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How to develop product sense as an engineer?

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Anonymous User at Taro Communitya year ago

What are the some of the fundamentals to have a strong product sense for a software engineer?

During layoffs many engineers are working in war time mode vs peace time, especially the companies still figuring out Product market fit.

So how can I as an engineer help or challenge product direction, read data insights, do user research, etc where I am not directly involved.

I feel like there is lot going on around user research and the product goal is set but how can I provide valuable input make sure we are heading to right direction and at the same time keep working on right technical things to make product closer to its goal.

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(3 comments)
  • 2
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    Startup Engineer
    a year ago

    Here's a link that will introduce product design in a way that cannot possibly be covered in a single comment: https://start.uxdesign.cc/

  • 6
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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    a year ago

    Adding value here comes from providing a unique perspective.

    Lucky for you, this is easy, since you inherently have a unique background and set of experiences. Your perspective as an engineer will be different from a designer or PM.

    Another dimension, more actionable, is to cultivate unique perspectives. I have two ideas here -- I did this frequently when I was at Meta:

    • Look up similar products that have been tried in the company, or even outside the company. If you're at a mega-corp, there will almost certainly have been similar attempts made. Look up those discussions and understand what the outcome was. What has changed since then?
    • Talk to people in different teams (or even companies). Talking to people will give you a much better narrative sense of what's been tried in the best, and you can get quick feedback on other ideas. The manager or PM calendar is generally filled with meetings, so you have an opportunity to source and learn from a lesser-known voice. I'd come into these meetings with an opinion and specific talking points (not just "what do you think of this product?")

    Related Taro resources:

  • 12
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a year ago

    Meta is unique in the industry in that it actively pushes software engineers to hybridize as product managers. In fact, it's officially documented: There is a Staff Engineer [E6] archetype at Meta called "PM/Engineer Hybrid".

    PM/Eng hybrid was a big part of my Staff path back when I was Meta, and I actually talked about it in-depth here: "How can an engineer transition to product manager and do you think there is higher potential to reach VP level at PM?"

    Adding on to that discussion, a very basic tactic here is to just get to know your product manager and work more closely with them. Here's some good resources around that:

    So how can I as an engineer help or challenge product direction, read data insights, do user research, etc where I am not directly involved.

    If you have spare cycles and are good at building up relationships with XFN parties, there's nothing stopping you from:

    • Doing market research and proposing a new creative feature
    • Analyzing data to better understand user behavior, identifying features that either:
      • Have traction and should be expanded
      • Aren't doing well and should be fixed or removed
    • Reading through user reviews of your product and extracting bug reports, quality of life problems, and feature suggestions to share with your team

    On top of all this, I also highly recommend building side projects to sharpen your product sense, which I cover in-depth here: "What are product skills and how to develop them in the age of ChatGpt and CopilotX?"