A Career in Transition

For nearly 15 years, I’ve called myself a web developer. The twelve years of this blog’s existence is a testament to that. I’ve written hundreds of blog posts that document my trials and tribulations with web development.

In those 15 years I’ve had job titles like Technical Architect, Project Manager, Lead Designer, and even Director of Technology. Underneath it all, though, I just built web sites. Ask me what I did and I’d tell you that I was a web developer, fancy job title be damned.

Over a month ago, I took a new title: Product Manager.

When I accepted the new position, I still thought I’d spend time coding and designing and… well, being a web developer.

What has transpired, however, was something quite unexpected.

From customers, to support, to our team, to other teams, managing a product requires a great deal of coordination. I’m contributing on the forums, I’m assisting with blog post announcements, I’m writing emails keeping everybody abreast of how things are going, and I’m talking to everybody to get their feedback into what we’re building.

It also requires plenty of research. We have a data team that I can request this report or that. We do A/B testing. We do user experience research. Plenty of reports to scour over. It’s quite fun to dissect problems based on numbers.

But I’m not coding anymore. And I’m feeling a little uneasy about it.

Now, my life certainly isn’t devoid of development. I still hop into code reviews. I frequently use the SQL console to whip together queries that join a half-dozen tables to piece together what I need. I’ve been able to commit a few small pull requests. And I like to push myself with a personal project from time to time.

But my day-to-day life is not coding.

Why does this make me uneasy? Because I’ve always shared my experience as a web developer and I suddenly find myself wondering how long I can continue to do that. I am, after all, speaking at a number of conferences this year on web development.

I am, however, enjoying my role as a product manager. I’m excited to see what will come of it.

It’s a career in transition.

Published March 09, 2013
Categorized as Personal
Short URL: http://snook.ca/s/1027

Conversation

8 Comments · RSS feed
Luke Dorny said on March 09, 2013

Interesting. I've been thinking on this the last few years, too.
While I like to think of myself as someone who "does", there is definitely a reward in being on a product from beginnings or from the planning stage of the new iteration, and holding the reins to guide and push the envelope as it grows into something more than it was. It's very rewarding. Best of luck moving forwards, Jon.

Jeremy Sisson said on March 09, 2013

I had this very change about 3 years ago, getting into PM was great. There are lots of ways PM and development challenges overlap, so there was a transition, but the problem solving aspects were still important.

The biggest challenge was coping with problems and outcomes that weren't as well defined. When you develop, you usually have a result you are working toward, and you know what success means. As a PM, there are more guesses and decisions were based on less info than I was initially comfortable with.

Joel_Hughes said on March 10, 2013

Great post sir!

It run a bell with me as someone who also used to call themselves a "web developer". I tend to oversee, initiate & guide projects now - but that's waaaaay beyond project management and it involves code & creative aspects; just to keep my brain in balance (I have personal projects as well though, who doesn't?)

Don't be ashamed or feel the need to excuse your transition; great products/services are not built on code alone. The right ingredients need to be poured into the mix - and experience is key.

Oh, and as to this point:
"Why does this make me uneasy? Because I’ve always shared my experience as a web developer and I suddenly find myself wondering how long I can continue to do that. I am, after all, speaking at a number of conferences this year on web development."

The answer to me is simple. Broaden your remit. I'd certainly welcome you to speak at the @port80events conference on how you use your skills in a multi-displinary team or perhaps a more simple talk would be "transitioning as a web developer". We had a chat a NACONF so I know you make it across to the UK sometimes ;)

Best of luck ith your transition; you'll be fine

Joel_Hughes

Andy Roberts said on March 10, 2013

I made the same transition just over 10 years ago and haven't looked back since, although I've always made sure to keep my web development skills current - I still find my front end skills are better than most of the developers I come across!

Personally I think a PM who understands what it is they are asking their dev teams to do is head and shoulders above a less technically skilled PM. Also, an ex front end web developer is used to thinking of end users and this habit comes in very useful when dealing with customers, marketing, sales briefings, etc.

It's a fun and often challenging role being a PM, but sometimes I do miss the simplicity of being a dev. You never know what the day is going to throw at you as a PM :)

With regard to blogging, I shelved my web development blog within six months of becoming a PM. Because it wasn't my primary focus I never really had anything juicy to blog about. I tried blogging about life as a PM but the time required to create insightful PM posts seemed to be much greater than it was for my dev blog and, quite frankly, I didn't have the time at the time... hopefully you'll be more successful than I was!

Ahmed Magdy said on March 11, 2013

Is that meaning you are not blogging (technical articles) anymore?

Jonathan Snook said on March 11, 2013

My blogging, in general, is way down. I hadn't posted anything in months. While I'll likely still blog technical things on occasion, it won't be as often as it was a couple years ago.

Malcolm Feth said on March 19, 2013

Recently, only a week ago I received a some similar opportunity, not a product manager, but a web development team manager. Sure, I would enjoy extra cash, new challenges, different things that will come with that... and extra responsibility, feeling "I'm more important" somehow stroke my ego...

At the end... I said "no, thanks".
More I think about it, I'm more convinced it was a good decision to not take this "opportunity". Why?
I would really not have time for coding. I do enjoy writing, come up with great solution and be able to materialize most of them out of blank file. Invest time, get angry on browsers, maybe work with other team members to get something done for my project... all those things give me a lot of happiness and satisfaction. Money and title is not enough to just gave up pleasure and things that drive you forward.
I would have more admin tasks, talking with people, get involved in some politics and improve my diplomacy level...

Was it a good decision? I hope so... at the end, I can still enjoy my work and say "I do for living, what I really love" ;)

Rick Cartwright said on March 27, 2013

Years ago, I made the transition from coding every day, to managing teams, then to leading business units as a General Manager. Looking back, it is interesting that there was a time when I thought I would never make this transition. Something happened .. Even did the MBA thing. Now, I find myself relearning because I want to build something and my skills are very rusty, and so much has changed.

I don't regret the career decisions, but wish I had spend more time on my own investing in 'keeping up' with technology trends by practicing the art. My re-learning is coming along, but I should be developing this thing, but instead find myself frustrated by how slow it is going.

Good luck in your work. Love your blog.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.