71% Product Managers in India don’t have Software Engineering Degree


“Back in the day, all of the product managers at my companies wanted to leave to go get their MBA. Today, everyone wants to go to business school to leave and become a product manager.”

This excerpt from Drift CEO David Cancel’s Medium post pretty much encapsulates how product management has become an aspirational career choice in the wake of the Googles and the Facebooks redefining the scope of impact products have on the world.

Yet, product management remains one of the most difficult positions to fill. Since there’s no specialized programme geared towards training people in product management, people from either business, tech or design backgrounds are mostly poised to transition to a PM role.

This venn diagram from Martin Erikkson's blog post perfectly describes what being a Product Manager is all about:

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Often we come across job listings with ‘background in tech’ listed as a non-negotiable along with an MBA in a ‘good-to-have’ column. However, when Belong's Research wing analyzed the educational qualification of the 15,000 software PMs in India, it found that only 29% of PMs had a software engineering degree and only 6% of them had the coveted ‘Software Engineer + MBA’ combination. Here’s the full study:

71% PMs in India don’t have a software engineering degree

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When recruiters try to hire PMs with a tunnel view of sourcing candidates with prior coding experience, they're significantly lowering their chances of finding a good candidate. A sound understanding of technology, the ability to communicate effectively with engineers and strong project management skills are a lot more important than prior-coding experience while hiring for a PM.

However, a software engineering degree becomes of paramount importance in the case of hiring for technical product managers or for products whose end customers are techies.

Only 6% of PMs have the coveted 'Software Engineer + MBA' combination

Another myth-busting finding of the research was that only 6% of all the PMs in India have the coveted ‘Software Engineer and MBA combination’. Interesting, people with non-tech work background went on to pursue MBA in order to transition to product management.

On the other hand, most software engineers wthout MBA who transitioned to a PM role did so after working for 4-5 years. Software engineers with a strong business understanding or entrepreneurial experience make for great PM candidates even if they don't go to B-Schools.

77% of PMs hired by large tech companies are first-time PMs

We looked at the external hiring patterns of large tech companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft in the last four years and found that 77% of their hires were first-time PMs.

These companies usually have well-defined team structures where existing PMs are promoted to leadership roles while rookies are hired from outside.

Here's what the work background of people who've been hired as PMs in tech giants looked like:

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Mid-sized firms are risk-averse - 54% of PMs hired by them have prior experience 

Mid-sized companies rarely hired first-time PMs. Instead they internally upskilled software engineers and program managers and moved them to PM roles.

Here's what the backgrounds of people hired externally, by mid-sized tech companies looks like:

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Startups tend to hire former entrepreneurs as PMs

Former entrepreneurs (even if they've failed in their venture) are adept at surviving ambiguous situations which is a necessary skill for building products in the zero-to-one stage.

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How to find the right Product Manager for your company

The discipline of product management requires a wide array of skills - from project management to communication to a strong understanding of technology to user research. Not all candidates explicitly mention these keywords in their resumes, but there are certain characteristics in every candidate's profile that helps in assessing whether they are a right fit for your company. These could range from assessing the kind of products someone has worked on to whether someone has worked in the B2B or B2C space and so on.

To build a stellar product team, recruiters should focus on identifying the 'right personas' who'll fit with their company's DNA instead of merely searching for keywords on a candidate profile.

We looked at the backgrounds of more than 15k product managers in India to identify 5 most common personas of product managers in India.

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