Mike Davidson’s “3 Years in San Francisco”

Thursday, 12 May 2016 

An interesting read1 from Mike Davidson spanning a few different topics, including the relocation experience, working at Twitter, people management, and the notion of what makes a good Product Manager:

There is a contentious ongoing debate in our industry about what the requirements and role of a product manager should be. One side says they must be deeply technical (i.e. ex-engineers), while the other says they needn’t be. I’m told the deeply-technical mindset came from Google, where one day a long time ago, they decided they needed a PM role at the company so they took some of their best engineers who were already widely respected at the company, and made them PMs. Makes total sense, especially considering the early problems Google was trying to solve (mainly search quality), but unfortunately it has caused a wave of copycatting in Silicon Valley that is bad for products, bad for diversity, and bad for business.

This is a bit of a peeve of mine, speaking as a technology Product Manager who not only was never a professional engineer but also knows a number of other solid technology PMs with non-engineering backgrounds.

Davidson also makes an excellent argument for disposing of the popular shorthand for describing PMs as “mini CEOs”. While I understand the intended sentiment, Davidson’s correct that among other things, “the term CEO is so loaded with preconceived notions, that it's just not a safe place to even start your job description”. If you’re one to insist on shorthands, personally I’m a fan of one I picked up from a fellow student in my Product School cohort – that a Product Manager is more analogous to a symphony conductor.

  1. I swear it’s not a “3” theme this week, given Sunday’s post about Sunil Gupta’s 3 Paths to Essence – rather a curious coincidence. I had no idea that not only Davidson left Twitter, but that he returned to Seattle to boot; I had just caught this on my Twitter feed the other day. I’m looking forward to seeing what he moves onto next.