Transition from a non-technical PM to a technical PM

Hello all!

I am a junior level PM, looking to grow as a Technical PM. Technology has always fascinated me. I need your advice on how to transition from a non-technical PM to a technical PM

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I highly recommend checking out the free Stanford course on databases as a first step. What you learn here will help you with the theoretical and practical aspects of data persistence and analysis: Databases | Stanford Online

After that, I would learn the basics of the command line, then try to build a simple product in a language like Python. Check out the web framework Flask, for example, and try building a web app to solve a problem you have.

Your background sounds similar to my own, honestly. Happy to chat if you want to discuss in more detail. I have a treasure trove of resources that have aided me in learning the ins and outs of software development.

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@MarioRomero, Software development and system design are very different IMO. I think the direction depends heavily on what OP wants to learn.

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@MartyRoss, I know very little about system design, so there you go :). Agreed, it depends on what OP means by “technical”. Just sharing my own experience and what has allowed me to be fluent in software engineer talk.

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Google’s APM/PMs are expected to be fairly technical. I wouldn’t be able to say exactly where to go but taking a look at the training menus of people going into those roles to look where they learn or reinforce that technical knowledge & how they incorporate that into how they carry out PM responsibilities.

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My advice is to start with learning SQL. You will learn fundamentals of relational db design. Then build your own analytics reports with that knowledge. If you can do that successfully and want to learn more you will have the building blocks to start understanding other architectural concepts.

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@HeatherKurtz, +1 to this. SQL is pervasive in tech products and knowing how to bend it to your will should pay dividends for years.

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From my experience this advice is a great starting place. Although I didn’t set out to become a technical PM but understanding relational databases was like a key that unlocked so many other technical concepts. Now I am one of the most technical PMs on my team and being pigeonholed in back office/platform work is a trap I am always trying to escape.

Oh, two more things. Find a dev that is willing to explain everything. Let them know your interest in learning and ask as many questions as they will let you ask.

And if your org is anything like mine, it won’t be easy to get access to the data sets or applications you will want. I think there is resistance because granting a non tech access is like asking for a work to support that person. I can’t be sure, but I think I was able to overcome this obstacle by showing a willingness to troubleshoot for myself. The last thing I wanted to be thought of was an “end-user” that expected things to work and expected help when they didn’t. I acknowledged that I probably shouldn’t have access to these things based on my role and did whatever I could not to be a burden to those who get helped give me an in. People still helped, but on their own schedule and knew that I wasn’t going to escalate a situation if it took time.

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Why would you want to get an MBA? It feels like the opposite direction of your goals.

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@BethanyGrey, I would agree with this, I’m a Technical PM at Microsoft and none of my peers have MBAs, nor do I. I think some of the partner-level people have MBAs or startup experience. I think OP’s time/energy/money would be better spent doing coding classes if they’re interested in TPM.

FWIW There are some top-tier colleges that offer joint Master’s in Business and CS.

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All professionals have a core skill, the one they started as an apprentice, whether formally or informally. While you can learn new skills and flex into other types of jobs, your thinking is forever shaped by that core skill.

Engineers think differently from managers, who think differently from even more refined specializations such as finance and risk management.

I’m not saying you wouldn’t be successful as a technical PM. But you will have an uphill battle getting respect from your team because you never got your hands dirty before, and your first instincts under stress will be different: an engineer will try to solve the problem, whereas a manager will try to find who should solve the problem and track it.

Keeping your inherent limitations in mind will help you know where to focus your efforts.

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@DhirajMehta, I agree with a lot of what you are saying especially when it comes to thinking like a manager vs an engineer. I showed people around me that I would troubleshoot my own problems for hours before asking for help. And I learned a great deal by solving my own problems. I like to think I gained respect by not expecting someone to solve my problems.

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As per your ideal job, I think you should work more on getting some technical knowledge to communicate efficiently with the engineering team.

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Thank you all for sharing your insights. I think yes, I should get some basic technical skills, like some of you said start from SQL. Thank you once again for sharing your thoughts.