How I transitioned from software engineering to product management

A story of passion, determination, and courage.

“May you have the courage and determination to pursue what you are really passionate about” – Anonymous

I’ve always enjoyed talking strategy. As a software engineer, I would typically find myself having the desire to be part of the strategic decision making and slight dissatisfaction when I am just handed tasks based on the outcome of business decisions. In building out features, I became more and more interested in knowing how users interacted with those features and if they made sense from the user’s perspective. When developing, I’d typically wonder on questions like “how do users feel with this feature”, “Are the users interacting more with this feature we just built?”, “Does this make sense to the user?”,”Is the intention clear enough?”. I enjoy solving technical challenges and I wanted to be that guy whose job it was to understand the user and write up the specs rather than be that guy who receives the specs to write the code in solving those challenge. When developing features, I began to realize that I was more passionate and more willing to discuss “what we were building” and “why we were building it” than I was willing to discuss “how we were building it”. I have always enjoyed mathematics and logic and was already a good engineer but a lesson that became a reality for me was that though you may be good at something, it doesn’t mean that you necessary enjoy it. I had discovered something else that appealed to me, I cared more about the product’s impact on the user than the tool’s impact on how I was building the product. From then on, all I could think about was how to make my new found passion my everyday job. My journey from engineering to product management started with passion then determination and finally ending with the courage to make the switch.

Passion: Getting the education

It is said that luck is when preparedness meets opportunity and while I’m tempted to say that I was lucky to be able to make this career switch, there was a level of preparedness I had to go through. My journey into product management started from educating myself on what product management was about. To excel at anything, you need some sort of education and my drive at this moment was to get as much education as I could. When trying to learn something new, one can never underestimate the power of community and two communities I found useful while learning (still learning) were Mind The Product and Product Coalition. These are communities that feature articles on product management written by product managers for aspiring and experienced product managers.

There are different routes in getting an education. Sometimes it has to be the paid route and sometimes you could get a free education but what is important is that you get the right education. For what I wanted to do, I was indeed getting the education I needed but even at that, I had to seek out ways to practice what I was learning. You lose what you don’t use.

Determination: Do the deed to get the deal

When working to gain a promotion, the path is typically being able to prove oneself as being able to take on the added responsibility of the promotion before actually getting promoted. The old adage “dress for the job you want” can be interpreted as performing at the level you want to get to and not just at the level you are.

I was a software developer trying to transition into product management where the job functions of a product manager were in no way part of my job description as a software developer. Fortunately, I was surrounded by product managers and was able to perform little tasks that were more product facing in my daily work. My accelerated learning into product management was when I was able to intern/volunteer as a product lead for one of our internal products at my current company. An opportunity came up for engineers like myself to act as product leads for some of the tools we build internally and though I knew it would be like working two jobs, it was an opportunity I wasn’t going to let pass. I was able to do this for 6 months putting into practice all I had been learning and it became clearer to me that this is what I wanted to be doing full time. Six months later, my time as a product lead proved useful when I was making the full switch from engineering to product management.

NB: Never underestimate the learnings that come from interning/being a volunteer. If you are trying to build up a skill you don’t have, seek internships/volunteering opportunities. If you get ones that pay, congrats but don’t let the ones that don’t pay deter you. Your goal during this period is to skill up so that you have that negotiating power once you’ve acquired the necessary skills.

Courage: Take that leap, make that decision, go for it (you are probably already good enough)

“No” is the one word that we all dread. It’s crushing, yes and sometimes good for us (I admit it is hard to see why at the moment when we first receive a no, till we’ve had time to think about it). “What if I get a no?” is the one thought that makes us miss 100% of the chances we would have otherwise taken.

I was ready to make a career switch, at least I think I was. I was ready to move from what I had built up competency in into something that was a green field for me, then my chance came. I saw an opening for a product coordinator role at Andela, I saw it as my chance to make the switch. The competition was going to be with external applicants and I imagined that some already had experience with product management. I wasn’t even sure I was going to get it and I was a bit scared before applying. “What if they say no?”.

I had the basic qualifications for the job role and because I had worked with the department in a product capacity prior, I felt a little bit of confidence to push my application through. Needless to say that it was a good thing I went ahead to submit my application for the role because a month and 3 interviews later I got an offer.

Without the courage to do, we’ll be in that constant loop of what if?.

Every journey has lessons along the way, don’t neglect them as they form the stories that will encourage others someday.

Olufunmilade is a product leader and currently a product coordinator at Andela. 

Starting with an engineering background, his curiosity about how users engage with the products he builds led him down the path of product management. Now he stands at the intersection of technology, business and users ensuring that the right thing is built for users at all times.

Olufunmilade also loves to write and you can catch up on his latest writings on Medium.

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