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Is Coding A Requirement In Product Management?

Written by Abisola Tiwalade Fayinka

Photo by Mars on Unsplash

I believe that this is one of the most asked questions in the product management space. I think that it comes second only to “what is product management?” Or maybe I am wrong but the point is that almost everyone new to the field wants to know if they have to learn how to code before they can be certified product managers. Generally, when you ask top product managers this question, the answer is usually a capital NO which is the truth. You really don’t need to be the best software developer to be an excellent product manager.

However, I happen to think that the answer to this question is more nuanced than just a straight-up NO. There are many other things to consider in answering this question. These nuances are what I wish to explore in this article.

A little background story in case you are reading one of my pieces for the first time, I am a budding product manager with a non-tech background. (Yeah, one of those ones who missed the memo to study computer science in undergrad) Since I transitioned from law (you can read about that here), I have applied to various entry-level Product Management roles and internships. One thing that is very common in many of these job postings is the requirement of a computer science degree in the undergrad or at least a significant amount of coding experience. This had me confused because I had earlier been told that I didn’t need to know how to code to be a product manager. I did a little research and I discovered a few things.

There are different kinds of product managers — General PM, Technical PM, and Business PM. There may be more classifications but these are the only ones relevant to our discussion. These classifications are not strict as only a few companies have these specialized roles. The classifications are made concerning the area of focus of the PM and sometimes the background of the PM. Now let us discuss each of these in detail.

General PM:

These are PMs who carry out the general roles of a PM which would normally entail working with all the teams involved in the execution of a product. They would work with the design team, engineering team, marketing and sales team, etc. throughout the product life cycle. They do not specialize in any specific area and there is no specific background required to be a general PM.

Technical PM:

These are specialized PMs. They are PMs who have a lot of technical experience and are expected to use this experience in the process of developing and managing the product. They are mostly employed by technology companies as technical experience is a requirement in the development of their product. They are required to have a significant amount of coding experience or have a pure tech background.

Business PM:

These are PMs with business backgrounds who are expected to focus more on the business, marketing, and sales part of the product development phase. They are usually people with business backgrounds or those who got an MBA in the course of their careers. Most times, they are not required to have a technical background.

Now that this is clear, the next thing to take cognizance of is that product management is a personal experience. What this means is that there is no one size fits all way to become a product manager or even be an excellent one. The reason for this is that the aim of product management is to have an excellent product based on whatever metrics you have chosen to measure the success of the product. However, there are many different ways to achieve that goal so you have to find the one that works for you and stick to it. This means that having coding experience doesn’t guarantee being a successful PM or otherwise.

Furthermore, all that is required is a basic knowledge of the process. This means being able to understand the problems that your developers are having and being able to proffer a solution. You can take courses like the Harvard CS50: Introduction to Computer Science course to learn the basics. For example, I do not have any coding experience but the founder/CEO of the startup that I work for is a full stack developer so he assists with the technical issues that I can’t help with and this system has worked out for me. Just find the method that works for you and stick to it.

However, I must say that if you find that you can learn how to code, you should give it a shot. It will help you to understand your engineers more. A few weeks ago, I joined a boot camp on front-end development because of a goal of mine and more things make sense now that I can see why they happened instead of just knowing that they did. Hence, another tip is not to try to learn it on your own. Learning in a community is another way to hold yourself accountable.

I hope that these nuances have been able to help you understand these issues a bit better and be a better product manager.

Yours in product management,

Tiwalade.

Abisola Tiwalade Fayinka is a graduate of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. She is a technology law enthusiast and a start-up legal adviser. Connect with Abisola on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

Edited by Naimah Akinoso

Naimah is an editor and product designer with a passion for interior design. She loves cooking, finding new recipes online, and trying them. She also loves reading and watching horror movies. Connect with Naimah on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Dribbble.

Published by Akinsipe Temitope

Temitope is a young storyteller who thinks all stories are worth telling. She loves to inspire people to do what they love and follow their passions, tell their stories, and live in the present moment. Connect with Temitope on Instagram, and Twitter.

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