Many people have made a successful transition from an engineering career to a product management one. These two paths have a lot in common. They’re both focused on meeting customer needs and building great products. The two roles must work together to ensure the right solution is built. But of course there are differences. Product managers focus more on the “why” and the “what” while engineers focus on the “how.” Product managers uncover unmet customer needs and create a vision to address them, while engineering actually builds out that vision.

Ensuring you have the right skills to make the leap is important, and there are a variety of resources to get you there. The transition can take anywhere from a few months to years, depending on the individual situation. And while there is plenty of demand, competition is also steep. If it’s a fit, product management can give you an amazing set of skills and be a hugely rewarding career. But it’s not for everyone.

We requested seasoned product managers, all former engineers, to discuss their own experiences with the transition and how to move towards a product management career. These are the questions we asked:

  • What are the commonalities and differences between engineering and product management work? 
  • How do you determine which is a better match for your professional goals? 
  • Why did you decide to switch from engineering to product management? Can you describe your path and how it led to this decision?
  • What were your first steps in making this transition?
  • How long did the transition take, from the moment you decided to switch to the moment you got the product management job?
  • What were the easiest and the hardest parts of making the switch?
  • Which skills from engineering did you find useful in your product management job?
  • What new important skills did you gain after transition?
  • What helped you to move more smoothly through this transition? Any blogs, courses, books, useful tools, and/or something else?
  • What advice do you have for someone who has started to think about moving from engineering to product management?
  • What are the pros and cons of transitioning from engineering to product management?
  • What are the things you had to “unlearn” from your previous job in order to become a better product manager?

Many thanks to these experts for their phenomenal advice:

Keep reading to learn all about the transition, how to get started, and if a product management career is right for you.

Test your product management and data skills with this free Growth Skills Assessment Test.

Learn data-driven product management in Simulator by GoPractice.

What are the commonalities and differences between engineering and product management work? 

Product managers and engineers have a similar goal in that they both want to produce a great product to meet their customers’ needs. There is deep collaboration between the two and of course both roles are part of the overall product team. Both roles need to have customer empathy, understand that they win as a team, and work with as peers. Keep in mind that today’s product management is heavily integrated into the development lifecycle. 

The difference is that each discipline plays a distinct role in how customer problems are solved. Product management defines product requirements while engineering fulfills them. Product managers focus on the “why” and “what” and engineers focus on the “how.” In addition,product managers ensure that product goals are aligned with the broader organizational strategy and also define how to measure success of the product. Engineering takes all of this information and uses complex technology to build solutions.

Abhimanyu Basu (Senior Product Manager at PayPal)

The common part between product and engineering is that both are trying to solve a customer problem together. It is an equal partnership. Customer empathy is not product management’s speciality alone. As engineers, you need to solve problems with a lot of empathy for customers to make your solution really fly high. Ultimately, we win together and we fail together as a team.

David Griggs (Senior Product Manager at The Walt Disney Company)

On the surface the roles are quite different, arguably two sides of a coin. Product managers identify user problems, propose solutions, and prioritize them on a roadmap. Critically, most product management teams need to use their influence to get things done. Engineering teams are responsible for the technical solution to the requirements coming out of product management. However, modern product management is integrated into the development lifecycle. Successful product managers learn how to work within the engineering team as a peer. 

​​Divyachapan S. Padur (Principal Product Manager at Microsoft)

Engineering is about the “how” while product management is about the “what” and “why.” We all aspire to solve people’s problems and that’s the common thread. Product building is a sequence of many actions. The difference is in where each discipline has the most impact and responsibility. Product management is earlier in the process of identifying the right problems, then engineering takes over the execution.

Stephanie Walter (Product Management Consultant, ex-IBM)

Product managers define product objectives aligned with an organization’s overall strategy and how to measure the success of these objectives, while getting agreement from stakeholders across the company. They also identify customer needs and create a vision to fulfill them. Engineers build this vision and turn it into reality. Both focus on delivering the best possible solutions to customers.

How do you determine which is a better match for your professional goals? 

Figuring out which one is a better match for your professional goals lies in determining what your interests and skills are. You have to know your career goals and what makes you happy. Engineering requires solving difficult technical problems. There is more time spent on independent work and gratification comes from figuring out intricate technical challenges.

Product management requires strategic thinking, customer knowledge, and working with a wide variety of roles. You will have much more interaction with customers and stakeholders, so you should enjoy collaboration. Fulfillment in this role comes from knowing that you’ve provided your customers a delightful experience and have helped the business to grow.

Ruchir Astavans (Leader of Product at ByteDance)

It boils down to what kind of gratification drives you the most. Is it solving hard technical challenges, or seeing users get value and delight or a business taking off? If you discovered somehow that simply changing the color of our product to orange will get us 10x engagement, how will that make you feel deep down? If you’d be elated, you might make a good product manager.

Abhimanyu Basu (Senior Product Manager at PayPal)

It ultimately boils down to answering one simple question: “Based on what I know about myself and the market opportunities today, what will give me long term happiness?” The good part is there is no right or wrong time to switch to product management. So take your time to figure things out and be open to try new things. Once the intent is there, everything else is teachable.

Ankit Kumar (Senior Product Manager at Amazon)

How to identify which is a better match is a complex question to answer. I recommend identifying the overlap between skill and aspiration. What you are good at and what you eventually aim to achieve.

Stephanie Walter (Product Management Consultant, ex-IBM)

If you prefer a lot of independent deep thinking and solving complex problems, engineering is a good fit. If you like to solve problems, but want to work more with customers and other disciplines in the organization, go with product management.

Why did you decide to switch from engineering to product management? Can you describe your path and how it led to this decision?

Each of our experts took their own path to product management, but there are common threads. Most of them realized that product management was a better match for their interests or skills. They also wanted to work more closely with customers and have a larger impact in the organization. These folks are also very curious, ask questions, and want to determine the success of the product themselves.

Sometimes as you get more experience in a career, you realize that it’s just not what you want to do anymore. Maybe it was a good fit in the beginning, but you need a new challenge. Some people realize one day that engineering just isn’t for them while others are drawn to product management because they work with product managers and like what they see. For these people, product management is a better fit because they want to have a larger impact on the business and want to be the ones making the decisions.

Some engineers organically take on more customer-facing responsibilities and seamlessly transition into product management. Learning a new skill that is needed by the organization or taking on smaller product management projects can also lead to a transition to product management. In the end there is no one path from engineering to product management.

Abhimanyu Basu (Senior Product Manager at PayPal)

I started out 11 years back as a software engineer with a degree in electronics and some basic coding experience in college. Within a year, I was within the top 20% engineers in my company at my peer level. But I wanted to validate if this would give me long term happiness. I ordered Introduction to Algorithms, turned the first few pages of that book, and realized this is not what I want to do for the rest of my life. Back then, trying to digest that book after a hectic 12 hour day job wasn’t probably the best idea. But in hindsight this led me on a path that has been rewarding and enriching. If I had to make the decision again, it would be the same.

David Griggs (Senior Product Manager at The Walt Disney Company)

For me this happened more organically. I found myself in an engineering director role that had a customer facing focus. I’d also come to my career via owning and operating my own business. In the end, I found over time that understanding and prioritizing my customers’ problems, and then proposing products and features that address them, was a more interesting line of work than working on technical implementations. 

Ankit Kumar (Senior Product Manager at Amazon)

My decision was driven by curiosity and desire to do something different. As an engineer, I used to work closely with the product managers and was excited by the ownership that came with it. I tried to learn more about the product management role by talking to people around me. I realized that I needed to learn new skills, so I started learning about those in my spare time. At that time, my organization was moving to the agile methodology so I learned about that and a few months later there was an opening on the team for a product management role with knowledge of agile. I raised my hand and was hired. Looking back, it was a lucky break. My management took a risk in hiring me to introduce a new process. It was difficult at the beginning, but in the end it worked out well.

​​Divyachapan S. Padur (Principal Product Manager at Microsoft)

I was a developer for my first two years in Microsoft. I encountered and learned about the product manager role while I was a user experience (UX) developer. I had assumed my manager would tell me what to build, but it was my product manager who charted the product plan. I was intrigued. Figuring out what to build or fix excited me the most. Eventually, I decided to try my hand at being a product manager.

Sinduja Ramanujam (Senior Product Manager, PowerApps Portals at Microsoft)

When I was an engineer I was constantly thinking about “how am I going to solve this problem?” What this quickly translated to was me asking more questions about the why and the who. My manager back then connected me with marketing and the field to get to the bottom of these questions. That in turn piqued my interest in being a product manager and took me down the path of investigating this domain and seeing what are some ways to become a product manager. 

Stephanie Walter (Product Management Consultant, ex-IBM)

I had been a software engineer, development manager, and then software architect when I realized that I wanted to be the one to decide what is built for customers. As a senior technical leader I was often working with customers and understood them well. I also knew the information an engineering team needs in order to be able to build a great product.

One of the benefits of IBM was that I had a lot of opportunities to work on many different products and in different roles. I also got access to great internal education. I signed up for product management training, fell in love with it, and asked the director of product management to hire me. He did.

What were your first steps in making this transition?

Transitioning to product management requires knowing what you want and putting in the effort to get the training you need. It helps if the company you’re working for has a culture that encourages its employees to grow and explore different career paths, but you can also find other opportunities. The product managers below all took small steps and ensured they had some previous experience to pave the way into product management. 

Common first steps to take when you’re switching from engineering to product management include:

  • Research what product managers do
  • Talk to current product managers about their careers
  • Build product management skills through business school or other training
  • Take on a side gig in product management to show you can do the job. Things like refining backlog, prioritizing features, or even identifying competitive trends are all good projects.
  • Try out program or project management as an intermediate step between engineering and product management 

Taking those initial steps is crucial and will set the stage for your transition to product management. Choose a path based on your current situation, skill level, and available opportunities.

Ruchir Astavans (Leader of Product at ByteDance)

I often tell my mentees – one change at a time. You can start by taking on smaller product management tasks like refining your user feedback backlog, prioritizing existing feedback, identifying competitive trends, or just straight-up creating pitches for feature ideas.      

Abhimanyu Basu (Senior Product Manager at PayPal)

After I found that technical education didn’t appeal to me, I joined business school. I was fortunate to get into one of India’s best business schools. I targeted product companies and was able to crack an internship opportunity with MakeMyTrip, one of India’s first and largest travel aggregators.

David Griggs (Senior Product Manager at The Walt Disney Company)

I always have had some amount of product management-like responsibilities throughout my career. In March of 2000, I started my own business with some friends. Everyone works in product management in the early days. My first official product management role came with AWS in 2015. I’d been working as an engineering director where my role was about 50% product management and 50% engineering management. I decided I liked the product work more and started looking for opportunities. My first role at AWS was in program management (effectively working as an interface between product and engineering). This allowed me to build my product management skill set while maintaining a strong technical understanding of our solutions. After that, I made the transition over to product management.

Ankit Kumar (Senior Product Manager at Amazon)

The real first step towards the transition was learning about the skills needed for a product management role. I did that by exploring the product manager role at different organizations. I talked to some of the product managers within my own organization, but I also read about best practices followed by other big techs like Apple, Google, Amazon, etc.

​​Divyachapan S. Padur (Principal Product Manager at Microsoft)

I learned about product management by observing other product managers in my team when I was dev. At that time, I was not aware of any specific resources besides talking to people in my circle. I love that Microsoft had the culture and opportunities for me to explore. I interviewed internally with several teams and eventually landed a product manager role on the SharePoint team.

Sinduja Ramanujam (Senior Product Manager, PowerApps Portals at Microsoft)

I started a side gig at work. I spoke to my manager and told him I was interested in product management. He was very supportive and put me in touch with a manager from another team who was looking for help with the product management side of the house. I gladly took it on a side gig in addition to my daily job of coding. Fast forward a year from taking on this side gig, I joined Microsoft as a full-time product manager.

Stephanie Walter (Product Management Consultant, ex-IBM)

My first step was getting the experience to know what my interests really were. That took years. I didn’t know what product management was when I was in school; I was exposed to it on the job. Then I did research, talked to other product managers, and took any product management training available. In my technical leadership role, I had a say in the product direction, so I used that experience to help launch my product management career.

How long did the transition take, from the moment you decided to switch to the moment you got the product management job?

The transition to product management is not one size fits all. Some people take a more winding road, gaining experience over a few years, before transitioning to a product manager role. Some people go to business school while others take on related roles as a stepping stone. Others have journeys that only take a few months. The important thing is to wait for the right opportunity where you can be successful.

Ruchir Astavans (Leader of Product at ByteDance)

In my case, it was around 6 months. There was an opportunity and I presented myself for that role.       

Abhimanyu Basu (Senior Product Manager at PayPal)

I got into business school and then took up the product internship role. Two and a half years had passed by then. However, I wasn’t still 100% sure if this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so I decided to give management consulting a shot. I joined Deloitte’s strategy team for another two and a half years. And I found myself still yearning for product management. I was able to find an internal product opportunity within Deloitte and managed this product for almost two years. Then I decided to become a full time product manager with PayPal. This last transition took about 4 months.

David Griggs (Senior Product Manager at The Walt Disney Company)

All in all the transition took about two years.

Ankit Kumar (Senior Product Manager at Amazon)

In my case, it took me a few months before the right opportunity came along. That also gave me a little bit of time to learn things I needed to learn to do the job well.

What were the easiest and the hardest parts of making the switch?

Typically product managers who have been engineers have a pretty easy time working with engineering. They know engineering’s expectations and how to communicate with them. This is even easier if the product manager was already working with the team and the product. On the other hand, it can be a real challenge to let go of being the technical lead. You can no longer dictate what the technical solution should be and you must trust your engineering team to create the solution. You must use the language of the customer instead of the language of engineering. And your work is no longer clearly scoped and well understood; it can be very vague. Getting used to all of this can take time.

There is high demand for product managers, so it’s relatively straightforward to find many different opportunities. However, even with a lot of options, product management roles are highly competitive. It can be difficult to actually land an interview. Product management draws many talented people, so when you find an interesting role you’re not guaranteed to get it. You may not have enough experience to initially get past recruiters. 

Once on the job, the ambiguity that comes along with product management, learning what a product manager actually does, upskilling, and setting boundaries so you don’t become burned out are all challenges faced when switching to product management. 

Ruchir Astavans (Leader of Product at ByteDance)

The easiest part in my case was working with my team. I switched roles in my existing team so I knew everyone and could leverage the credibility I had already built up. The hardest part was dealing with the ambiguity. As a junior developer, I always had clearly scoped, well understood tasks. As a product manager, you start with much less direction and have to create the vision and path that the rest of the team will derive from.   

Abhimanyu Basu (Senior Product Manager at PayPal)

The easiest part of making the switch from Deloitte to PayPal was the market demand. There are enough opportunities out there if you start looking. The hardest part was getting an interview call. Job hunting is a full time exercise and the competition is high. The initial few weeks can be frustrating if you are not getting calls. The other difficulty was not having enough product management experience. I was eyeing mid-senior roles, and sometimes recruiters look for specific domain expertise and skills.

Ankit Kumar (Senior Product Manager at Amazon)

The conversations with engineering were quite easy and the hard part was getting to know the customers. I had to make a conscious effort to avoid using technical terms while talking to the customers to have a productive and efficient conversation. It also took me some time to figure out how to ask the “right” questions to the customer in order to get the information I needed to derive insights on customer needs.

​​Divyachapan S. Padur (Principal Product Manager at Microsoft)

The easiest part was the fact that there were many opportunities inside Microsoft to explore. The hardest part was going in totally blind in terms of knowing what to do after I became a product manager. I knew what a developer did. I became a product manager without knowing exactly what to do. I soon learned that honing that skill is what the product manager job is mostly about.

Sinduja Ramanujam (Senior Product Manager, PowerApps Portals at Microsoft)

The easiest was saying, yes, I really like this cross team collaboration. The hardest part was learning the art of being a product manager; I am still learning. I think the biggest lesson someone should keep in mind is to have a growth mindset. Everyone has the right intentions. 

Stephanie Walter (Product Management Consultant, ex-IBM)

The easiest part was understanding how to work with engineering, UX, and the product domain since I was already deeply familiar with all of those. The hardest thing was setting boundaries around my scope as a product manager. Because a lot of product management work exists in a grey area in terms of ownership, if you’re not careful, you can end up taking too much responsibility and being maxed out pretty quickly.

Which skills from engineering did you find useful in your product management job?

There are two major engineering skills that are most useful in a product management role: technical knowledge and problem solving. Having a deep understanding of the technology, being able to communicate well with the engineering team, and being able to think about scale all result from technical knowledge. These skills are incredibly helpful to product managers.

But aside from technical knowledge, engineering teaches you how to solve intricate problems in a disciplined manner. You think about the details, know how to evaluate a problem, and look at the system as a whole. You are used to digging deeper into challenges. This know-how is invaluable to the product management role.

Ruchir Astavans (Leader of Product at ByteDance)

I was in a very specific domain (video compression). Having a deep technical background in science really helped me understand the state of the industry and the new codecs and algorithms coming out. My first few features were so deeply technical, it would have been hard for someone not having that background to be the product manager. I think I got a patent for one of my first few features as a product manager.        

Abhimanyu Basu (Senior Product Manager at PayPal)

Assessing the complexity of a task helped me in better planning. Also, I was able to have deep conversations with engineering which helped me a lot to understand complexities, gain trust and establish rapport.

Ankit Kumar (Senior Product Manager at Amazon)

The knowledge of different technologies and how they work was quite useful. It helped me have an in-depth analysis of the problem. I was also able to think ahead in terms of scaling the solution while designing the first version of the product.

​​Divyachapan S. Padur (Principal Product Manager at Microsoft)

Being able to discuss implementation and execution with engineering counterparts was very valuable, especially as a platform product manager. As a developer I was used to digging deeper than the surface to debug code.

Sinduja Ramanujam (Senior Product Manager, PowerApps Portals at Microsoft)

  • The devil is in the details.
  • Always test and make sure that things work end to end. 
  • Think about problems at scale.

What new important skills did you gain after transition?

Many product managers quickly learn that soft skills are critical to success in their role. Empathy, influencing without power, building consensus, and storytelling are all key. Communication skills are vital. 

You need to be able to motivate the product team, stakeholders, and customers to work towards your vision. You also need to be able to say no, even to customers. But most importantly you need to learn how to ask for help. Empowered teams build the best products.

There are also typical product management skills such as prioritization, learning quickly, market analysis, defining success metrics, and evening pricing that are needed. All of these skills are important to develop through your transition to product management.

Ruchir Astavans (Leader of Product at ByteDance)

The first few skills were around executing, writing clear requirements, working with engineering to build a plan, defining technical success metrics, and measurement methodologies. Another core product management skill is the ability to influence without authority. You learn to communicate using motivation, empathy for both the user and the stakeholder, and storytelling to build that influence.

David Griggs (Senior Product Manager at The Walt Disney Company)

I learned about prioritization, I learned how to say no to customers, and I learned that well functioning, informed, and empowered teams build great products. 

Ankit Kumar (Senior Product Manager at Amazon)

One of the most important skills that I acquired was the ability to quickly learn and ramp-up on any new topic. As a product manager, you work with lots of different stakeholders so it’s important to learn about the job function of those stakeholders. It may also include learning about the function of your customer to better understand their needs.

​​Divyachapan S. Padur (Principal Product Manager at Microsoft)

Asking for help is the most important early product management skill that I learned. Product management is not about knowing everything. It’s about asking all the questions and getting everyone involved in getting to the right product or feature.  

Sinduja Ramanujam (Senior Product Manager, PowerApps Portals at Microsoft)

  • Customer empathy
  • Understanding the overall landscape of the product
  • How important customer journeys are
  • Where and when to consider competitive analysis
  • When to draw a line and say, “Let’s ship it.”

Stephanie Walter (Product Management Consultant, ex-IBM)

I learned how to really analyze and understand a market. I also learned a lot about the complexities of pricing, especially when projecting costs and profit. I love math, so I really enjoy all of those calculations. But the most important skill I developed was empathy – for my customers, my teammates, and all the other roles with which I collaborated. 

What helped you to move more smoothly through this transition? Any blogs, courses, books, useful tools, and/or something else?

There are many resources to support a transition to product management. One of the most important is the group of people around you. Look to your manager, teammates, and experienced product managers in your organization for examples and guidance. Most people are generally happy to have a discussion with you. 

Outside your company, you can follow product leaders like Brian de Haaf (Co-founder and CEO at Aha!) on LinkedIn. You can also join product management groups on social media to see what other product managers are talking about or ask questions. Do some internet sleuthing to see what resonates with you.

In addition to experienced people, there are also great books like Cracking the PM Interview, The Lean Startup, Crossing the Chasm, and No Filter. And take advantage of any education your organization offers, internally or externally. Companies like Pragmatic Institute, General Assembly, or Product School offer good overall product management information.

Ruchir Astavans (Leader of Product at ByteDance)

I had a great first manager in product management – a good mix of long term and tactical thinking, ability to always visualize and communicate the big picture (where my work fits in the grand scheme of things), and an abundance of personality. He was happy to share his knowledge and advice. Honestly, I have often channeled him in my own experiences as a manager.

Abhimanyu Basu (Senior Product Manager at PayPal)

I did not take any formal course, but read up books like The Lean Startup, Crossing the Chasm, and No Filter. I also watched a lot of mock interviews on YouTube (mostly from Exponent and The Product School).

David Griggs (Senior Product Manager at The Walt Disney Company)

I didn’t take any courses or read any books during the transition. I did read Cracking the PM Interview recently, which I highly recommend folks take a look at. Particularly if they are thinking about a big-tech product role.  

Ankit Kumar (Senior Product Manager at Amazon)

What I found most useful during my transition was talking to people and asking for help. The best thing you can do is clearly articulate the problem you are facing. Then you can identify the right subject matter expert to help you. As a product manager you are responsible for product but that doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself.

Sinduja Ramanujam (Senior Product Manager, PowerApps Portals at Microsoft)

I did not read a lot of blogs during my transition as there weren’t that many then. I asked a lot of questions however and was not afraid to explore the product and talk to people who were the key stakeholders. 

Stephanie Walter (Product Management Consultant, ex-IBM)

My company offered Pragmatic Marketing (now Pragmatic Institute) training, which I highly recommend. They also offered internal online education in specific areas of product management. If your organization offers funds for skill development, take advantage of them. I also followed product leaders like Brian de Haaf (Co-founder and CEO at Aha!) on LinkedIn and joined Slack and Facebook product management groups, which have been incredibly helpful.

What advice do you have for someone who has started to think about moving from engineering to product management?

If you’re thinking of moving to product management, start with an investigation. Explore why you want to make the move, what product managers do, and the skills you will need for the job. Research, research, research. You want to make sure you know what you’re getting into and why. Start learning basic product management skills and apply them to your exploration, with your career being the “product.”

If you find yourself energized by your research, make a plan and jump in! Start thinking like a user rather than an engineer and develop your empathy skills. You can even consider something like program management as a stepping stone.

It’s really about what works for you and where you are in your journey. Dream big. There is more than one way to make the transition. 

Ruchir Astavans (Leader of Product at ByteDance)

Put on your user hat, your business hat. Often that means suppressing your urge to think of feasibility. Dream big, even if it seems unfeasible. Be vulnerable and open yourself to healthy pushback by pushing the envelope on technical feasibility. Interestingly, someone I have seen use the opposite approach at a pro level is Bill Gates. I was in a review where he took a user story and mapped it to a data model so neatly, that not only did it perfectly tell the user story to a diverse set of people, it sparked ideas about new applications. 

Abhimanyu Basu (Senior Product Manager at PayPal)

Do it for the right reason: the pursuit of happiness. Know what you are getting into. Research about your role, talk to a product manager, understand what gets a product manager promoted.

David Griggs (Senior Product Manager at The Walt Disney Company)

Follow your heart. If you truly believe this kind of work will be rewarding, you can make it happen. Consider program management as a stepping stone between engineering and product management. 

​​Divyachapan S. Padur (Principal Product Manager at Microsoft)

Start with the why. Why do you want to be a product manager? What skill set do you have that will make you a good product manager? You are the product and a suitable career is the market fit. Talk to people, identify opportunities, plan the execution and test it out. Being a product manager is about user empathy. The world needs more product managers!

Sinduja Ramanujam (Senior Product Manager, PowerApps Portals at Microsoft)

  • Talk to as many people as you can who have made the switch and understand why they did it and if it resonates with your journey.
  • Read about product management and all the facets of it and introspect and think if you would enjoy doing something like that.
  • If you think you are ready then just take the plunge and don’t look back. It’s a very rewarding and fulfilling profile. 

What are the pros and cons of transitioning from engineering to product management?

The benefits of product management include a compelling career, the chance to really help your customers, and an array of experiences across disciplines lik engineering, UX, finance, marketing, operations and more. You are the voice of the customer. You will spend a lot of time in meetings. Product management is for people who want variety in their work tasks and intense collaboration. You will not be bored.

However, there is a lot more visibility and confrontation when it comes to product management. You need to be able to handle challenges to your direction, standing up when you’re right and backing down when you’re wrong. Product management usually includes more travel than engineering, which can be a pro or con depending on your situation. 

There’s also less time for quiet, individual work because the nature of the job is communicating with your customers and organization. Both the pros and cons of product management should be considered carefully when thinking about making a transition.

David Griggs (Senior Product Manager at The Walt Disney Company)

Pros: new challenges, you get to be the voice of your customer in the organization, more travel, less time behind your desk. 

Cons: new challenges, you need to step back from (but not disengage from) the technical solution, more travel.

Ankit Kumar (Senior Product Manager at Amazon)

Pros of being a product manager are that you get to experience a lot of different functions in a way that’s also a con because you are responsible for bringing a lot of teams together to deliver the product. That requires you learning enough about a lot of different functions to be able to have in-depth conversations. This includes working with engineering, finance, marketing, operations and more.

Stephanie Walter (Product Management Consultant, ex-IBM)

The pros of product management are a dynamic and exciting job, making a real impact on your customers, and constantly learning. The cons of product management are that it’s a lot of work with high expectations, so many meetings, and much less time for deep work at an individual level.

What are the things you had to “unlearn” from your previous job in order to become a better product manager?

Product management is mostly about learning, but there are habits picked up by being an engineer that you may need to break. A big one is that it’s no longer your responsibility to dictate the solution or ensure technical feasibility. That is the engineering team’s job. 

You’ll need to stop using an engineering context when thinking about the product and start using a customer lens. You need to help the customer find their way. You can’t assume you know how customers will use the product and need to map out their journeys. 

Product management is more ambiguous than engineering, so you can’t expect well-scoped work tasks. That can be hard to get used to. While engineering and product management are on the same product team, there’s less of a process to product management. 

Ruchir Astavans (Leader of Product at ByteDance)

I had to suppress thinking about technical feasibility at the beginning stage of a project. To make big innovation, I had to deliberately think big – and having had credibility as an engineer, the “wild” ideas were perceived as a challenge, not a pipe dream.

Abhimanyu Basu (Senior Product Manager at PayPal)

I had to quickly start distancing myself from solutioning and start focusing more on the problem from the customer’s lens.

Ankit Kumar (Senior Product Manager at Amazon)

One of the things that I had to unlearn was to assume how customers will use your product. I was not focusing on the usability aspect and I learned that the customer does not have the same context as I do. You have to help the customer find their way and that may require testing different user journeys and figuring out what works best.

We’d like to thank Stephanie Walter for incredible help in creating this article.