How can I get better at being a Technical PM?

As a young, new PM with no technical background, I’m currently in charge of a platform product at a big public company currently. This is my second year at this job after getting a degree in business. Before that, I worked for a year as a technical salesperson at a smaller company in the same field.
My technical skills aren’t very good, and I want to get better.
Does anyone have any suggestions?

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Let me tell you what I did.

  • Learn how to use SQL. Read some of the tables of features you work with a lot and sign up for a course. Start with simple queries to get the data you need from the first table. Then, learn how to use joins with two or more tables.

  • Get Sourcetree and put local code on your computer. You can also get it in an IDE, or you can just use Notepad++ or Sublime. Look at bugs. Always make copies of them, learn a lot about some features, and make sure you’re checking for bugs yourself. Figure out what line of code a bug fails on; you may need to ask for access to some data in order to do this. There are some that you will figure out. Most of the time, these are null and void mistakes. Find out about basic data types like integers, decimals, strings, and so on.

  • Find out how to call an API address. Start with a rest one. To post or put data, you first get it, then position and navigation. Find out how to use XML and JSON. Figure out how to make things better there too.

  • Ask the developers to show you how they do things and how they think. Even if you don’t get half of what they say, the small pieces of the puzzle start to make sense one by one.

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SQL is fine, but what you really need to know is how methods work in a general sense. Query languages are not just a way to ask data questions. They’re more than that. They give you facts, so you can use facts instead of feelings when you argue. You can strengthen yourself and check on some things. And even if you can’t, it will often point you in the right direction.

It is not the same as algorithms, much like comparing apples and pears. It’s also not necessary to use formulas for all tasks. No matter how experienced or new a PM is, I think they need to learn SQL and spend time with data to better understand it.

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In which areas do you believe you have the most disparities? This might be due to a lack of understanding of the architecture of your product. Do you find it difficult to comprehend the technical obstacles or compromises that are being addressed by the product development team? Do your consumers have a higher level of technical expertise, and as a result, you find it challenging to completely comprehend their requirements or possible applications?

Every single product manager has the potential to acquire a wealth of technical expertise that spans an extraordinarily broad spectrum. On the other hand, based on the requirements of your work, there is probably a more specific number of people who will have the most influence on you.

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This type of subject fascinates me because it is contingent upon the definition of “technical” and your own expectations. Typically, the reason you feel insufficiently technical is because of the following:

  1. You observe that other individuals in your role are more “technical” in nature than you are.
  2. You are engaging in discussions that you do not completely comprehend (or only partially comprehend). If your issue is with 1, I would seek out that individual and make an effort to comprehend how they arrived at that point in order to determine whether or not it makes sense to follow in their footsteps. if not! Should the issue lie with 2, feel free to raise your hand and inquire about the meaning or operation of the given term, for example. I “learned” technical information through inquisitiveness, attending a QA session on a backend feature, and posing a thousand questions. Additionally, reading engineering journals is extremely beneficial. Individuals who elucidate the process of construction. Observing tech lectures (pydata, media.ccc.de, and the NDCC conference are all highly recommended): I used to have a biweekly meeting with a developer from the team at a previous employer, during which we would each bring a product- or development-related topic for discussion. He defined what an API is; I attempted to summarize and comprehend it thoroughly, among other things.

However, keep in mind that your primary responsibility and expectation are to identify the issues rather than find solutions. You may actively communicate and interact with the engineering team when you encounter or discover a problem, but that is ultimately beyond their purview.

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Following my graduation from business administration school, I began working in OPS/incident support. I progressed from business analyst to product manager over time. This experience was extremely beneficial to me. I mention this because, prior to beginning OPS, I had no knowledge of technique.

I believe that problem-solving, speaking, and experience are all beneficial. Consult with your OPS colleague and request an explanation of the incidents that are taking place. Attempt to comprehend the situation by inquiring about the numbers and the workings of it. Continue asking (ignorant) queries; eventually, something will make sense in your mind; therefore, you should not be concerned with your lack of comprehension; rather, persevere.

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Avoid becoming overly technical; arrogance stifles any potential for advancement into product leadership.
Acquire some knowledge of Android programming. There is a fantastic Brit on Udemy.
Potentially a stir.
Why use Android apps?
Because it provides an experience of the entire system as opposed to learning individual components. SQL, Java, front-end practices, and APIs will be covered.

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I became a Technical Product Manager for platform products after having a non-technical background. Although there are various ways to acquire technical knowledge, I recommend starting with reading Alex Xu’s book “System Design Interview”. It provides a comprehensive overview of system design concepts that are crucial for product managers in the tech industry. Additionally, networking with professionals in the field and attending workshops or online courses can also help bridge the gap between a non-technical background and a technical role.

In product management, knowing the system architecture is quite helpful. After that, master SQL to comprehend the process of coding. Having a solid understanding of system architecture will allow you to effectively communicate with engineers and make informed decisions. Mastering SQL will further enhance your technical skills and enable you to analyze data and contribute meaningfully to product development discussions. These skills will not only enhance your understanding of technical concepts but also make you a more effective product manager in a tech-driven industry. By continuously learning and improving your technical knowledge, you can stay competitive and adapt to the rapidly evolving landscape of technology.

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You ought to consider your areas of interest. The scope of the technical discipline is broad. Once you’ve decided where you want to go, you should make an effort to study on your own by reading books or attending trainings (which your present employer may offer), reaching out to colleagues and finding out how they got started. Networking with others in the industry can provide valuable insights and guidance on how to further develop your technical skills. Additionally, seeking out mentorship from experienced professionals can help you navigate the complexities of the tech industry and accelerate your learning process.

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Improving your technical skills as a product manager with a non-technical background is not uncommon, and there are several steps you can take to bridge the gap:

  1. Understand the Technology Stack:

    • Start by familiarizing yourself with the technology stack used in your platform product. Learn about the programming languages, databases, frameworks, and infrastructure components involved.
  2. Learn Basic Programming Concepts:

    • You don’t need to become a software developer, but having a basic understanding of programming concepts can be beneficial. Consider learning the fundamentals of languages like Python, JavaScript, or SQL.
  3. Engage with Your Technical Team:

    • Regularly communicate and collaborate with your technical team members. Ask questions, attend technical meetings, and seek their guidance to understand how the product works under the hood.
  4. Participate in Code Reviews:

    • If possible, involve yourself in code reviews to understand the codebase, coding standards, and best practices followed by your development team.
  5. Shadow Developers:

    • Spend time shadowing developers during their work to observe their process and gain insights into how they approach technical challenges and problem-solving.
  6. Attend Technical Workshops and Training:

    • Look for workshops, seminars, or online courses that cover relevant technical topics related to your product. Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, or Pluralsight offer courses on various technical subjects.
  7. Read Technical Documentation:

    • Dive into technical documentation related to your product, programming languages, frameworks, and industry standards. This can help you understand the technical aspects more deeply.
  8. Experiment with Hands-On Projects:

    • Consider working on small side projects or pet projects to apply your learning. This could involve building a simple web application, automating tasks using scripts, or analyzing data with basic programming.
  9. Stay Curious and Keep Learning:

    • Stay updated on the latest technology trends, industry news, and advancements in your field. Cultivate a mindset of continuous learning and improvement.
  10. Seek Mentorship:

    • Find a mentor within your organization or network who has a strong technical background. They can provide guidance, share their experiences, and offer personalized advice on how to improve your technical skills.
  11. Utilize Resources and Communities:

    • Take advantage of online resources, forums, and communities like Stack Overflow, GitHub, or Reddit to ask questions, seek help, and connect with other professionals in the tech industry.

By proactively engaging with technical concepts, collaborating with your team, and seeking out learning opportunities, you can gradually enhance your technical skills and become more effective in your role as a product manager. Remember that it’s a journey, and progress will come with consistent effort and dedication.

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I have a background in being very technical and have been product leader and I can feel your pain. The gap between technical and non-technical people seems huge, and it’s a lot because the language and thinking are very different.

As I have been coaching my product manager directs on exactly this topic for multiple year, I started writing about it (I’m planning to write a book).

I’m happily sharing the draft of the intro chapter “How to get technical” with you, maybe it vibes with you:

Think like a developer to work best with them

To bridge the gap between you as non-technical person and engineers, you have to first learn about their mindset and adopt yours accordingly.

The first principle is: Software is never simple!

Don’t get misled by things that say otherwise, like no-code tools, 1-click website installations, and AI tools. Developing is a craft and an art.

The Beginner Developer Mindset

Here is the right set of mindset that good developers have and that you should adopt as well:

  • There will always be a lot more technical things that you don’t know and don’t understand than you understand.
  • You always only know a fraction of everything, even in the area that you are specialized in.
  • You have to know and respect your technical limitations, be humble with the little that you actually understand.
  • Never say “I can code”, even after many years of coding. When you learned to write some simple scripts say “I just started and could solve a small challenge only”.
  • You have to learn continuously, there are new concepts and tools every day.
  • Focus on what works long-term and deep dive into it, not on the latest shiny thing.
  • You know just a tiny bit of one or two programming languages and there are many others and even in your programming languages there is so much that you don’t know.
  • You can know very little by heart, even experienced developers will search for solutions every single day.

How to get technical

There is a global set of rules that you can follow to become more technical, regardless of which technology or company you work on:

  • Dig deep into the technology that your current or former company is using and write down how others are describing its strengths and challenges.
  • Learn what you need, when you need it, and find the right method that suits you.
  • Research technical terms and concepts when they get used in your company, research them and find out how they relate to your work.
  • Ask a lot of questions to developers to understand how they are working and how stuff works.
  • Try technical things out yourself, expect it to fail and break.
  • Be aware that technical skills become less important due to improved development tools and processes and yet it still helps to understand the underlying concepts because you get more flexible and less dependent on specific solutions.
  • Stay updated on developments and trends through reading, listening, and watching others discussing and teaching it.
  • Take time to really do intro courses online, on boot camps or hackathons
  • Observe engineering meetings and discussions, both on what they talk about and how they do it.
  • Assume that actual code that is written in a large team of engineers is a lot more complicated than code that you write alone.
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Thank you all for your very helpful insights. Your comments have been very helpful and have added a great amount of knowledge. I look forward to putting your advice into practice and continuing to grow in my technical skills. Your support and guidance are greatly appreciated as I work towards advancing my career in the tech industry.
A big thanks once again to all of you.