Do product managers need to know how to code?

The need to understand the product domain

The need for a product manager to code depends on the product domain, i.e., the product topic. If what the product manager takes care of is a more technical product it is very important that the product manager has a technical background. Some product examples from Locaweb that are technical and needed a product manager with technical background are Website Hosting, Cloud Server and SMTP. However, even companies that do not sell technical products can have a part of their product with a more technical bias. At Conta Azul, we had APIs, integrations with fintechs (Iugu and Stone), and integration with the government finance systems in order to issue invoices, and at Gympass we had integration with gym management systems and HR systems. For these parts of the products, it is important to have a product manager with technical knowledge, since the main user of the product will be a technical person and the product objective is a technical objective.

The need to understand coding

If the product is not for coders, as I mentioned earlier, it is fine if the product manager does not know how to code. She can be an amazing product manager, achieve amazing results both for her users as well as for the company that owns the product without knowing how to code.

  • A good Formula 1 racer doesn’t need to know how the car works, but if he does, he can certainly use that knowledge to be a better driver.
  • Likewise, a guitar player does not need to know how to sing or play bass, drums, or piano to be a good guitarist, but most probably, this additional knowledge can help her be a better guitarist.

What about knowing SQL?

If the product manager doesn’t already know, she must learn SQL. Access to data is increasingly democratic in companies and knowing SQL is essential so that the product manager can enjoy the data independently, without having to ask others to create their charts and dashboards. When we put Metabase as a data democratization solution at Conta Azul, I was so excited that I spent a whole week going to sleep at 2:00 am, because I was creating charts and dashboards to better understand how Conta Azul products were used. It was so fun! (=

Summing up

  • The fact that 2 people disagree doesn’t necessarily mean that one them is wrong.
  • The product manager MUST understand about the domain of the product she manages. If it is a technical product, a product for coders, it will be very beneficial that the product manager if she knows how to code. If it is a product for accountants, the more she knows about accounting, the better.
  • If the product is not for coders, it is fine if the product manager does not know how to code. She can be an amazing product manager, achieve amazing results both for her users as well as for the company that owns the product without knowing how to code.
  • However, technical knowledge helps a product manager understand how the product is made, and most probably can help her to be a better product manager. The same way that a Formula 1 race drive doesn’t need to know mechanics, but can benefit from this knowledge during his races.
  • If the product manager doesn’t already know, she must learn SQL. Access to data is increasingly democratic in companies and knowing SQL is essential so that the product manager can enjoy the data independently, without having to ask others to create their charts and dashboards.

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Joca Torres

Joca Torres

Digital product development advisor, coach, and board member. Also an open water swimmer and ukulelist.