Product Engineer

Any company will benefit from product minded engineers, but startups get the most out of them. In bigger companies there’s usually a product structure that allows - and sometimes encourages - engineers to not think too much about the product. The product thinking is typically outsourced to a Product Manager. Complacency settles in. An engineer’s focus is therefore on the technical side: how to do X, rather than why we are doing X.

The last three companies where I have worked were either startups. Engineers were encouraged to think about the product and actively contributed towards it. What I am realising is that encouragement is not enough and that product thinking is as important as knowing how to code - if not more. Because the industry at large puts a lot more emphasis in one’s coding ability, it’s difficult to hire product minded engineers. There’s no reason to cultivate that muscle, if employers value other things.

Becoming product minded can be difficult to exercise. And I struggle to find a way to actively cultivate this mindset. Perhaps because it’s not as natural as learning a new language, or exploring some new tool or tech. But one does so instinctively by looking at products they like and listing why that’s the case. What makes this service great, and what could be improved - but also the opposite. What bothers me so much about this and why? People that build their own thing, tend to be product minded: they have reached the conclusion that they can do much better than whatever is out there.

This is a non exhaustive list of traits, or behaviours I have found in these individuals:

  • They tend to be good communicators (written and orally).
  • They are able to articulate what problems their company is trying to solve and how it makes money.
  • They can reason about users’ needs and how a solution connects to the business.
  • They use tech as a means to an end.
  • They are opinionated and not afraid to voice their concerns.