Career advice (Engineering vs Product Management)
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.