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Transition to Program Manager vs. Software Engineer from non developer background

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Mid-Level Software Engineer at Microsofta year ago

Hi,

I'm currently considering a career transition and would appreciate your insights on the best path to take. I come from a non-developer background and I'm torn between pursuing a career as a software engineer or a product manager. My ultimate goal is to ensure a solid growth trajectory in terms of career advancement and opportunities.

Given my background as sysadmin/infra person, and now a senior cloud architect, I dealt with a lot of software engineers, including co-designing apps from functional and non-functional requirements. However, haven't had a chance to work as a software engineer myself.

I am hesitant in moving to software engineering, due to potential down-levelling so Product/Program managers might be a better fit, but at the same time, a lot of PMs I talked to have SWE background.

Is this the red pill that you have to swallow to be SWE first --> PM?

What's the best way to transition without being down-levelled too much?

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(3 comments)
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a year ago

    Is this the red pill that you have to swallow to be SWE first --> PM?

    Definitely not! I actually think you happened to get a unique sample size with your PM conversations - The vast majority of PMs I have worked with came from a non-technical background.

    Of course, being technical helps you be a better PM, but it's by no means necessary. It also seems like you have a fairly technical background yourself (it's just not SWE specifically), so you'll have a leg up!

    What's the best way to transition without being down-levelled too much?

    It really depends on the company, how it perceives each work pillar, and its overall culture around team switching - This is hard to control. I saw both:

    1. At Course Hero, I saw SWEs go to PM and keep their level
    2. At Meta, I saw DEs go to SWE and get down-leveled

    At a Big Tech company like Microsoft, they probably have a very well-defined matrix around how levels transfer over as people switch roles. Maybe your manager would know?

    ...and I'm torn between pursuing a career as a software engineer or a product manager.

    Here's some good resources around SWE and PM as well:

  • 0
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    Mid-Level Software Engineer [OP]
    Microsoft
    a year ago

    Thanks Alex. If I was aiming to be hired for one of the roles, what's the best way to prep ahead, should I start with reviewing the job description and make sure I tick all the boxes and more?

    This is one of the examples of positions I am mostly interested in. https://jobs.careers.microsoft.com/global/en/job/1571321

  • 2
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a year ago

    If I was aiming to be hired for one of the roles, what's the best way to prep ahead, should I start with reviewing the job description and make sure I tick all the boxes and more?

    This is definitely a good start, but job descriptions will rarely accurately represent the big picture behind a job's day-to-day, especially as most job postings overshoot and have a bunch of irrelevant nice-to-haves.

    What I think you should really do is talk to people! Leverage the network you have internally at Microsoft, and talk to folks who either have that Senior SWE Cloud role like you linked or in fields adjacent to it. Ask them what their day-to-day is like and deep-dive as much as you can to really "download" their mind space.

    If you're bold, you can cold reach out to folks who have that role within the company who you don't know:

    • Be very friendly, polite and considerate of their time
    • You can treat them for lunch or boba tea or something as a gift/incentive for them to take your meeting - This is easily a 10x ROI action if this is the difference maker (tech worker time and knowledge is so valuable!)
    • To help with all this, here's our masterclass about effective networking, which covers cold reach outs: [Masterclass] How To Build Deep Relationships Quickly In Tech

    Also, the best way to prepare for a job is to already be doing it:

    • Want to switch to SWE? Then talk to a ton of SWEs and pick up as many SWE responsibilities as you can in your current role
    • Want to switch to PM? Then talk to a ton of PMs and pick up as many PM responsibilities as you can in your current role
Microsoft is an American technology corporation which produces computer software, consumer electronics, and personal computers. It developed the Windows line of operating systems, the Microsoft Office suite, and the Internet Explorer and Edge web browsers. Microsoft is often credited for ushering in the modern PC era.
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