Why I gave up 8 years of coding skills to become a product manager.

In Jan 2011, I got my first taste of building my very own mobile app for users. I still remember sweating about forking up USD $99 to enroll in the Apple Developer Program. In 2 weeks after shipping, I manage to earn almost 200% of the enrollment fees!

At that time iPhone is only on iOS4 and I was still doing Objective-C. I am still using SVN that was being taught in school. I have to stay late in the office where I work as an intern to do development on the iMac. Then I figured out how to run Hackintosh on my desktop computer so that I can code 24/7 at home.

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As a Singaporean, after graduating, I then have to serve 2 years in the army due to our conscription policy. Once I completed my services, I co-founded a startup with 2 other close friends. We manage to secure a young entrepreneurs startup grant by Ace Startups.

My technical skills grew over the years as I leave my startup to join a professional consultancy firm. In about a year, I got poached and join a new firm as a Lead Engineer to focus on the B2B enterprise software in China. My excitement grew every day when I discover new ways of solving technical challenges. I feel like a king when every single part of the app works exactly like what I code.

But despite all this, my excitement to pick up new skills was drastically decreasing. At that time, I am unsure about what is wrong. I thought it was burnout, but I decided to dig deeper into why my excitement decline.

My Excitement Decline

In total, I spend almost 8 years honing my craft from an iOS engineer to a full-stack engineer that eventually leads a team. But something in me doesn’t feel right. I no longer feel as excited about the technical challenge. It was at a time where I had a lot more freedom to choose the technology to use and what area of the technical stack to work on.

So, if it wasn’t about the kind of technical challenges, what else could it be? I begin to pay particular attention to the factors that make me angry. The factors that make me frustrated. The factors that cause me to have a really bad day.

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That’s where I noticed a common pattern in my frustration. I am always working base on somebody else’s product roadmap and feature scope. Despite being a lead engineer, my opinion is only valued on technical difficulty. My remarks on the products are often too late to bring any value. In order words, my remarks are just a pinch of salt.

Finding Ways To Ignite My Excitement

How can I wake up every day and look forward to working on something I love? What changes should I make so that I can continue doing what I love without feeling imprisonment?

I don’t hate coding. I don’t hate product development. I don’t hate to follow features scope. But I hate having no say in a product. I hate building something that no one use. And I hate doing all the work that doesn’t bear fruits.

I am at a split road where I could either join a company that values more on their engineer’s opinion or become a product manager that has a larger say. As I dive deeper, I find that the path of an engineer and product manager is vastly different. At the end of the day, engineers are valued for their work in solving technical challenges and implementation. While product managers are valued for the product’s strategy, vision, and execution.

I still love solving difficult problems. It still brings me great excitement when solving a difficult problem. But as compared to early in my career where I only focus on difficult technical challenges, I now enjoy solving difficult problems for the user. Instead of focus to build things right, I want to help build the right things.

So, almost 2 years ago I become a full-time product manager at mili.eu. I am glad to make the switch. Day-to-day I am focusing on solving problems for our users. I am excited to solve difficult problems that add value to our users.

If you are thinking about making a switch, think about what excites you? It is usually not a particular skill that excites you but rather the output that a particular skill brings. It seems like a pity to give up 8 years of coding experience. But I not do want to continue living in misery for the rest of my life.

What’s More?

I am a full-time product manager now, and my 8 years of experience in engineering helps me perform better. I know that not everybody wants to become a product manager and many engineers love what they do. So, now I am also focusing on helping other product managers and engineers to work better together. At the end of the day, we want to build products that are being used by users!

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