If Product Management is a potential career that you are seeking as a Software Engineer, you should keep yourself open to the opportunities that may arise around you. Make sure you can identify business opportunities, as well as coordinate with stakeholders to figure out what their core goal is for the product in a long-term, technical perspective.
Product Gym: What’s your definition of Product Management?
Nicholas Monje: In short, I tell engineers what to build. What I mean by that is the legwork of gathering requirements, figuring out what customers needs are, identifying business opportunities or optimization, and coordination with other stakeholders to figure out the core goal from a technical perspective. So making sure their work is optimized is very important and prioritization is key. Some say Product Management is the glue of the company or the team, where you’re keeping everything held together, by making sure all the pieces are where they need to be or filling any of the gaps.
Product Gym: How did you transition from software engineering to Product?
Nicholas Monje: Half by accident, actually. At my last company, our only Product Manager was quitting to start his own company, and they didn’t hire his replacement promptly, so that’s how the opportunity happened. It was already something I was thinking about as a potential career move. I really enjoyed engineering, but there were parts about it that I had no interest in doing. What I really wanted to do was think about the customer, how our work impacts them, and what’s important to them, so it was a perfect coincidence.
Product Gym: Nice, what were some of the initial challenges you encountered?
Nicholas Monje: The biggest challenge, which is still a challenge sometimes, is that the time horizon is different. As an engineer, you’re planning like a month ahead, but as a Product Manager, you need to be in control of what’s happening now, but also be thinking 3 months out, 6 months out, and sometimes even a year out. Obviously, it gets vaguer as it changes over time, but just having to keep track of what’s in the pipeline now and what’s in the pipeline next was a big mental shift for me.
Product Gym: How did you overcome that challenge?
Nicholas Monje: The biggest thing for me was defining my own deliverables and transforming something abstract into something more comprehensive to keep me in check. That really helped.
Product Gym: So now that you’ve been a Product Manager for some time, what do say are the biggest challenges now?
Nicholas Monje: I’m now coordinating between teams a lot more than I did my last role, like making sure stakeholders are informed about timeline status. Changes and concerns are the hardest part of my role at the moment. The more stakeholders a product has, the more difficult it can get because of scheduling, personalities, and opinions, so managing that can be a challenge sometimes.
Product Gym: We’re starting to see a lot of different forms of Product Managers right now, such as Technical, Growth, etc. What are 3 -5 key differences between a Technical Product Manager and a non-technical Product Manager?
Nicholas Monje: Here, for me, because I have an engineering background, it made sense. Technical Product Managers can address the technical concerns in a way that non-tech Product Managers can’t or don’t know how to. Also, Technical Product Managers work on more tech-focused products, such as infrastructure projects that non-tech Product Managers often don’t have the skills to advocate for or deliver on.
Product Gym: Do you feel you need to have a technical or engineering background in order to be a Technical Product Manager?
Nicholas Monje: No, in fact, I’ve worked with very technical Product Managers who hadn’t been engineers themselves, but they understand how the technical portions work and get the logic behind how certain things connect.
Product Gym: Lastly, what are some books, podcasts or blogs you’d recommend to our readers that are interested in getting into technical Product Management?
Nicholas Monje: Sure. I recommend The Lean Startup, it’s sort of the closest thing to a “product bible” if you will. I don’t agree with everything in it, but it’s a good way to think about the process. Another good one is The Phoenix Project; it’s a great read and gives a good perspective. The Third Wave by Steve Case also is an interesting perspective on the industry. I just finished Radical Focus by Christina Wodtke, which was great as well.
About Nicholas Monje:
Nicholas, a Technical Product Manager at Stash Invest, is a former Software Engineer at Groupon shares with us his challenges and breakthroughs from transitioning into Product as an engineer. He started his career as a Software Engineer at Pivotal Labs, and after over 2 years, he made his way to Groupon, where he successfully shifted into Product as a Product Manager. He also explains to us what the difference is between a Technical Product Manager and a “regular” Product Manager.