How to Transition from a Software Engineer to a Product Management Role

Updated: January 16, 2022 by Professional Product Management According to Professional Product Management’s 2021 survey and data about what roles Product Managers were in before their current Product Management role, 40% of them had been in an engineering role previously. 34% had held the title of "Software Engineer" previously.
However, it’s not always obvious or easy for a software engineer to find the right path to get into Product Management.

Taking one of our Professional Product Management members as an example, Josie was a software engineer for 8 years and was looking at how to progress her career. As a senior Software Engineer in a leadership position, she could pursue moving up through engineering management roles, or take a sideways move into a individual contributor role as a Product Manager that she felt was something she’d enjoy.

Working for a large company, an opening soon came up in Product Management, and she didn’t get the role, with the response from the hiring manager being a flat “I don’t think you have the right characteristics for the role.” The reasons given were that she, and many software engineers don’t fit Product Management roles due to

  • Software Engineers tend to work on their own, by themselves every day, and are more likely be introverted than extraverted. A Product Manager spends a large amount of time interacting with many roles within the company and many customers and Partners externally.
  • Software Engineers usually shy away from giving presentations to large audiences
  • Software Engineers are not able to explain product value in a way that explains the benefits to customers.
  • Software Engineers can’t talk about the ‘what’ without going straight to the ‘how’.

At Professional Product Management, we don’t agree!

We feel that Software Engineers can transition very well into a Product Management role and their experiences in engineering are a huge asset to the skillset they will bring as they make such a transition.

The hiring manager in the story there was just one example, and it’s certainly worth talking to other hiring managers if barriers such as those are presented. However, Josephine took a different tactic and made it a mission to make that specific hiring manager change his mind and give her a chance.

Being a large corporation, with about 70,000 employees, Josephine was in an excellent place to have resources available to her to take some internal trainings. Today, it’s very easy to learn new skills with either YouTube experts, or LinkedIn Learning courses that are readily available. Josephine:

  • Took a Presentation skills course, and then got in touch with the people that did technical training for the Sales Engineers within her company and volunteered to help
  • Took a course on “Influencing without authority”. As a Product Manager, you count on other employees that don’t directly work with you, to do their part to ensure product success.
  • Made sure she joined in with company activities and made sure she talked to people that weren’t just the people she directly worked with.
  • Talked to other Product Managers within her company and asked them questions about what they did, and what skills they used every day.

After about 6 months, another opportunity came up in the Product Manager group, and Josephine once more applied. She asked the same hiring manager for some of his time, and then told him about all the things she had done to address the skills gap that he had told her about. He ended up giving her the position, and that started her 15 year career in Product Management where she went from Product Manager up to Vice President of Products for multiple product lines and companies.

If you’re a software engineer looking to do the transition, know that your background will make you an excellent fit for the part. Take a look at your skill set, and see if you need to take a course, or practice some of the essential qualities that a Product Manager needs, and then go into your application for a position you like, armed with certificates of course completion and on the job examples showing that you are a great fit. If you spend some time getting some experience in the on-the-job activities such as making presentations and interacting with customers before you apply, you’ll be able to apply with confidence.

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