Leveraging a CS Master's for an Aspiring PM

After speaking to several PM’s, the value of a CS Master’s is highly controversial. A lot of them argue that it is incredibly excessive despite my focus on more high level courses.

So my question is, how do I leverage my technical knowledge into a traditional PM position (not necessarily pursuing technical PM). Would love to hear advice from PM’s who came from a technical background as to getting their foot in the door as a PM.


Ah, the eternal question : How technical should a PM be?

This question elicits passionate responses from across both sides of the table. I get lots of DMs on twitter on this question alone.

Based on my experience - there are two schools of thought around this :point_down:

  1. (majority view) Being too technical actually distracts a PM from what they should really be working on — strategy, Roadmap, competitive Analysis, defining what to build.
  2. (some believe) Technical skills are superpowers for a PM that helps them do the job better.

But as with most other things around us, the answer to this question is not binary.

Based on my experience building and managing products f(10+ years, B2B Software, Hardware) , I strongly believe that Product Managers should in fact prioritize building certain technical skills. Specifically, technical skills that

  • That helps them build products that customers love
  • Helps them be a solid bridge between Engineers and “Management”
  • that helps 10x their productivity
  • that creates professional and personal leverage and builds optionality for their careers

I came across an entire post on this topic - since this is one of the more recurring questions aspiring PMs have. For me these are the tech skills that can really be superpowers for a PM:

  • Automated Data Extraction (since as PM you need data (lots of it) to make decisions)
  • Setting up A/B Tests (most people don’t do it right)
  • Understanding Tech Stacks (so you understand what great looks like, given a use case)
  • Building Prototypes (nothing conveys an idea better than letting people touch, feel and even use your vision )
  • How APIs work (APIs are game changing-and PMs must ack the power to understand what’s possible)
  • Learn to code (nothing fancy - just a basic web app) ( helps PMs understand the laborious process of building something. It helps you become a better decision-maker and really see that your business decisions have consequences )

@MichaelYoffe, Thanks so much for the detailed response, and really appreciate the link to your post, it was super helpful.

When you say that PMs should focus on being a bridge between engineers and management do you mean in terms of being a good communicator? And, I’m a bit confused on the “that creates professional and personal leverage and builds optionality for their careers” part.

  • Yes, in terms of simplifying technical concepts. Most of your stakeholders outside engineering wont speak engineering lingo. PM is the bridge that deconstructs and simplifies.
  • “On career optionality” - There are many PMs that after a few years of PM experience want to become entrepreneurs / build their own company. The technical skills makes this transition easier when you are bootstrapping and all hands are on deck. That’s the leverage I was talking about. I am glad you found the post helpful.

Good luck!


I think you need to think about some milestones along your career path. What are roles that you actually are striving for and how does CS masters support that? I personally think the best PMs are strong communicators and are tech savvy.


@Felipe, Appreciate it! When you say tech savvy, do you mean in regards to understanding the latest trends, or more so understanding what goes under the hood?


@Pauline, My experience has been that engineering values people who have been or are in the trenches with them. Speaking the same lingo is really helpful in actually shipping.


I’m curious what do you think a CS masters will help you accomplish in being a PM in your opinion? As well as what kind of product interest do you have currently (if any)?

Fwiw I had a CS undergrad, a few tech internships, and am now a PM at a B2B devtool company so happy to answer any questions you have specifically.


@AmyWalker, In all honesty, I joined the CS program to career swap into software engineering for a few years before going into PM as I thought that was the norm, but once in the program I discovered that companies were looking for PMs straight out of college so I figured why waste a few years coding when I can just go directly into what I want to do.

I would love to hear your experience beginning your PM career. How did you get your first PM gig and is there anything you would have done differently?


Ah gotcha @Pauline - I’m assuming your background before your masters was non-CS. I’d imagine these days there’s both strong pipelines in SWE → PM and straight to APM. I personally agree that it’s not worth spending time doing engineering if you know your passion lives in product, that being said I know it’s easier said than done.

Before graduating my undergrad I applied for basically any PM intern program that would take my resume. I think it helped that I had some decent SWE intern background which landed me a few interviews and I ultimately took a summer to intern at MSFT. I had a return offer but opted to do my own startups out of college with varying degrees of success. In response to your other comment in the other post - I also eventually wanted to join a more established startup to get a bit more guidance under more seasoned PMs which is my current role. With that I applied to a ton of positions (close to 100), had a few PM/APM offers and took the APM offer and got promoted within a year.

In terms of what I would’ve done differently - honestly I’m pretty happy with where I’ve landed. I question if doing a startup right out of college was the most efficient use of my time. While the experience was definitely invaluable, I think I would’ve been a lot more successful if I cut my teeth in industry for a few years while racking up some decent income/YoE before embarking on my own. But that’s really dependent on your personal experience and capabilities. Possibly beyond that I always regret not networking more in the opportunities I’ve had, I think that would’ve helped me gain better advice in terms of growing myself and also make my job-seeking experience a lot easier :slight_smile:

I’ve additionally benefitted a lot having a technical background where our company’s target audience are developers. It has helped a lot in empathizing with our users and customers, as well as of course my own engineering team.

Hope that helps!


Thank you so much @Pauline, this post is going to help a lot. Its always incredibly helpful to hear what worked for others. Thanks once again.

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