I used this term ‘Project Engineer’ 3 years back when I was selling myself to someone. Yes we sell ourselves in interviews. If you did not know, that could be one area you need to improve.

Today, I was having some discussion with an old techie who is in industry since 2 decades and ‘Product Engineer’ popped up again into conversation. To my surprise, he was impressed with this coined term and hidden meaning behind it. So I thought to share my thoughts about it. Who knows, it might become your favourite OR give you a healthy laugh for evening.

So, what is heck is ‘Product Engineer’!

If you are in tech Industry, you must be familiar with ‘Software Engineer’ ‘Programmer’ ‘QA’ ‘Product Manager/Owner’ ‘Team Lead’ and so on. Each of these roles have specific job to do. But where does the ‘Product Engineer’ fit in and why/where do we need it ?

I think with the advancement of technology and everything going digital, we will replace term ‘Software Engineer’ with ‘Product Engineer’. Context of latter is Software by default, so no need to stress on Software word. Core difference between Software Engineer and Product Engineer is that the latter not only codes but also thinks about features. In short he/she can become ‘Robin’ for Product Manager.

So, Product Engineer == Software Engineer + Product Manager

Here are few qualities of Product Engineer which I think are essential :

  • He/She not only codes but also keeps him(her)self in users shoes
  • He/She does not blindly develop whatever is given to him/her; first understands the feature from users perspective
  • He/She comes up with pain points OR features which pops up in their mind and discusses them with team (specially product manager)
  • He/She cares equally about user experience as he/she is into technology behind the product
  • He/She understands the users need and business plan of employer AND convinces team to have a balance
  • He/She believes in healthy discussions and never keeps heavy heart
  • He/She does not just complaints about architecture OR bad code written by previous developers; He/She understands why did they do and improves on with time
  • He/She is opinionated and never feels shy to express
  • He/She works on communication skills

Back Story :

I am a core technical person who enjoys geek talks and black-magic behind the white user-facing-screen. Being engineer myself, I was too much attached to tech part and always thought users will love product if tech is solid. Once one of my CEO said to me: “Gaurav, I care about the goal we have and I trust you can do justice; I don’t care you use X OR Y technology. Technology will come and go. It is about product we make, it is about user trust we gain, it is about adding value to user’s life.”

If you are like me, you partially understand this speech and at the back of your head, a geeky voice is whispering, ‘YES you are saying right, but I think tech is important in that’

Later I did my own start-up and realised what my former CEO was talking about. When shit hits fan, no one knows on whom it will fall. I wanted to launch some feature and test in market, I hardcoded (yuk) in app and released it. Later I figured, people did not responded as I was hoping. Hardcode (the yuk word) saved me 1 week at least If I would have gone through awesome architecture and generic codebase.

I was interviewing an intern for my start-up and in addition to how much technical knowledge he had, I was trying to figure out one important aspect for myself. That was product mindset. I did not need a Software geek who can code C, C++, java, Ruby, Python, javascript and to your surprise fortran as well. I wanted someone who can understand my Product and Engineer what was needed not what we wanted. We could want 500 features to test but did we need those ?

**Not everything we can, we should! **The mantra must be followed in every tech company. Hardly founders realise this.

So coming to point, I think we need more and more Product Engineers in new companies. In-fact every company but start-ups are must to follow this. I am not saying these people can replace product manager/owners. But definitely it is 100x better than having someone who is just a geek and codes what you say without even having that attachment OR understanding the soul of product. This guy is the filter for feature ideas who understands technical side and user side both.

Software Engineer is ‘Living Robot’ who try to convert a spec into working

software using coffee, beer, stack-overflow, google, Copy-Paste and their craft. Needless to say, most of time they blame on spec OR previously badly written code. They will offer very technical solution to any user problem.

Product Engineer is ‘Living Soul’ who push hard to convert a spec + their own

ideas into working software using coffee, beer, stack-overflow, google, Copy-Paste and their efforts and craft. Needless to say, most of time they will keep users first and think about problems which user might face. They won’t offer solution immediately. They will engineer when time comes.

I believe with such people on board, a visionary can achieve his/her goals fast and with better precision. Nonetheless, the journey will surely be more interesting and fruitful.