You’re An Engineer

Ok not really an engineer per se, but let me finish. A lot of big software companies like Google insist that their Product Managers have a technical background (CS/Eng degree or equivalent), as do many startups. The reason behind this has less to do with needing to be able to pinch hit and write code when needed—trust me, no one wants someone like me coding—but rather that these companies want PMs who can roll with engineers, speak the same language, grasp the technical concepts (and problems and opportunities) quickly, and by so doing gain the respect and trust of the people actually moving bits around. In this sense, the best PMs are culturally engineers: you have the DNA of a hacker, you have a favorite programming language, your standards of fashion are low (not in every case), you feel the pain of server outages, you can draw boxes and arrows with the best of them, and you’re just close enough to the metal to know that stuff doesn’t happen by magic alone. Only, rather than architect, write and debug code, you take care of everything else. Which happens to be a good segue, because as PM…

You’re a janitor too!

You do as much of the dirty work as possible so everyone else doesn’t have to. This is one of the most important things you do because it means the whole team operates more efficiently. Sure, as a PM you’ll spend a lot of really fun and engaging time working with designers creating fancy mocks that solve difficult interaction problems, and yes you’ll get to go really deep into product testing to find interesting bugs in esoteric but important scenarios and you will get to craft product strategy that will touch the lives of millions (maybe even billions) of people and have lasting impact on the company that employs you, but at the end of the day you’ll also have to do a lot of work that no one else wants to do. 

Like finding a meeting slot that works for 14 different people on the Friday before a long weekend. Like copy editing that blog post for the umpteenth time. Like dealing with Legal (friendly cheap shot!). Like making that presentation flow a little bit better before taking it to some executive. Like following up with everyone on objectives for the quarter. Like making sure the metrics dashboard stays up to date. Like fielding a press interview when no one from the PR team is around. Like making the thousands-upon-thousands of unsexy little decisions that need to get made by someone. Like… fixing the toilet when it breaks. Because if you’re not doing all this cleanup & team hygiene work, then someone else has to and that means they aren’t doing their own important work — and that means your product will suffer. So: jump in with rubber gloves, and bells on, and do what needs to be done.

#engineer #janitor #productmanager #motivation #dirtywork #planning #storytelling

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