Ode to a Non-Technical Product Manager

Hunter Walk
3 min readJun 16, 2014

Earlier this week an aspiring product manager sought counsel, wondering whether as a “non-technical product manager” he had any hope of succeeding. Of course, in this case he’s a college senior who “only” knows CSS, HTML and beginning level PHP — a set of skills which already put him in the global one percent.

What he really meant was “can I be a product manager without being trained as an engineer or having otherwise acquired major hacking skills?” My answer? “Yes. As a “non-technical product manager” I have my own personal bias, but let’s examine the notion that only CS majors make good product managers.

What Is A Product Manager?

  • Project Manager: Make sure the trains run on time, team is functioning well.
  • Product Manager: Help a team produce world-class products which delight your users and support a sustainable business model.
  • CEO: No matter how junior or senior a product manager you are, you must think like CEO. The buck stops with you. You tell me marketing failed to deliver? You share that responsibility. You tell me sales team had misaligned goals? Why didn’t you raise that issue earlier?

The best product managers possess a broad set of skills which allow them to somehow manage wearing these multiple hats. The distribution of your time across these roles shifts based on the organization, the team, the nature of your project and one’s seniority. However, even a new grad needs to think like a CEO, and a salty veteran should roll up their sleeves to shovel shit when needed.

Within this construct, technical proficiency is certainly desirable but not required. What is required without a doubt? Technical curiosity. If you aren’t intrigued by technology and getting your hands dirty via small projects, self-teaching on Codecademy/Treehouse, or asking smart questions, I’ll wonder why.

The ability to prototype your own ideas is even better, but again, I’ve seen many PM leaders succeed without this skill. Why? Because ultimately your job is happy team and happy users

But what’s your superpower?

Ultimately it’s not your boss who can make you successful, it’s your team. You serve at the behest of the…

Hunter Walk

You’ll find me @homebrew , Seed Stage Venture Fund w @satyap . Previously made products at YouTube, Google & SecondLife. Married to @cbarlerin .