Product managers: to code or not to code?

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The debate continues to rage over whether product managers (PMs) should code or not, so we took a look at what are employers in the Bay area looking for right now when hiring product managers?

Our results showed that increasingly technical skills and a strong technical background are not the top priorities for employers. Instead, employers are drawing on diverse backgrounds to find the credible product managers they need for their business.

“Although a technical education or professional background lends well towards building credibility with engineering teams, start-ups are prioritizing demonstrated leadership, excellent communication, user empathy and creative design aesthetics in diversifying their product management teams,” said Eric Soni, Manager of Product Management at Robert Walters California.

The PM archetype

The latest trend among hiring managers in start-ups seeking credible PMrs is to look beyond just whether the candidate has a technical background or not. In previous years, it was almost essential that all PMs should have an engineering background or at least be able to code, but this is no longer the case.

Many successful modern PMs, while possessing a passion for technology, do not have the engineering background that some would expect. Instead, the latest wave of PM talent is increasingly coming from robotics, marketing and general business backgrounds.

Its clear that a diversified background is holding more importance in landing a career-changing PM role. Whether your background is in computer science or marketing, the demonstration of entrepreneurial skills, creativity and a passion for the user experience are the true fundamentals when trying to break into this career field. 

“With the rising importance of user experience and design, hiring managers are now looking for PMs that come with a design and user experience background,” said Anna Meyer, Senior Consultant at Robert Walters California.

With the rising importance of user experience and design, hiring managers are also looking for PMs that come from the design and user experience background.

What’s interesting about the changing nature of the PM archetype (or lack thereof) is the ability for a more creative and non-engineering types to break into this field. Who else better to sympathize with user experience than the users themselves?

Often engineers, who clearly understand the how many thankless hours of work that does into building a product, are not always the most comfortable listening to users’ thoughts and feedback. That is not to say that engineers don’t make good product managers, but that they are no longer the only ones do. Sometimes it is someone coming into a business who comes with a fresh perspective that can really push a product to the next level.

So whether you have extensive knowledge in computer science or barely any, if you have a passion for user experience and a knack for creativity, you could be the perfect fit for a PM role. 

Interested in becoming a product manager? Find out what it takes to be a successful PM.

Want to check a product manager's salary? Check out our Salary Survey.


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