Aspiring and even current product managers frequently ask, "Do I need to learn to code?" There are multiple ways to answer this question, from which languages are highly relevant to a PM, to how technical you should actually be. The short answer is: Yes, there are many ways learning code helps product managers excel in their jobs.
Here are six reasons why learning code makes good product managers great:
Walking the Talk
Knowing even a bit of code breaks down communication barriers between you and your development team. PMs can essentially speak their language and be able to hold more productive and meaningful conversations about product development. Being able to "walk the talk" is also extremely important for other reasons outlined below.
Understanding = Effectiveness
Along with stronger communication comes a better understanding, not only of your engineers, but of their day-to-day lives. By being able to understand their everyday challenges and have deeper technical insight, you'll be able to detect potential problems and ways to reduce roadblocks, in order to help them perform their jobs more effectively. This deeper grasp will also make you more effective in your job overall.
The main responsibility of a product manager is to add value when building a product for your users. You have to listen to feedback, and then decide which features are the most important to put on the product roadmap. Likewise, you must be able to listen to developers, empathize with them and know how and where you can add value to their projects. Grasping how to code gives you greater insight for each situation - whether it's deciding to remove a feature or allowing space and time to come up with new solutions.
Building a software product takes time. You will never truly understand how much time is invested in building a feature if you've never faced the complexity of writing perfect code and getting everything to work. Sometimes it can take two days to get even a small element to work properly. Having a foundation of code gives you a stronger grasp on how much time a project will take so you can clearly define sprints and help your developers do their job.
Having enough coding knowledge will also help you better understand your users. You'll be able to translate complex technical solutions into an simple list of benefits for your customers. Understanding code will also help you talk to customers by giving them a better idea of what features are more realistic for your product, and how long it will take to implement them - because you are a "tech-and-people" person.
A product manager's ability to earn respect from her/his engineers can't be overstated. Your developers and you need to speak a common language, and knowing code helps quite a bit. If you're able to talk about functionality, interfaces, design, and effects clearly, you'll avoid a lot mistrust within the team. Your job is to know what you are talking about, and this is where knowing code makes you stand out even more.
Tina Egolf, Product Manager and self-proclaimed Geekette, explains, "The best software - as the best design - will always be the one that effortlessly recedes into the background and 'just works.' But to get there, thousands of small, unseen improvements need to be made that collectively create a better product. Do they matter? Absolutely! But if we focus only on the visible output or the one we (as non-tech people) understand, it's not a surprise that engineers will build a parallel structure of recognition and reward among their peers, which easily turns into a silo."
Coding is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after skills in the tech industry, and more and more companies are seeing its value. Whether the goal is to gain understanding, earn respect, or know the time it takes to build something, coding is essential to almost every career in tech. At the end of the day, one thing is certain: learning an extra skill helps your career in the tech industry.
About the Author
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia is author of The Product Book and Founder of Product School, which provides product management training at 14 campuses worldwide.