy collaborating with your engineering counterpart on that. This in particular is important for Technical Product Management. You cannot have a mindset of “throwing over the wall” anything technical that comes your way, but rather should take ownership when you can and involve engineering to collaborate when you are not the best person for the job at hand.
Top 3 Challenges for Non-Technical Product Managers
Although not having any technical experience isn’t the end of your Product Management career, having some technical experience can go a long way. Here are some of the biggest challenges faced by the non-technical Product Manager, and how you can overcome them.
Non Technical Product Manager Issue 1: Discussions with Technical Teams
It comes with no exception that holding an important discussion with your technical team can prove to be a difficult task if you harbor no knowledge of substantial technical calibre. This ranges from discussions involving keywords and terminology such as what platforms your team uses to discuss project deadlines and appropriate time estimates for a task.
What You Can Do to Remedy This
The best way to begin holding better discussions with your technical team is to study up key phrases and modern-day technological terminology. This not only provides you with adequate knowledge of holding meaningful meetings with the technical masters of your company, but it allows for you to understand better when you’re asked a technical question or to give a statement.
Non Technical Product Manager Issue 2: Creating Roadmaps
One of the key responsibilities of a Product Manager is the creation and tracking of roadmaps. There can be difficulties creating roadmaps if you don’t know the platforms, and requirements for different implementations of technical functions within a product. If you’re a non-technical Product Manager, you may not know how long it’ll take for a task to be fully completed by the team. In that case, your range for estimating a deadline will only continuously expand or be far too close to the current date, and it can either slow down your project, or product unnecessary stress for your team members.
How to Overcome It
The best way to get better at creating technical roadmaps would definitely be to study up on the key programs that your team uses, and what is required of them. Speak constantly and ask questions from the team members, and the directors of the teams. Get valuable insight from other prospective members of your company, and gather as much data as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask questions — everyone’s human and Product Managers don’t have the answers to everything.
Non Technical Product Manager Issue 3: Technical Presentations
This goes hand-in-hand with the first point, about discussions with the team. With the knowledge and calibre of a strong technical background, you’d be at a disadvantage when it comes to presenting to teams, and stakeholders/executives on where the product is, technologically speaking. This can be difficult to overcome and can lead to unprecedented situations.
How to Overcome It
This cannot be stressed enough: study, study, and study. Product Management is all about learning every day how to improve your skills and work in more situations daily. The more you learn and know about technology and technical functionalities within your company, the better. You don’t have to know everything about the field and be a master, but just scratching the surface can go a very long way — you don’t even have to know much coding to gain a significant benefit in the Product Management role.
Master Your Technical Product Manager Interview Questions
So there you have it: some of the questions you are bound to get as you interview for Technical Product Manager positions. The best thing you can do apart from preparing for specific technical questions is to continue to develop your skills and technical expertise in the product you are interested in.
For more help with interview questions and general preparation to land you the Technical Product role of your dreams, definitely check out Product Gym’s programs further: you can get in touch with them here to learn more.