In this brief article, we’re going to cover the tech topics that are important for a product manager to know.
If you want to know more about product management, how to drastically increase your chances to get your job as a PM and how to get more product management interview experience, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide.
But for now, let’s get back to the task at hand. We are asked this question a lot. Many folks are concerned. ‘Can I get into product management if I don’t have a tech background?’ ‘Which topics should I know about?’ ‘What is it important to know for the interviews?’
First of all, let’s get something straight – yes, you can get into product management without a tech background. Now, let’s go into the actual tech topics that are important for a product manager.
What Product Managers Should Do
It’s not as important to be able to code because the company usually has exceptional engineers who can do that. Product managers, rather, have a few key distinct responsibilities, none of which involve coding.
One of the responsibilities of the product managers is to think about the user, about what should be built, and why it should be built. They need to understand the problems that the users have and how and why should they solve them.
Another part of the responsibilities of the product manager is the vision.
How do you come up with a vision of what should be built? How do you build a vision for the product or series of products or features? What should be built first, what should be built second, how do you design a roadmap?
All of these things are the responsibility of the product manager.
Finally, you need to bring all the different folks and groups together to make meaningful progress and move a product forward, moving toward launch or iteration or whatever it is. This is a product manager’s main responsibility.
To do all these things, you need to be familiar with certain tech topics. You need:
- Understand how fundamentally tech products work and how they’re built
- What problems users face when it comes to tech products and how to overcome them
- How to work with engineers
- How to make meaningful progress when faced with technological complexity
These are the key aspects. Let’s get into what you should know.
1. Understand the Internet
To do well as a product manager in tech, without a tech background necessarily, you should have a general idea of how the Internet works.
You should have an understanding of client-server technology as well as data storage. You should know which pieces of data should be stored for a particular situation, where should they be, and how the client and server should communicate.
You should also understand how you design these systems to withstand real-world problems, potential bad actors, huge volumes spread out over different geographical areas, the practical aspects of client-server management, and in general how the Internet works.
2. Design a System
You need to be able to design a system, to architect a system.
And when we say architecture, we mean to build the plan for what the process looks like. What does it look like when the entire product or the entire business operates? What happens, what information is stored, what information is sent from where to where? How is it operated on to produce some sort of an effect? And what does all of that look like?
Of course, this depends on what level of product manager you are. If you just starting, you may want to architect a particular feature as you progress, you may want to tie a set of features together, then build out an architecture for the entire product, then maybe a series of products, then maybe the entire company.
So you should get familiar with how flowcharts work, how processes can be improved, how processes can be diagrammed. All that can be extremely useful when you’re talking about improving products or processes in a tech organization.
3. Work with Data
You should get familiar with what different types of data there are, how to work with them, how to extract some sort of results from them.
Setting up experiments, trying to understand how to analyze data is one of the best ways to do this. to do well in the data analysis piece, you should try to pick up SQL and understand how that works, but more importantly and fundamentally, you should understand how statistics and probability work so that you can work with the data and set up proper experiments and understand how to interpret results.
This is very important as a lot of tech products rely on this experimental approach to figure out things like whether to go to Path A or B, how to set up the right experiment, how to interpret the results, and what to do next – essentially collating qualitative and quantitative analysis, trying to make sense of it.
It is imp for product managers to be comfortable with data analysis, interpretation, statistics, and the underlying structure of it all – so mathematics is helpful.
We mentioned it’s important to pick up SQL which is the language of manipulating databases and drawing out the data that you need from sets of data. This is because you’re going to be working with a lot of data sets so you’re going to need to manipulate them in such a way as to get out meaningful data
4. Understand the Basics of Software Engineering
While we said you don’t need to be a coder, a programmer, a software engineer, it is useful and important to understand how programming works.
See if you can learn a language or just the concept behind coding. You certainly don’t need to become an expert, but. It is helpful to understand how data structures work, how data can be stored or manipulated, some high-level concepts of programming, and understand efficiency, speed, and scale.
This will be very useful when you’re building products because it will be easier to speak with engineers. You’ll understand why a certain problem is a problem or why something can’t be done a particular way.
5. Understand UI and UX Design Principles
It’s very useful for a product manager to understand certain principles about UI design and about what the user experience flow should look like at any particular stage
There are some common sets of principles that you can learn about User Interface:
- What looks good in general?
- What are the different styles of UI that can be made?
- What are the different methods for the user to interact with the products that exist
Just have a healthy interest in different apps and websites and physical products – you will get to learn the different ways that the users interact with products to solve their problems.
It helps to know the practice of what happens and the theory around some best practices as they will be very useful when you’re designing products of your own.
6. Understand User Flows and User Funnels
From a tech perspective, it’s also important to understand user flows and user funnels, and the different stages of a product.
You should focus on:
- How the user interacts with the product
- How the user finds out about the product
- How you retain the user
- What the important aspects in terms of monetizing the user are
- How to get the user deeply engaged and get them to make referrals
- How different platforms work (web, Chrome, Safari, app, etc.)
7. Know Agile Product Development
Finally, an understanding of agile product development and a software development lifecycle, in general, is key. You should know things like:
- How do tech products get built?
- What are the components that put products together?
- What are the different stages of work?
- What are the common problems and the pitfalls of putting together tech products?
- What might go wrong in order to cause a problem or a bug in a tech product?
- What are some things to watch out for?
All of these things are important because they come up and since part of a product manager’s job is execution, understanding how all of this works can set you up to do very well in a product manager tech interview, but also do very well in actually building the product.
Ultimately, all of these tech concepts are aiming toward one goal: to get you comfortable to work on a tech product, to collaborate with engineers that are coding and creating this product based on your specifications and hopefully the user needs.
So it’s all about being able to communicate meaningfully with other team members on different levels of sophistication. This includes being able to explain how the tech works (including to a layperson) being able to collaborate with your engineers on it, and moving the whole project forward.