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Should Product Managers Learn to Code?

Exploring the necessity and benefits of coding skills for product managers in today's tech landscape.

Product managers don’t need to learn to code. But they should.

If you’re thinking, "Isn’t that a contradiction?" you’re not alone. The debate over whether product managers (PMs) should acquire coding skills is as old as Agile itself. Here's the twist: the value of coding knowledge isn’t about writing flawless algorithms or deploying complex systems. It’s about empathy, communication, and strategy.

Empathy: Walking in Engineers' Shoes

Understanding code, even at a basic level, allows PMs to better appreciate the challenges and constraints faced by their engineering teams. When you can speak the language of your developers, you not only foster mutual respect but also enable more effective problem-solving. This empathy translates into realistic timelines, more accurate roadmaps, and a collaborative team culture.

Communication: Bridging the Gap

Technical literacy bridges the often daunting gap between product and engineering. Imagine trying to convey a technical challenge to stakeholders without sounding like you’re speaking an alien language. A PM who can decode technical jargon and translate it into business implications becomes an invaluable asset to any team. Tools like Eververse are fantastic, but they can't replace the nuance of human understanding.

Strategy: Making Informed Decisions

A PM armed with coding knowledge can contribute more strategically to decision-making processes. Understanding the technical feasibility of features can prevent overpromising and underdelivering. It’s about making informed trade-offs and understanding the implications of technical debt. When you know what's under the hood, you're better equipped to steer the product in the right direction.

Counterpoint: The Risk of Overreach

There is, however, a risk. PMs who dive too deep into coding might lose sight of their core responsibilities. The goal isn’t to become a developer but to enhance your ability to lead cross-functional teams. Balance is key. Focus on gaining enough knowledge to facilitate communication and decision-making without getting bogged down in the technical weeds.

Practical Steps for PMs

  1. Learn the Basics: Start with languages and frameworks relevant to your product. Platforms like Codecademy and freeCodeCamp offer accessible introductions to coding.
  2. Pair Programming: Sit with your developers during coding sessions. Pair programming not only boosts your understanding but also builds rapport.
  3. Technical Workshops: Participate in or organize workshops where engineers explain core technical concepts. This fosters a culture of continuous learning and mutual respect.

Final Thoughts

In the ever-evolving landscape of product management, coding isn’t a mandatory skill, but it’s a highly advantageous one. It’s about enhancing empathy, communication, and strategic insight. So, should PMs learn to code? Yes, but remember, it’s a tool to amplify your impact, not a diversion from your primary mission.

Ultimately, the goal is to build better products. And anything that helps you understand, communicate, and strategize more effectively is worth considering.

Welcome to the future of product management, where the lines between roles are blurring, and hybrid skills are the new norm. Ready to start coding?

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