Product Management

How technical a Technical Product Manager should be ?

There is a lot of discussion about how technical a Product Manager should be. Heck, you can even follow courses as a Product Manager to pick up technical skills, whatever that means. In this article, I will share with you my take on a subset of this question: How technical should you be as a Technical Product Manager.

TL;DR: It depends, not that much to be honest.

First, who the heck am I to speak about this? Well, I worked in tech for the last 10 years as a Software Engineer, a Founder and I am now what I would call a ML Product Manager. My day-to-day job and background would fit with the main definition of Technical Product Manager.

What is the difference between a Product Manager and a Technical Product Manager?

I found two different but relevant definitions for a Technical Product Manager. A Technical Product Manager is

  • A Product Manager with a strong technical background.
  • A Product Manager focused on the more technical aspects of a product.

Basically, a Technical Product Manager role would exist in an organization when the product management team is large enough to support specialization.

Since I also found a few misleading definitions, I want to stress right here and right now that a TPM is not someone working on the « How ? » while a PM is working on the « Why ? ».

Shades of Technical Product Manager

There are 3 different shades of TPM:

  • PM focused on a specific technology (being ML/AI, blockchain or even APIs, …)
  • PM handling internal products for other technical teams (Data platforms, delivery pipelines, …)
  • PM working on a product used or bought by technical customers (Dev productivity tools, APIs, …)

Obviously, some people would fit the bill without having « technical » on their job title, and, au contraire, I am sure there are TPMs who don’t match the description above.

Technical or Technical-Technical?

There are also different shades of Technical. We can all agree a Data Science background is not the same as having Front-end experience or being a Technical Writer. But there is still a common ground to be found. It is all about the adjacent skills you pick up with a STEM background or having a technical position like:

  • Systemic thinking
  • Problem solving
  • First-order and second-order logic

Even if you did not learn them formally, analytical-type skills are used intensively in STEM or during technical work.

Since the work of a PM is often presented as being at the intersection of UX, Technology, and Business, we could say the superpower of a Technical PM is to have an extensive experience with the issue users are facing and have an intuition (if not a formal understanding) of the sociotechnical systems in Tech.

A fancy way to say that you don’t have to know how to code to be a good TPM. You also don’t have to be a Data Scientist to handle the day-to-day work on a data-powered product. But having a domain expertise, being familiar with the tech stack used or having experimented at first hand the day-to-day of your users is clearly nothing to sneeze at.