Moving from more or less senior positions to product

I’m considering a career in product and wonder about the feasibility of moving from senior roles to product roles. I’m considering a scenario where someone starts in a sales engineering or solutions consulting position and eventually moves to a senior sales engineer position. I’m also considering the possibility of a Director of SE transitioning to a Director of Product. I’m trying to calculate the opportunity costs of not entering a product manager position in the near future, as I may receive a sales engineer offer sooner than a product manager. I believe there are many factors at play in this situation.

I’d like your professional advice.


A lot depends on the company’s size. Generally speaking, being a senior does not automatically qualify you to be a senior or even a director PM. Having said that, you can get transferred into any organization you desire if the founders’ CxOs like you.

Because the founder liked them and they did well in other areas, I was frequently surpassed by a vice president of “x” despite their lack of product experience. Irritates me to the core.


@NatashaMartin, I see! To sum up, it appears that, in your experience, political processes within the organization are more likely to be to blame than actual experience.
My gut feeling is that it’s obviously simpler to transition from a senior position, like a senior accountant, to something completely different. I mean, I know that not everything transfers well, but some things do convert into Product more well than others. I’m hoping that you can provide some specific examples or insights into how certain skills or experiences from a senior accountant role can be effectively applied in a product-related position. Additionally, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on any challenges or obstacles that individuals may face when making this type of transition.


In some roles, if you pivot, you start over. This means that changing your direction or focus in certain positions may require you to completely reset and begin anew. This can be challenging but also presents an opportunity for growth and exploration in different areas.


@MatthewShun, your answer implies that not all roles are hopeful enough. But that makes sense because not all roles offer the same level of potential for growth and fulfillment. Some roles may be more stagnant or unfulfilling, while others may provide greater opportunities for personal and professional development. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider the specific role in question and assess its potential for hopefulness before drawing any conclusions.


The other experience you bring to the table will determine everything, yes.

For instance, if a PM switches to coding, they should plan to start at a junior level salary because, at that time, their employer will only value their recent coding skills at that level.

However, even if they have minimal product theory or experience, a solution architect in a certain area could be highly appreciated in the product organization of a company in that industry.


According to me, absolutely; perhaps not a senior post directly, but no junior.

Because of your exposure and experience, you have seen both good and awful examples of how to do things. You have probably at least heard the phrase and seen PMs in action at work.

In the mentioned field, you might even be a SME PM.

So, certainly, I see this occurring, and I’ve witnessed many designers and analysts make the shift to become extremely great project managers.


It depends significantly on your organization and skill set. A SPM-level employee might be paid the same as a director of sales because PM levels and sales levels are not often equivalent.

Since the competition is typically higher and you don’t already have PM expertise, it is always preferable to start out in project management early and advance through the ranks.


I can notice a more regular lateral transition in certain relatively close-by fields. But if you come from a field like sales engineering, which isn’t quite adjacent, in my perspective, I’d view this as a career pivot and assume you’d start as a less experienced IC. You already have work experience and likely know how to conduct yourself professionally, so this isn’t entry-level, but otherwise this would be a fresh start. Transitioning from a field like sales engineering to a relatively close-by field may require some additional learning and skill development. However, your previous work experience and professionalism will give you a strong foundation to build upon in this new career pivot. It’s important to approach this fresh start with an open mind and willingness to adapt to the specific demands of the new field.


Transitioning from a sales engineering or solutions consulting role to a product management role is definitely possible, but it does involve some considerations and potential trade-offs. Here are some key factors to weigh when making this decision:

  1. Skill Set: Assess your current skills and the skills required for a product management role. While there is some overlap, product managers typically need skills in market research, customer insights, strategic thinking, and product development. Evaluate whether you possess these skills or can develop them over time.

  2. Experience: Your experience in sales engineering or solutions consulting can be valuable in product management. Understanding customer needs and pain points is a significant advantage. Highlight your customer-centric experience when transitioning.

  3. Networking: Building relationships with product managers and others in the product development field can be beneficial. Networking can help you learn about opportunities, gain insights, and possibly receive mentorship.

  4. Education: Consider whether you need additional education or certifications in product management. Some professionals pursue courses or certifications to gain credibility in the field.

  5. Timing: Understand that the transition may take time. Moving into a senior sales engineer or director role can provide you with valuable leadership experience that can be transferable to product management.

  6. Career Goals: Define your long-term career goals. If you are passionate about product management and see it as your ultimate career destination, it might be worth pursuing product management roles sooner. However, if you value your current career path and see opportunities for growth and fulfillment, staying in sales engineering or solutions consulting could be a viable choice.

  7. Opportunity Cost: As you mentioned, consider the opportunity cost of waiting for a product manager offer. Weigh the pros and cons of taking a sales engineering position now versus waiting for a product management role. Evaluate factors like salary, job satisfaction, and career trajectory.

  8. Transferable Skills: Highlight transferable skills on your resume and during interviews. Emphasize your ability to gather and analyze customer feedback, make data-driven decisions, and work collaboratively with cross-functional teams – skills that are highly valuable in product management.

  9. Mentorship and Guidance: Seek out mentors who have made similar transitions or have experience in both sales engineering and product management. They can provide valuable insights and advice tailored to your situation.

  10. Continuous Learning: Regardless of your decision, continue to learn about product management. Read books, articles, and attend webinars or workshops to stay informed about industry trends and best practices.

thus, the feasibility of transitioning from a senior sales engineering role to a product management role depends on your individual circumstances, dedication, and the opportunities that arise. It’s essential to carefully weigh the factors mentioned above and make a decision that aligns with your career goals and aspirations. Remember that career paths are not always linear, and experiences gained in one role can contribute positively to another.


@BinaCampos, that would presumably depend on the type of firm, right? I can see how the shift is not at all natural in B2C, yet sales engineers work with goods constantly in B2B. To be clear, I don’t mean account executives; I’m talking about technical sales roles like solution engineers or solution consultants. In B2C, the focus is more on direct consumer interactions and building relationships, whereas in B2B, technical sales roles like solution engineers or solution consultants play a crucial role in understanding complex products and providing customized solutions to businesses. These roles require a deep understanding of the technical aspects of the goods being sold and the ability to effectively communicate their value to potential clients.

I recently witnessed a large number of friends transition from SE to PM, although I suppose this is just my personal experience and may not be indicative of broader industry trends. Transitioning from a solution engineer or consultant role to a product management position can be a natural progression for individuals looking to broaden their skill set and take on new challenges. This shift allows professionals to leverage their technical expertise while also gaining a deeper understanding of market demands and customer needs. However, it’s important to note that career paths can vary greatly in the industry, and individual experiences may not necessarily reflect overall trends.

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Well of course within the same company or with significant experience in the industry, that helps.

But also, if you already have the ground truth for what’s possible, why are you asking us?

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Fair enough, I believe I entered the discussion with some ideas I wanted to test and obtain a diversity of viewpoints about (while remaining open-minded about), but you made a good argument. It’s an excellent callout because I believe my prior comment may have contained some emotional bias.

However, I believe that philosophically, we are in agreement because the focus of my query was internal transition. Since you lose the advantage of understanding the firm or industry but still lack direct PMing experience, it appears that transition is much less lateral once you’re talking about various companies and industries.

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Yep, internal is going to definitely be easier. Plus your seniority will be respected.

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I see! What a relief to know that! Many thanks!

I suppose I’ll ask a quick follow-up query. Let’s imagine you work as SE for a couple of years before switching internally to PM and keeping the majority of your pay. What impression do prospective employers have of your experience? Are you treated as “a guy who only has 1 year in product” or do years spent in other fields of employment count?

Let’s perhaps use a more concrete illustration:

Say I switch to product internally and make 140k (pay cut) after working for a year while earning 150k as a SE. Can I anticipate being hired for a 160k product job externally after that? Or will it be anything along the lines of, “Oh, this guy has only 1 year in product, which to us is the same as almost a new graduate” or something similar?

I’m curious to know if you have any opinions on this.