Decode your way into Product Management

Learn how you can acquire the technical skills of a product manager

A product manager’s job is not easy – neither to define nor to execute. When there are so many definitions of what the role is, it gets tougher to define what the role exactly entails. There are a 100 things a product manager is responsible for along the product journey; right from conceptualization to design to building the product to taking it to market. For a role that has touch points across the business, it is important for an aspiring PM to understand the skills that a product manager must have.

Through a series of articles, UpGrad will help you figure what it takes to be a PM. We will also tell you what you can do, every day, in order to develop these skills and smoothen your transition to a product manager. There are basically three key areas that the work of a PM is focused on. For the sake of not repeating the clichéd Venn diagram, the skills are listed as follows: –

  • Technical skills
  • Design Skills
  • Business and managerial skills

In this first article of the series, we are going to talk about what the first bucket – the technical skills required to be a PM and how you can develop them.

Technical skills:
A PM is typically not required to write code to develop a product. However as someone whose core role is to solve problems using technology, a PM still needs strong technical knowledge to:

  • Define how the product should function to solve the problem at hand
  • Accurately define and prioritize product requirements based on the effort required to build them
  • Efficiently communicate with the engineering team to brainstorm solutions, validating timelines and checking progress

Also Read: A day in the life of a Product Manager – Making it all work

There are a number of things an aspiring PM can do to build their technical expertise:

  1. Learn how to code – In all probability, you will not be required to code as a PM. However, knowing how to code will get you well versed with the terminology, help you understand the tech constraints and feasibility much more accurately, and help you communicate your requirements and collaborate far better with the engineering team. You can either pick up a book (like Beginning programming – for dummies, Coding – for dummies), or get on (or other online tutorials), or simply start googling (What is backend development? What are stacks?) to give you a start. You don’t need to be an expert, but it helps to know the basics.Creative 1
  2. Talk to the tech team at your current employment – Another great way of learning to speak the tech language, is to try and engage with the tech team at your current job. Talk to the engineering guys; try to understand what they do, how the team functions, what is the typical software development process, what would they expect for a product manager to know. This can be a good point from where you can then start googling and reading about tech terminologies, as suggested in the previous point. You could also take their assistance in teaching you how to code – you could probably ask them to send you debugging assignments once a while, to get you accustomed to coding.
  3. Learn SQL – SQL is a programming language designed for managing and querying data in a database. As a product manager, you will often need to play around a lot of data. Learning the basics of SQL will help you go a long way in your PM journey. It isn’t complicated and won’t be an investment heavy on time.
  4. Develop a technical viewpoint – Technology will be at the core of whatever product you develop as a PM. Starting to think about products with a technical lens will prove to be extremely rewarding in helping you develop a product vision. Every time you use an app, think about
    • The technology that the app is using
    • How is the app different from its peers on the technology front?
    • What can you do to improve the app?

    Creative 2
    You could run by your suggestion with the technical team at your office, over a casual chat, to know if have been thinking in the right direction – from a feasibility point of view, and getting their opinion on how they think about the app. Doing this exercise on an ongoing basis will definitely help you develop a technical viewpoint of looking at products.

  5. Stay updated on the tech ecosystem – Start reading about what is happening in the technology space. Start following Quora, Mashable,TechCrunch, Verge, Tech Insider, Gizmodo, and others. Read digital news. Have discussions about what is new, what is defunct and what is upcoming. It will help you in ideation, conceptualization and execution alike.
  6. Hack up a side project – And for the final and most effective hack, pick up a fun side project and try and build it from scratch. Could be anything from a simple photo app or a chat bot. Try and get others to use it. Building something from scratch for actual users to use will make you appreciate the intricacy involved at every step and go a long way in improving your technical knowledge.

As a PM, you will be interacting with the tech team day in and day out. You will be the sole point of contact between tech, design, business and users. It, therefore, becomes extremely important for you to understand the tech language so as to be able to play the role of a translator well. Practicing the hacks mentioned above while tweaking your daily schedule just a little bit is going to help you in enormous amounts in your journey of being a PM.
Stay tuned for two more articles of the edition to learn about design and business skills. Till then, sharpen your tech skills and get closer to becoming a PM!

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