Career advice (Engineering vs Product Management)

VMware vDreamer
Mar 13 13 Comments

I'm a software engineer with 5.5 YOE (TC: 240k) and have worked mostly in big tech companies till date. Honestly speaking I consider myself an above average software engineer. If I rate myself, I would do 3.5 out of 5. So definitely not brightest of the bright programmers out there in industry. Since like forever I have been wanting to work in startups and learn more about building products and business. When I think of my career in long term, I see 3 paths. Jumping into each of these in detail for my case:

1) PE (Principal Engineer) path
I'm certainly not interested in the PE path since it's usually a purely technical role with almost zero involvement in business aspect of the product. Of course being a software engineer myself, I highly respect people who are passionate about technical side of things and stick to it throughout their career. But considering my programming skills level and passion for what I want to do, this is neither something that is suited for me nor something that I desire to pursue in long term.

2) Engineering Management path
This is something that I find interesting but seeing various engineering managers in the industry I realized that they mostly end up being highly talent engineers who ultimately give up on coding coz someone gotta manage all those coders. They probably have more exposure to customers and product decisions but are not involved in non-tech aspects of a business (i.e. strategy, long term vision, sales & marketing, finance, etc.). Moreover, with experience I realized that I'm more much passionate about products in general compared to managing people.

3) Product Management path
I've always have immense interest in product management. Reasons being my love for the startup world and curiosity to learn more about business side of things (esp. strategy and vision). Building great products will always be my first love but I don't see why it should stop me from learning other business skills. When I think about my skill set and future plans, I feel Product Management is the right way to go. I believe I have a better understanding of product in general rather than just the technical aspect and I can contribute much more in vision and strategy roles.

My concerns and questions:
1) MBA degree: Don't wish to pursue an MBA degree. I would rather go and struggle in real world (startups) for those 2 years which IMHO would teach me much much more than any MBA experience ever will. But I've seen this tendency that MBA degree is a highly desired qualification for Product Management roles hiring. Looking for advice from PMs regarding this (if someone with similar Software Engineer to PM transition, would be very valuable if you can share your experience and opinion).
2) Immigration: I'm currently working on H1B (work visa) and thanks to the broken immigration system I won't be able to get Green Card anytime soon. It makes it even more tricky to make this pivot (esp. without MBA degree) since it will be really difficult to justify skills needed for such roles to USCIS.
3) PM vs PM vs PM roles: I'm not interested in Program Management and Project Management roles. I've seen that a lot of people in Bay Area confuse between these 3 roles. What would be the right way to ensure that I get into right kind of role.
4) Tech to PM jump: Having spent over 5 years in tech industry as a programmer, I've built decent tech skills which I would love to use even after moving to PM role. I believe this would be even more useful in startups where roles don't have a hard boundary and work overlaps a lot. Even after moving to Product Management role I believe my primary focus would be technical side of things. I'm confused about how to judge my non-tech skills which are required for PM role interviews. Any advice from experienced folks would be highly appreciated.
5) S&M and Finance: As much as I'm interested in Strategy and Vision related work, I've no natural curiosity to learn Sales & Marketing and Finance work. It's something that I would love to learn and don't mind spending some time on but I certainly don't want to be a marketing focused PM. I'm concerned when this would be a hurdle for me if I move to PM role.
6) Timeframe: I've been thinking about how much time is good to be spent as an engineer before moving to PM role. I want to make sure that my technical base is solid and I can write good code anytime I want even in future. Any suggestions regarding this? Is there any recommended time (in years) to be spent in technical role before moving into PM role (esp. considering that I wish to do that without an MBA degree) or am I good to go as soon as I am ready to take the leap?
7) Skill development: Are there any part-time courses or programs that I can do while in tech role to build skill set necessary for PM roles? I've heard from few folks about "five-day Product Management Certificate Program" from UC Berkeley. Does anybody have any feedback regarding that? Any other self-learning course/program/plan that I can execute to be a stronger PM candidate?

Thanks in advance for answering my questions. Any help and advice would be highly appreciated.


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TOP 13 Comments
  • Salesforce bbvhjbj
    MBA is useless unless you are new grad. Switched to PM role after 6 years in the industry, found a very technical area where my technical skills played in my advantage.

    Just be ready that you will have to stick with the current company for 3-4 years at least.
    Mar 13 3
    • VMware vDreamer
      Thanks for the response. Curious to know more about how tech to PM transition turned out to be in terms of
      a) work satisfaction
      b) TC change
      c) immigration (assuming that you’re not a citizen or GC holder)

      Also few more questions:
      1) Did you move from engineering IC to PM or Engineering Manager to PM? Considering you did after 6 yoe, I guess the former?
      2) was it tough for you to crack into PM role without MBA rubber stamp on resume? Is it a big factor in PM hiring process?
      Mar 14
    • Salesforce bbvhjbj
      a) I like it, got a promotion after 2+ years, I guess I’m doing good.
      b) there wasn’t any change since it was an internal transfer
      c) didn’t have to deal with it

      1) from engineering IC to PM
      2) again, it was an internal transfer and I worked with my new boss on the same team for a while, so he was very supportive
      Mar 14
    • VMware vDreamer
      That’s great. Thanks a lot for answering my questions. Really appreciate it.
      Mar 15
  • Microsoft figment
    What are some examples of startups you might want to join? Why not junior-mid level PM at large corp - like PM on MSFT HyperV / your own VMware / relevant AWS teams?

    The one obvious problem with starting a new role at a startup is: you're not sure if the startup is dubious, you are not sure if you're learning things the right way, if the startup turns out to be a dud you'll find it hard to get another PM job. But large corp doesn't have these problems.
    Mar 13 4
    • VMware vDreamer
      Thanks for the response. I would like to get into PM role first. Like you mentioned a big tech co might be a good place to learn the right way to do things as a PM. After few years I would like to move to a late stage startup similar to the stage Airbnb, Slack and Stripe are in right now. And eventually try out some early stage startups once I’ve some good experience as a PM.

      I’ve thought about exploring junior to mid level PM roles at large corp. I’m just curious to understand if I stand a chance without MBA degree. Also curious about what kind of change I can expect to TC - lower, higher or almost the same.
      Mar 14
    • Microsoft figment
      Microsoft 'program manager' roles don't hire MBAs. Microsoft calls it's product managers 'program manager'. At 5yoe, you have a realistic chance at Microsoft 'PM-2', and 'senior PM' if you're very lucky. Find a friend who can get you an interview.

      You also have good shot right now at places where you already think like a user in your current Dev job - like Atlassian, GitHub, zendesk, etc.

      TC might be like a 3yoe engineer I guess. TC is similar for PM and Dev for first few years.
      Mar 14
    • VMware vDreamer
      Sure. Thanks again for the advice.
      Mar 14
    • Amazon Powerful
      Wrong. I got Azure PM offer as an MBA. I also know of at least 2 others who got MBA PM roles
      Mar 19
  • Microsoft LKui75
    Get a PM gig at your current company. Start by taking on PM type of responsibilities in your current team like driving recurring meetings, participating in customer feedback sessions, playing an active role in planning process, helping with backlog grooming etc. if you have a good relationship with your current PM help him out with some of his tasks. This will also help you realize the good and bad sides of the discipline. A lot of people jump into this role thinking about only the strategic side of it, but the hard work lies in relentless discipline and execution. —- I was a dev for several years before moving to PM, got my MBA while working.
    Mar 13 2
    • VMware vDreamer
      Thanks for your response. Unfortunately very limited exposure to our current PM. For the most part our engineering manager acts like a point of contact between PM and our team. But definitely taking PM like responsibilities in the current team makes sense. Curious to know your thoughts on whether MBA is necessary for PM role and how much of a factor it is in PM hiring process.
      Mar 14
    • Microsoft LKui75
      I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary in tech. I did it to learn various aspects of business, it helped in my professional growth. It may sometimes send a signal to hiring managers that you are serious about product management. If you really want to learn do it but don’t over emphasize it. But there is no substitute for real work ex. Look for opportunities to drive projects that span across teams, that require driving clarity, some level of coordination etc. Write quality documents on your area that can be presented to other teams. Drive sprint planning, especially prioritization. This will help you build confidence on the execution part.
      Mar 14
  • Wayfair / Product rrbo311
    A MBA won't help you as much as work experience - especially if you want to pm at a startup. Focus on getting 2 years of product XP any way you can.
    Mar 13 0


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