To learn to code or not?

(Pranjali Anil Deshpande) #1

Pros and Cons of learning to code [or relearning if you’ve been out of touch for a while] for a product manager. Has it helped you do side projects on your own? Does that learning help with your current products you are managing as a PM?

(Dhruv Vasishtha) #2

It depends, working on enterprise SaaS I’ve found its far more important to understand business needs, the end user experience, supporting sales and marketing teams, and from a technical perspective - the architecture. Of course learning to code would be beneficial in working with my engineering teams but I would much rather support them by removing obstacles preventing them from developing faster as opposed to the more soft “I understand my products better because I can code”. Just my .02

(Sami Rageb) #3

For a PM, the most valuable thing about coding is understanding concepts and the process. Learning to code isn’t likely to be a very practical use of your time. (unless you really want to learn for yourself)

I recommend shadowing developers (or watching YT videos) to see the process a developer goes through when they code. You’ll see it’s very trial & error and filled with quick fixes and brick walls.

I definitely agree with what @Dhruv said, but part of being an effective PM is earning the respect & trust of your team by understanding what they do, how they do it, and what they need to be effective. The sooner you can think like a developer the better things will be with your relationships among the team, and the better you’ll be able to identify risks that could jeopardize schedules, quality, etc.

(Gene Matthews) #4

I was a developer for five years then drifted into management for 10+ years, and started doing product management in the mobile space about three years ago.

I definitely see value in (re)learning to code. I picked up Android and Rails books last year and built some demo apps and it enabled me to have more informed conversations with developers. This in turn leads to more trust and respect, per Sami.

It also gives you more confidence. There are lots of people in the industry who feel that PMs at every level need to be hands on with coding. I don’t agree, especially if you come from an engineering background, but I do feel stronger having gone through a ‘refresh’. When developers talk detail, I have a clearer understanding of where they are at. And I have a better feel for the effort to implement features now that I know Android and Rails better.

That said, I am not a coder and I don’t see much value becoming one. To be good, you need to be doing it all the time. Your goal as a PM should be to gain familiarity - with languages, processes, and tools your team use.

The big challenge is time. To get back into coding, you have to build an environment from the ground up. (And yes, it helps if you have a side project of some sort to focus on.) I wanted to extract data from our Postgres database we have hosted on Heroku. To do this I started by setting up a virtual Linux machine on my PC. After figuring that out, I had to re-familiarize myself with UNIX and shell scripting. I then had to install Heroku’s tools and learn how to navigate that. I then had to study postgres SQL which is a far cry from the Sybase SQL I used way back. I then wanted to check my scripts into source control so I had to learn about Git and Github. There’s a lot here. You can’t just put in an couple of hours a week.

Sami’s suggestion of shadowing a developer is a great place to start, and if you do choose to go further, partnering with one will help alleviate some of the pain. It is rewarding so if you have the time and interest, I’d encourage you to give it a shot.


(Arun Basil Lal) #5

I would always recommend learning it if you can. In the process you will understand the theory and processes as well.

I am a developer and it is so much easier to work with a product manager who knows coding.

The only people I would prefer in the team who doesn’t know coding are members of the sales and marketing team. Most end users doesn’t really care about underlying technology and sales people should be able to connect with what excites them. In many cases in my limited experience I have seen that not knowing the tech side of things is often beneficial.

(Michael Levett) #6

Learning how to code has improved my career greatly in terms of knowing exactly how something works in the back/front end, especially for contributing ideas to projects meaning that they’re not immediately shut down or discredited.

Just a few hours here and there every week does wonders for your personal development. Good luck! I can recommend Treehouse as an excellent beginning.