Friday, December 23, 2005

Product managers are software developers too!

On Wednesday night I was out drinking with ACCU members in London. For those of you who don’t know the ACCU I’d better explain. It is an association of professional developers, for my money the members are among the best software engineers in the world. Great people, if you ever get the chance to hire an ACCU member then do so, they share a passion for software development, improvement and learning.

But, as I’ve said here before I am no longer a software engineer – I am a Product Manager. And I got my legged pulled a bit on Wednesday night for that!

Perhaps I should give up my ACCU membership and my association with so many engineers. Certainly I don’t find articles in the ACCU magazines as interesting as I did – too many curly braces! – my interests have changed.

Now there is no rule that Product Managers can’t associate themselves with such groups but there is no such thing as a free lunch, if I am to embrace my new role and identity I need to give up some stuff. Every time I associate myself with my old role I’m not embracing the new.

But actually, I am still a software developer, I’m still helping develop software, I’m just doing it differently.

I’ve always preferred the title Software Developer to Software Engineer. Two reasons really, firstly, I’ve always had my doubts about how much engineering really goes on when writing software. Secondly, and more relevant here, I’ve always been aware of the other stuff that goes on.

Developing software isn’t just about cutting-code. Its about customer requirements, their problems, packaging, delivery, marketing, solving problems and introducing change.

Now I’m a Product Manager I’m concerned with: My customers, their problems and what software can do to solve their problems (which means change.)

So I’m still developing software but I am at a different place in the food chain.

I’m not really that unusual, a lot of product managers have a engineering background – and a lot have an MBA so really I’m not unusual - I’m dangerously close to being typical!

In some ways my engineering background might be a disadvantage. If I don’t jettison some of the old identity – the bit that wants to engineer and change code – I risk focusing on the wrong things. It is so much easier to stay in the comfort zone of what I have done before, to hide behind the technical rather than focus on the customer and do new things.

Failing to focus on the customer is probably one of the oldest (the oldest?) failure modes there is – both in software and in business generally.