Many product management roles list a requirement for a degree in computer science. At first this might seem baffling: coding isn’t a regular part of a product manager’s job, so why don’t companies loosen up that requirement to find someone who truly excels at the core product management skills?
Here’s the simple answer: many people without a background in computer science struggle to form a strong working relationship with engineers. All of those excellent product management skills will go to waste if the product manager alienates his engineers and can’t earn their respect. Product management is a job where you have to lead without authority. The only way to get great work done is to bring the team onboard with your vision.
That said, a computer science degree isn’t a magic bullet for forming great relationships with engineers, and it’s possible to be a great product manager without a technical background. Companies tend to use technical experience as a proxy for the real qualities they’re looking for:
Able to form a relationship of mutual respect with engineers.
Companies almost always hire a product manager to join a team of engineers who already work for the company. They’re not willing to hire someone who won’t get along with the team or who can’t earn the respect of the team.
Good intuition on how long engineering work should take.
A good product manager understands the technical framework he’s working with and can help the team prioritize and make tradeoffs between the time spent on engineering and the value of that work to the customer.
Scrappy and Self-Sufficient.
Great product managers are action-oriented and passionate about delivering results. They will try to take care of what they can themselves, whether that’s gathering data or fixing typos in the product. This frees up developers from the more tedious tasks so they’ll be able to do more valuable work.