pm to code

Do you need to know how to code to be a Product Manager?

If you’d like to ask me questions, @ me on Twitter.

The following question comes from Vaibhav from the Product School Slack Community:

Did you learn technical skills on your own? Or you do not need those as a Product Manager?

The short answer

Nope, you don’t need to know how to code to be a PM.

I don’t know how to code and I’ve done very well in my career as a Product Manager.

My friend who is the CPO (Chief Product Officer) of Coffee Meets Bagel doesn’t have a technical background. My other friend who was a Product Manager at Flipboard and now a Product Manager at Facebook doesn’t have a technical background.

Instead, focus on the following skills:

  1. Leadership (people management)
  2. Execution (expectation management)
  3. Product design sense

The long answer


Product Managers don’t code; rather, Product Managers are responsible for leading a team to build a product to accomplish an objective.

Let’s break this down into its components.

Leading a team

Teams aren’t composed of robots; they’re composed of people. I know this is obvious, but it’s very important to consciously consider when leading a team.

Leading a team is not as easy as setting a goal and then unleashing a team to get the job done. Every individual on the team has their own unique personality, motivations, interests, and challenges.

The success of the project depends on the ability of the Product Manager to motivate and organize the engineers, designers, marketers, and analysts towards one aligned objective.

Build a product

This is why the majority of Product Managers at software companies have a technical background. You need to be able to communicate with engineers about what product to build. If you know how to code, then you’ll be better able to communicate with engineers.

I got around this by building my own companies and products where I hired and lead engineers. Instead of learning to communicate by learning to code, I learned to communicate by actually leading engineers.

Even the Product Manager position at Stripe doesn’t require a technical background; instead, they suggest:

You are technical enough to ask engineers good questions about architecture and product decisions alike

Accomplish an objective

When it comes to accomplishing objectives, the Product Manager must:

  1. Identify, validate, and prioritize opportunities
  2. Manage expectations
  3. Execute

Each of the above three points can be there own blog post, but I’ll quickly summarize them here:

Identify, validate, and prioritize opportunities:

  • Can you create a feedback system between your product marketers, sales professionals, and customer support to get feedback from users?
  • Can you work with your data scientists or conduct user tests to validate the impact of an opportunity?
  • Can you prioritize a roadmap to balance short-term and long-term value for the company?

Manage expectations: communication is key. The Product Manager sits at the intersection between the company, the users, and the team, so the Product Manager must manage the expectations of each area.

Execution: most software companies currently run agile development teams. It’s useful (and sometimes a prerequisite) to know how to run an agile team to effectively ship products.

If you don’t’ know how to code and you want to be a PM, then don’t go out and spend $17,000 on a coding bootcamp. Instead, focus on the following:

  1. Leading teams (especially engineers)
  2. Ability to execute: instead of spending money on learning to code, hire a freelancer and build your own iOS app
  3. Product design sense: I focused on learning UX and Gamification

Good luck!

Published by

Jun Loayza

Jun Loayza is the Chief Growth Officer at Bunny Inc. In his startup experience, he has sold 2 technology companies and raised $1M in angel funding. Jun lives in San Francisco, CA with his wife Kim.