Career change is top of mind right now and it's an excellent time to make a move in Big Tech.
Perhaps you’ve landed a great role that you’ve loved and learned a lot from but feel it’s time to take on the next challenge. Maybe you’re feeling burnt out and looking to tackle something fresh and exciting. Do you stay in your current area of specialization and aim for a promotion? Would you feel more fulfilled using your skills in a different area of the business?
Maybe you’ve seen that Product Managers are in high demand - the LinkedIn Jobs on the Rise for 2022 list has Technical Product Manager at number 11. As a Software Engineer, you might be questioning if you could (or should) make the move from SWE to Product Manager? We sat down with Vishal Chaudhary, who did just that, to gain some insights from his personal experience.
Vishal is a former Product Manager and Software Development Engineer at Amazon, SAP, and Accenture, and a top-rated Carrus Coach. During his career, he chose to transition from a Software Development Engineering role to a Product Manager position. We asked him to share his reasons for making this shift as well as how you can evaluate if this switch could be the right move for you.
Software Engineer to Product Manager
Why would you choose to make the move from SWE to PM? Vishal says he loved his time as an Engineer and wouldn’t choose any differently if he had to start his career over. He did however find himself at a point in his journey where he wanted different things from his career.
As a Product Manager, you get to own a much larger part of the product, or maybe even the whole product. As an Engineer, you’re usually working on a small component of that product. Maybe a feature, or particular workflow, but you’re never responsible for taking ownership of the whole product. As a Product Manager, the success or failure of the product depends on the decisions you make. If taking ownership of a product and shaping the outcome sounds like a challenge you’d love, a Product Manager role might be the answer for you.
Some of the other reasons Vishal transitioned from SWE to PM:
As a Product Manager you get higher visibility. Ask who the PM of Facebook Groups is for example and most people will know the answer. How many people would be able to name the Engineer of Facebook Groups? The likelihood of your audience knowing the answer drastically goes down. This is because there are so many Engineers contributing to the product. If you like to be at the forefront of a team, this could be another great reason to choose the PM route. Conversely, if you hate being the face of a product, this could be the very reason you elect to stick to, or target, an Engineering role.
In a PM role, you get to work with customers directly and empathize with them. Discovering and solving customer pain points is a major part of being a successful Product Manager. Getting to troubleshoot, come up with fresh ideas and tackle the challenge of improving customer experience are some of the things Vishal loves about being a PM that he didn’t get in his role as an Engineer.
You get to take on a multi-faceted approach to problem-solving. You’re solving problems in marketing, sales, design, and development – you’re constantly problem-solving. It’s for this reason that you’ll need to be skilled at decision-making in order to be a good PM. Using data coupled with your intuition and market knowledge will need to be second nature.
You’re part of every stage of product development through to product launch and often well after. Ideation, design, development, launch, marketing, sales, customer feedback, data analytics. As a PM you have a role to play in every stage of the product journey. You’re not restricted to just working in the Engineering space within a company. You gain exposure to all different kinds of people operating at various levels within the organization and get to work with experts in multiple fields. You’ll interact and collaborate with individuals in marketing, customer success, design, etc and learn from them all.
Working in Ambiguity:
As an engineer, you’ll have a set of specific predefined goals in mind. For example, by the end of this quarter, I have to build this UI or backend service. As a product manager, your goals might look more like, by the end of this quarter I have to increase my user base by 15%. How? Nobody knows – let's figure it out. You’ll either find that type of challenge incredibly exciting (hint: PM route for you) or you’ll be horrified by the prospect of such a vague task (a sign to take the Engineering fork). Vishal says this is one of the things he loves most about being a PM. There’s so much ambiguity in achieving goals that you learn so much and challenge yourself a ton along the way.
We’ve looked at the key factors that inspired Vishal to make the switch from Software Engineer to Product Manager. If these factors excite you and make you think, ‘That sounds amazing. I’d love to do that!’, PM is likely the route you should explore. If however you cringe at the thought of customer interaction, tons of ambiguity, and having a part to play in so many areas, you’re better off sticking with Software Engineering (or another technical role aligned to your skills).
Looking to prepare for your interview for a Product Manager or Software Engineering role at Google or Amazon?
Check out our in-depth resources to help you ace the process:
- Interview Insights from an ex-Google Software Engineer
- How to Ace your Google Product Manager Interview
- Everything You Need to Crack the Google Coding Interview
- Everything you Need to Know for the Amazon Engineering (SDE) Interview