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How can an engineer transition to product manager and do you think there is higher potential to reach VP level at PM?

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Mid-Level Software Engineer [E4] at Meta2 years ago

I just started at Meta in the business engineering org (formerly solutions eng). We have a lot of XFN work with sales and SWE teams, so lots of opportunity to coordinate projects and be customer-focused. I was a SWE at my past company but I'm hoping to eventually transition to PM as I believe it is better for upward mobility within a company?

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  • 17
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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    2 years ago

    Some quick thoughts from me:

    1. I have a lot of respect for PMs - It's a hard job. I doubt that getting to VP level as a PM is easier/more accessible compared to the EM track. If anything, it might be harder - I think building the intuition to have PM6+ product direction is fuzzier and less clear than what it takes to get to E6. Then again, I'm very biased as I am SWE myself.
    2. I feel like PMs and engineers/EMs are equally respected and compensated for the most part at Meta and across the industry. I remember reading that in some companies, PMs are paid more than engineers (when accounting for level of course).
    3. I'm not close to anybody who's made that transition at a FAANG/FAANG-equivalent company, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

    In terms of how to make the transition, you're in luck as I believe that Meta is one of the best companies in the world to make this switch: There is literally a Staff+ engineer archetype at Meta called PM/engineer hybrid. I knew several E6+ engineers back at Instagram that fell into this archetype very cleanly, and I spent a good amount of time investing into this hybrid behavior myself. The obvious path is to become a great engineer that falls into this archetype and then push for the switch. The best way to show that you are qualified for a job is to be already doing it, similar to how lagging promotions work.

    In terms of what you can do to start making progress towards this switch:

    1. Let your manager know - It's your manager's job to understand and advocate for your long-term goals. This isn't something you would push for in the first 1:1 of course, but I think after a month or 2, you can bring it up. And if your manager asks you something like, "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?", you can just bring it up then. I think the main thing here to communicate is that you understand that this change will take time, and you aren't expecting to be able to transition to PM in the next half or something. I think best case, it would happen in 1.5 to 2 years.
    2. Work with your manager and PM to offload some PM work - Of course, stabilize yourself on the team first and make sure you are very strong at landing diffs: This is very important for you as an E4. But after 3 months, you can chat with your PM in particular to see if there's anything you can take off their plate. Some example activities there are: Planning and running brainstorms, writing product strategy workplace posts, scoping product ideas for impact, and working with UXR to extract insights. The ideal scenario is that you are able to lead a small workstream where there is no formal PM as you are acting as the effective PM.
    3. Be very active in brainstorm meetings - Almost all teams have this very egalitarian forum for anybody to have an impact on product direction. Go into these meetings prepared with ideas and better yet, some data backing up your ideas. Understand the idea tracks within the brainstorm and come up with products/features accordingly.
    4. Do market research - Take the time to use competitor products to yours and understand their strengths. There was an engineer back at my team in Instagram Ads who did this very well: In particular, they spent a lot of time deep-diving into what TikTok did well with their ads and then added great product ideas to our roadmap from this inspiration.

    Lastly, I want to call out that you will probably not be able to do as much PM work as you want since you are an E4:

    • E4s always need to maintain a very strong "Engineering Excellence" contribution, which translates to a good amount of time spent coding and reviewing code.
    • The above is also the case for E4s pushing for E5 promotion, and I think your goal here is to get promoted to E5 while showing a lot of PM/engineer hybrid behavior.
    • I feel like E5 (senior engineer) is the level that "unlocks" a lot of opportunity within Meta and in general, and it would be hard to make this transition while still being E4. This is why I strongly recommend making this promotion.

    Related resources:

  • 6
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    Eng VP at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, ex-Meta, ex-Yahoo
    2 years ago

    Alex has given a lot of specific ideas, but I'll give you a more generic answer.

    It really depends on your core competency and passion. If you are very interested in a specific function and are good at it, you'll be successful.

    If all things were equal, then I would look at the ratio of Eng VPs to PMs. My guess/experience is that there are more Eng VPs than PM VPs? So, the probability of getting to an Eng VP is higher based on pure numbers alone.

Meta Platforms, Inc. is an American multinational technology conglomerate based in Menlo Park, California. The company owns 3 of top 4 social networks in the world: Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. More than 3.5 billion people use at least one of the company's core products every month.
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