How to Transition ​from Engineering to Product by Rubrik’s Product Manager

Transitioning from an Engineering background to a PM background could be challenging. It requires understanding bitter truths. The first realization is that your company is likely more interested in business growth than in specifically employing the best software you can write. This is funny because there will also be times when you will question if you’re adding value to the company when you’re not writing code.

In this article, Praveer takes you on his journey from being an Engineer to a PM and shares his learnings and tips to help complete this big transition.

Make sure to pay attention to his full presentation on managing a tech transition to PM.

13 Years Building Products at Cisco

Praveer Chaturvedi is a Product Manager with a tech/engineering background. He spent 9 years creating and networking security products as an Engineer and then the next 5 years launching and selling them as a Cyber Security Product Manager. He is currently Principal Product Manager at Rubrik, a cloud data management company. He has been responsible for growing a $120 M business and offering analyses of new market entry strategies while mentoring new PMs. Outside work, Praveer is a certified Scuba diver, enjoys hiking, vegan food & critically acclaimed movies.

network cables going into a server

Story: The Beginnings and Takeaways

Praveer summarizes his life as an Engineer, how he was working virtually in a bubble, and what he realized later about looking at the bigger picture.

  • College: Praveer was a Linux Enthusiast in College and worked on several of his own projects.
  • First Job: His first job was at a startup in the Industrial IoT space. There he created a Linux based micro-controller for Heavy Industries. This gave him more confidence about his Linux skills.
  • Second Job: Then, Praveer joined Cisco Systems and helped modularize the legacy code and created shared micro services for different Business Units.
  • Third Job: Within Cisco, he changed his BU and moved to the Security Group where he developed a standalone Intrusion Prevention System. This felt like his first great achievement in the tech sphere.

Praveer’s perspective about a product changed when he was confronted with multiple questions by a PM who was responsible for deploying the standalone Intrusion Prevention System that he had created.

He was asked a series of questions about the problem this product was solving, the impact it would have, the decisions that were made to build this product and the methods to measure the success of this product. This made him realize that he had been in a bubble for so long and it was finally time to break free from it.

Takeaways:

  • In large organizations, there are several people between a customer and a product builder which often limits the understanding of customer requirements. What you build for a product could be just a tiny feature which may or may not have an impact on the customer.
  • Another takeaway for engineers is to understand that companies are here to make money. It is not about writing the best software but it is about writing software that sells.
  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Sometimes, not every feature needs to be a 100% optimized because it might be of no use to the customer.
hooded person in front of computer screens with code

Story: Inflection Point and Takeaways

At this point, Praveer took a break and spent time reflecting on his perspectives about a product.

He decided to transform these insights during his time as an Engineer into Life Goals. Praveer was offered a PM internship under his PM mentor for 6 months. This is where he could experiment and decide if he wanted to do the transition.

He took up the internship offer and found himself in an ocean of questions! If he wasn’t writing code, was he actually delivering? Who are the people sending him multiple emails and why is he responsible to answer them? Was he supposed to give his opinion/decision at team meetings? Bottom line – he felt like he wasn’t adding value to the company.

Takeaways:

  • Being a PM is not a prescriptive role. You are not told what to do, you need to figure it out; unlike Engineering where you’re told what to do.
  • Understand what’s important and what’s not. Understand how the whole business functions end to end. Then, you will know how to contextualize emails and can Do, Defer, Delegate, and Delete emails accordingly.
  • Have end-to-end visibility of the product lifecycle.
  • Be patient. The feeling of accomplishment will eventually come.
half-closed laptop with red lights

What do PMs Really do?

  • There are different kinds of roles PMs can get assigned to but there is no definite answer as to what PMs are supposed to do. It depends on how big your company is and which business functions you are running.
  • In an Inbound role, you’re not talking directly to the customers and are mostly concentrating on building the product.
  • In an Outbound role, you spend more time interacting with customers and other external stakeholders, rather than with the development of the product.
  • If you’re transitioning from an Engineering background, it is easier for you to be in the Inbound-Technical role because you have the technical skills for it. In an Inbound Technical role, you’re often the Technical Leader of your product but you also know the customer requirements.
  • In an Inbound-Business role, you’re more into doing competitive analysis of different products and not into the technical aspects of it.
  • In an Outbound-Technical role, you’re mostly responsible for Technical Marketing, Sales Enablement, and Product Deployment.
  • In an Outbound-Business role, you are more into Product Marketing and hence, having an MBA degree will be useful.
  • A PM influences all the functions of an organization like R&D, Sales, Marketing, and Operations.
network cables connected into server

Tips

  • To be an effective PM, you need to have familiarity in all the domains and expertise in some of them.
  • It is important to study the markets where your product will be launched. For example, if yours is an Audio Mic company, you need to understand how many mics are being made, who the users are, what the market segmentation looks like, and study Analytics reports by Gartner, etc. It is critical for PMs to understand the value proposition, growth, size of the market and, of course, the product.
  • Most of your learning comes from peers, friends, and other PMs.


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