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The highest paid workers in Silicon Valley are product managers (2016) (qz.com)
479 points by jxub on Oct 15, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 351 comments

This hardly comes as a surprise. How many companies, especially startups, really need to tackle tough technical challenges? On the other hand, how many companies desperately need product talents to figure out what is valuable to produce?

In addition, engineers have commoditized many technical solutions that used to be challenging in the past 15 years. Scaling used to be a tough challenge, not any more for many companies. In fact, part of my daily job is to prevent passionate engineers from reinventing wheels in the name of achieving scalability. It's not because we don't need to solve scalability problems, but because the infrastructure is good enough for most of companies. Building and operating so called "big data platform" used to be hard, not that hard any more. Building machine learning pipeline used to be hard, not that hard any more for many companies. Of course, it's still challenging to build a highly flexible and automated machine learning pipeline with full support of closed feedback loop, but many companies can get by without that level of maturity.

What's up with this usage of the word "talent"? Tech is in such acute need of humble pie I don't even know where to begin. I'm becoming disillusioned. Why is a programmer etc. a "talent", but a carpenter just an employee, hire or whatever?

But maybe it's actually an appropriate term, now when our interview processes so clearly have ceased to be job interviews, and have become auditions - because nothing less satisfies our own grandiose self-importance.

> "On the other hand, how many companies desperately need product talents to figure out what is valuable to produce?"

These middle-management positions are so unmeasurable that I think they may be greatest source of bullshit jobs in tech. So if it's true that their success is largely unmeasureable, I wonder how you've come to that conclusion?

It’s just terminology from acting. Wouldn’t read too much into it. Getting annoyed by that is like being upset you have a team in your org called HR. “Human Resources? Am I just a unit of raw material to be put through the factory?!”

> Am I just a unit of raw material to be put through the factory?!”

Yes. This one is accurate.

I prefer the term 'Human Accounting' myself.

Human Remains is one term used in the UK

"Personnel" is the older, more appropriate name.

Why did we ever change? New hip management terms?

US invented HR, and the world adopted it.

Sorry I was guilty of using slang here its meant in a negative way.


Interestingly HR people don’t refer to themselves as “resources”, they call themselves “professionals” or “business partners”. But at least they’re honest about how they view real workers.

I disagree. To be clear, there's more to techs current flight towards the sun than just this. But for this kind of wording to be possible there need to be certain conditions present. In techs case; partly just a general boom/bubble. If you'd post searches for "talent" without these conditions present you'd likely be laughed out of the building, or at the very least come of as dorky, bordering unreliable.

"Talent" is now used in the context of recruitment for almost any job that requires some level of skill. E.g. I heard it being used for police officers ("law enforcement talent").

I think it's about visibility of failure. When a carpenter or office worker make a mistake, it often doesn't take an expert to figure it out (and if it does, it's always a "clerical" error, not an honest mistake in a complex environment). Thus, whenever people look at these jobs, they're not seeing skilled laborers but someone whose time is simply less valuable than theirs. If only they had the time, they could have done it better - whereas programming is mysterious so they need "talent."

In NYC it takes 8 years verifiable work experience (by W-2 forms) Before you are allowed to take a Plumbing test, for your license. I guarantee that you would Not be able to trouble shoot a problem that a licensed plumber couldn't figure out.

And yes, in a past life I was a master licensed plumber.

Oh, no doubt. I didn't mean to suggest otherwise, just to present a hypothesis on why I think people perceive some jobs as requiring talent.

Fair enough.

> These middle-management positions are so unmeasurable that I think they may be greatest source of bullshit jobs in tech. So if it's true that their success is largely unmeasureable, I wonder how you've come to that conclusion?

But, product improvements shouldn't be immeasurable. Through analysis of engagement metrics, talking with users, etc. one can measure improvements. Sure, it isn't a direct measurement, but pure unmeasurable intuition is not how good PMs function

But the problem is that even if you measure an increase in KPIs you can't accurately attribute that success to the different team members and in the end the manager tends to get disproportionate credit.

It's the credit assignment problem IRL.

Except that no one actually evaluates KPIs like that. Product improvements are not KPIs that anyone gets measured on.

Because Tech is a "profession" and if you think we are you obviously haven't seen how other professions Architects for example and Journalists have a very high opinion of them selves.

Because Tech is a "profession"

If this were true, hard-won experience would be prized, as it is in law, medicine, and all real professions, instead we have rampant ageism and statements like “young people are just smarter”.

Except that Tech isn't a profession. Professions have bodies that establish and enforce professional standards and appropriate evaluations and credentials.

Programmers that call themselves "engineers" are fooling themselves. Unless they are doing the sort of programming that the NASA shuttle team used, none of us are "engineers".

Here in Uruguay if you wish to call yourself an "engineer" you need to have an accredited engineering degree.

There is a career called C.S. Engineer and it has an huge amount of math and physics (equivalent to an undergrad + master's in the U.S.). Most of us take the career that's equivalent to an undergraduate degree though, the extra math (and grueling attrition) is mostly useless.

But graduates are very sought after because they've proven themselves able to go through a tough grind (even though they don't have a shred of practical experience after graduating)

In the UK The BCS and IEEE would beg to differ. And a profession is not just the piece of paper its about social standing and relative pay rates.

And anyone with a degree who works in there field is a "engineer" even though the number that go for full Chartered status is a small minority - and that is more about who you know not what you know.


The BCS is a complete joke, completely irrelevant to anyone working in the field, I have no idea how it still exists or what it actually does for practitioners or for the industry.

Software development is not one of the 'Professions', and never will be until it has a governing body and some degree of accountability for the shoddy work they can put out.

They do all countries have certifying bodies for engineers and admit it professionals.

I never bothered going that route as the BCS kept changing their minds on qualifying experience and the rules and actually don't do anything concreate for their members unlike say the BMA does for doctors.

So honest Q here if you feel so strongly why haven't you got your Ceng / E status

> So honest Q here if you feel so strongly why haven't you got your Ceng / E status

I don't feel strongly about it. I don't need people to call me an engineer, because I'm not an engineer and I have no intention of being one.

I'm a software developer, which is very different.

Come to the medical field, and it's all the way down.

All idealists have an high opinion of themselves.

Journalists, idealists, pick one

mainly because while we all go through the same basic CS-math foundations in HS...most never learn how to apply them...

...because the skill gap between “ok”, “good”, and “great” is so much bigger for some jobs (software development) than it is for other jobs (carpentry).

It's not tho.

It's really not. Most of the software you use every day was developed by very average software developers. The vast majority of the work software developers do isn't terribly novel or particularly difficult. And you know what? They do just fine. Things work well. Systems stay on line. Companies make money.

I've seen too many "bad" teams produce perfectly functional software over the years to think that this gap exists anywhere but in Joel Spolsky essays.

I think comparing carpenters to software engineers does a disservice to carpenters. Software developers to me are more like dry-wallers. A really good one can do it faster, but the end result mostly always looks the same.

The difference between an average and a great carpenter, however, is immediately obvious. There is real craftsmanship there, and you can clearly see the difference.

It isn't until you get to the edges of software development that those same differences become clear. When you're dealing with very high scale, very aggressive performance metrics, or very difficult mathematical concepts you see the difference between average and great developers. But those are less than a fraction of 1% of software projects I'd wager.

* I should note: I'm a software developer.

I’d argue they’re more like electricians. All their work is hidden behind the drywall, and as long as the lamp turns on, nobody has any idea of the absolute mess of wire that was used to turn on the single lamp.

If you have great developers, there will be a single straight wire from the switch to the lamp.

The end result for the user is the same though, until the mess of wire eventually overheats and burns down your house.

It really is night and day between a good dev and a bad dev.

The key factor that you're probably not thinking about is time. A good dev doesn't think faster or have blazing fingers that fly across the keyboard, a good dev is constantly setting him/herself up to shave time off of future tasks, and those investments are constantly paying dividends.

Those "bad" teams can definitely produce software that runs, but they do it 10x slower than a "good" team could.

What takes a bad team of four six months to make takes a good team of two only 5 or 6 weeks.

In my view, a good developer writes maintainable code. Easy to understand, easy to fix, no spaghetti.

Yes, but what's the point of maintainable code? Speed. Quickly understandable, quickly fixable, and quickly upgradable.

Time is the key. Writing maintainable code is the investment a good developer makes because it pays off by increasing speed of interacting with that code.

A more accurate comparison is that software devs are like general contractors. I’m referring to those contractors who have experience doing plumbing, drywall, framing, finish work, etc but learned where to sub out to be more efficient for both their profit and to save customers time and money. A bad contractor can make a remodel a complete nightmare.

I should note that I’m a software dev and a family member is a general contractor

I respectfully disagree, having worked in both software and carpentry.

While I do feel that folks grossly underestimate the skills that the best carpenters acquire over time, the software ecosystem generally is unique is that it's vastly large and complex. By any measure (switch points, surface area, person-years, etc.), the software we've all built in the past 70-ish years is the most complex thing ever implemented by human-kind.

Long ago it became far too large for any one person to "master" to the same degree an excellent carpenter might master his or her skills.

And the market agrees with the point of view, and values the economic output of the "best" software developers (at scale, not just one data point) at a far greater multiple over the "ok" ones, relative to other skills and trades.

One may not like this analysis (and my associated statement), but it is the state of the world.

I think most people are not able to tell the difference between a great piece of software and an average one.

For example, the people at Apple who came with blocks and Grand Central Dispatch did an amazing job, but the difference between them and the average software developer is like 100x. A great software developer can write something that other developers can build on, which makes them more productive.

Conversely, the people who came up with Java, they figured out how to turn a great programmer into an average one, and make them want to quit computers altogether, but the below average programmers are now also average.

The statistics I've seen say 60% of all software projects fail. My experience, anecdotal as it is, bears that out.

Projects that don't fail, usually have to be rescued from some crazy doomed plans fairly regularly.

You seem to have found a calmer, saner corner of the industry.

They probably failed due to bad product management.

I think 60% is an underestimate!

Just because you cant distinguish the fine differences between a good and great carpenter doesn't mean they don't exist. Someone making detailed engravings for a casket is far more skilled than someone who hammers a wooden crate.

Any profession to which someone can devote their life to (incl. carpentry or software development) is going to have gaps in skills between "ok", "good", and "great". Pejorative attitudes which measure something like software development as "harder" than carpentry are not beneficial and simply dilute the discourse.

As someone who has worked in carpentry, and as a software engineer for 10 years now, I completely disagree. I actually see the skill gap between ok, good, and great as being really similar in carpentry and software. A junior carpenter will make a lot of mistakes.

Especially as many software devs are becoming more like "code plumbers," if anything the skill gap may be bigger in carpentry in the future.

You would be surprised how hard is and how many years takes to be a good cabinetmaker.

Whoa buddy. There's a huge difference in skills there.

Waves hand, "We can always throw some more engineers at that part of the problem, what's really hard is figuring out what to do", said the project manager, and the product manager, and the QA manager, and the manager-manager. Meanwhile, talking heads in also ran companies in Silicon Valley continued to sell off stock in the mantra, "Innovation is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration".

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people":

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.


Personally, I wouldn't go that far, I've found a decent number of managers to be value-adding. I think it is more about the sloppy mindset that tends to underplay the contribution of other producers on a team, to instead heavily over-value their own contributions. Engineers can go too far in this way too, of course. Managers can produce strategy, operational efficiency, organizational support for ill-understood projects, elevate performers, eliminate underperformers etc.

That doesn't contradict Pournelle's observation. The balance of power tends towards those who work for the organization in most firms.

The bigger question in my mind: why firms at all? If individual PMs are so great, why bother with employees? Wouldn't you rather just contract all the elements of a technical project to other folks for a fixed fee?

I do wonder what portion of good ol' boys and good ol' fashion nepotism tend to fill out the "PM" position on big firm's org charts.

There's a ~long history of people attempting to answer that question: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_the_firm

From the article, "Firms exist as an alternative system to the market-price mechanism when it is more efficient to produce in a non-market environment."

If that "theory of the firm" is true, then engineering is much less commoditized than stated by the top-level commenter.

I believe that was the evidence provided by the great outsourcing experiment of 1996-2006. Turns out programming can't easily be turned into a low-skill job.

I agree. So why have so many programmers in Silicon Valley? Why don’t they leave and demand independent contracts? Perhaps that kind of “unbundling” of technical talent is the future.

It's the problem of being paid enough. My wife asked me the same question recently, "Why don't programmers unionize?" They could demand more through collective action, but they don't feel the need.

Also, programmers are (often) worth more in teams. Two programmers who work well together are far more productive as a pair than the sum of what they'd do in isolation.

This. A good manager is a force multiplier.

Figuring out what to do is the hardest part. Engineering is typically the least significant part of the success or failure of a company.

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth", said Kennedy, and all the senators rushed the podium, slapped him on the back, and popped champagne, as they realized the hardest part was done.

... Yes? Kennedy got them to fund NASA at a level that's never been seen since: https://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/s3fs-public/BudgetD...

But it was the hardest part wasn’t it? Nobody since then managed to get that commitment for a space program.

And if only Napolean or Hitler had managed to get enough 'commitment' for their plans to conquer Europe, they would be sitting pretty right now? Yeesh.

Not parent, but in every successful project I have been part of, the technical challenges were always a small slice (perhaps less than a quarter) of the main effort. Getting organizational approval (which usually boils down to acquiring buy-in from management) and picking the path to progress (with occasional course-correction) are the main contributors to success.

This isn't to discount the hard work involved in completing the technical tasks, but commiting _to_ begin something along a certain development vector is, indeed, the hard part.

Getting organizational approval (which usually boils down to acquiring buy-in from management

Why not just... not employ the people you need to fight in order to get anything done? How does the organisation and its shareholders benefit from employing full-time professional obstacles to progress?

What do you mean by "figuring out what to do?" If you mean "write a detailed specification for every component in the system", then what is engineering exactly?

Maybe in the short term. In the long term, a company can collapse under the weight of its own technical debt, when it can no longer innovate effectively compared to the competition.

If a company makes it to where they are collapsing under technical debt, they have already made it much farther than most startups.

Totally disagree. In my experience across three tech firms, Product Managers spend a lot of time selling themselves. They are

talking to customers (read: networking for their next job),

going to conferences (read: shmoozing with their next potential boss),

researching competitors (read: figuring out where to apply)

researching products (read: learning on the job)

Is it any surprise they tend to make more than people stuck in the office coding?

talking to customers -> Listening to what the customer's pain points are, what the customer needs, what to address

going to conferences -> Because face-to-face contact is far faster and richer than sending emails

researching competitors -> What aren't we doing that others are doing better / what are we doing that's winning / what to change?

researching products -> well, yes, constantly learning

Is it any surprise they tend to make more than people stuck in the office coding?

Listening to customer needs, staying ahead, constantly learning. Sounds like good general career advice.

I do not see any activity here which would indicate a higher pay from any other ordinary worker.

That's very astute. You are right, there's nothing in those activities that command a higher pay. For product managers, it's the work that comes after doing all the above which commands the higher pay: Synthesizing all the information that was gathered to present a strategy which satisfy consumer needs and exploit competitor weak points. Creating a long term roadmap which gives direction to the work that the engineering department will do. And doing both convincingly enough that upper management buy into the strategy you are proposing. This is the no-right-answer, risky work that product managers are paid for.

We are quite literally running out of productive things to do so we (the collective group) are all currently micro-optimizing everything we can lay our hands on. It's like a pond that's shrinking with all the fish gasping for air.

A paradigm shift is necessary before we end up strangling ourselves.

"The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end." -Henry Ellsworth, US Patent Office Commissioner, 1843

Yep exactly. Especially for smaller, faster growing companies: what you choose to not work on is usually more important than what you choose to work on (once you remove the core work to support the company's current state). Without someone with product experience - usually either a PM or an experienced software leader - adding additional engineers often paradoxically hurts total productivity.

Most companies still have a very hard time building a good machine learning pipeline.

And most product managers would confirm that most companies do not need a good machine learning pipeline.

As an older engineer currently having fun digging into ML: yep, a well thought-out set of good-ol business rules can do a lot of what teams are applying ML to these days.

Nothing wrong with learning new things, though. I can get behind that. It's important to stay intellectually honest, however.

On the other hand, research efforts on vision, language and autonomous systems are genuinely pushing boundaries.

Business rules are concrete and have people and names attached to them. ML allows the robot to take all the blame.

Supervised learning using a variety of different neural network pipelines is doing some genuinely impressive things from a business perspective. But not much beyond that at this point (again, from a business perspective).

Really? Because most product managers I meet are the ones going “how can we put AI and Machine Learning into <some task that doesn’t need it>?”

I 100% agree that most companies don’t need nearly as much ML as think though.

full disclosure: I'm a PM in FANG

I think that's what the bad PMs do. Good PMs think 'what is the smallest possible thing we could do to start truly adding value against our problem space?'

A good heuristic is that good pms are problem oriented - bad pms are often focused on solutions first

Why should engineers agree to work for a regular salary from you? Why wouldn't they hold out for ownership in your product venture?

Supply and demand? My assumption is the less challenging a technical project becomes, the more supply of engineering talents can work on the project. There should be more generalists after all. And dynamics of supply and demand will determine if engineers will be able to "hold out for ownership".

What, precisely, limits the supply of people who have "product talents to figure out what is valuable to produce"? Why are are people with such skills apparently more rare than people with technical skills?

That beats me. If I have to guess, I'd venture to say dealing with ambiguity is truly hard. As a production manager, you need to have unique insights on the market you're interested; you need to capture future trend; you need to understand human psyche, you need to convince your company to take risks and invest into something that does not necessarily have a future, you need to build trust with both the engineering team and the management, and you should be analytical enough produce supporting numbers. Many of such activities are ambiguous in nature, and getting clarity and buy-in out of such ambiguity is in high demand in the current market.

On a side node, engineers do sometimes need to function as PMs to build great product.

In my (limited) experience; a lot of our best PMs were once engineers, and they usually transitioned to PM roles because it let them actually execute on their visions, in addition to potentially more career growth potential.

Project managers having an engineering background is definitely beneficial, but should also be in their past. They should not be actively coding on the project. It's not a split role of managing and developing.

I don't think the parent implied "actively coding on the project"...at the very least, I interpreted "execute on their visions" as having been granted the authority to direct the pursuit of business endeavors that previously didn't exist.

I'm also of the opinion that a technical manager who purposely relegates engineering to a forgotten past is one who is pragmatically posturing for premature obsolescence; an axe in denial who refuses the occasional sharpening cannot be discerned from a rusty shovel and will sooner dig his own grave.

I don't think the parent was implying that either. I was simply giving my 2 cents in regards to what a great vs mediocre project manager does. I was actually agreeing with it.

I see. Thanks for the clarification.

There's nothing that limits the hypothetical supply of people with relevant skills (innate or with potential to learn). However, there is a limit on the number of people with experience in those roles - and work experience is used as a proxy for determining skills.

I think as a mathematical comparison. Given a successful product, there are likely way more engineers than product people.

That's assuming the consequent though.

It leads to the supply for any given experience level >0 being smaller for the product people.

Also, even in the 0 experience group, the selection will be tougher. This is independent of the measurable or existing differences in skill. The person that is best at convincing the employer of hiring them as a solo product manager is in a better position to negotiate than the person who managed to be among the five seemingly best developers.

Think the key factor is, talented engineers write software that's maintainable, and easier to change, extend & adapt.

This could make the difference between having to do a complete rewrite at great expense, vs a small tweak.

For startup with no customers it's probably fine to cowboy up a solution, then throw away and start again, to find market fit.

But if you've got lots of customers, and you're forced to rewrite because the previous engineers left an unmaintainable mess, it's going to be hugely complex, risky, long & expensive undertaking.

I swear, every time I read an article on HN about salary it gives me anxiety. I'm perpetually worried that I'm not earning as much as I should be earning. I don't think it is healthy but I can't look away.

I have the same problem. I'm actually intentionally underpaid because this way (1) I have less anxiety about getting fired (2) I have less problems with imposter syndrome (3) I worry less about being underpaid since I know I'm underpaid. I know most people will think this is extremely irrational, but I'm paid about 3 times more than I can spend (I live very cheap and am happy this way) so I already save 2/3 of my take home paycheck. At this point, having better mental health and working in a nice company that lets me solve hard software problems is the most important thing, imho.

> I know most people will think this is extremely irrational

I think that's perfectly reasonable. I find it hard to believe it would be "extremely irrational" to most people. Maybe I'm underestimating the extent to which money is fetishized in your culture (I presume the US).

Also, being able to save 2/3 of your net salary is... a ludicrously privileged position, underpaid or not.

> Maybe I'm underestimating the extent to which money is fetishized in your culture

I worked in the Bay Area and currently in Boston. I live in the startup culture.

> Also, being able to save 2/3 of your net salary is... a ludicrously privileged position, underpaid or not.

Yes! We software engineers are lucky. Even when we're underpaid (I'm paid $90k and my friends with similar experience, same education, same interest/skills are paid $150k--$250k) we can afford to have a comfortable life. It seems like I won't be able to afford to buy a house any time soon compared to say a Google engineer making $300k a year, but that's the only disadvantage I can think of now. (I hate mortgage and what not)

I can admire you attitude and I wouldn't encourage you to chase money. Many people on Hacker News lack perspective because of the bland way that Hacker News works. But I would still fear that being underpaid isn't sustainable, especially not in the US. I see people all the time online that don't negotiate, or question the terms, of their contract and then get disappointed when they e.g. get laid off without notice. Are you sure you wouldn't be negatively affected if your landlord, manager or friends decides to screw you over?

There is nothing wrong with being underpaid, but in the long run you want to make sure that it is for a good reason. It is hard to focus on more important things and ignore inequality, because inequality sucks. It doesn't matter how much attachment your have to an area, or what it means for your quality of life to live close to that workplace, when your rent skyrockets. You will most likely move while instead your landlords and their new tenants do whatever they think is important.

Maybe you are prepared for it or found some way to avoid that, but to me the US often just seem fundamentally incompatible with caring about important things without a lot of effort or money to back it up.

How is it possible to save 2/3rds of a 90k salary in Boston? After tax, that's probably about 64k, which means you manage to live on 21k a year? The average studio in Boston rents for more than that a year...

I'm very young (21) so no need for a studio. My current rent is $900 including everything. I'm extremely conscious of what I eat to a paranoia level so I never eat out (except when I go out on a date with a girl or a close friends) so I cook home (I have a Trader Joe's literally next to my house) and my monthly food expense is $200. With various other stuff (gym, phone, entertainment, Uber etc...) I spend less than $1500 a month. I bike, so no transportation expense. My take home is ~$6000 a month. That lets me save around $4000/$4500 a month and $3000 on "bad" months (need to buy stuff, furniture etc...). I live comfortable enough that I don't know what I would do if I spent more than $1500 a month. I spend 90% of my free time in gym anyway :-)

This is simply not sustainable. As a veteran in this industry, I must tell you that a software engineer's career is very similar to an athlete or model's career in the sense that you make the most money in your career only in your early years ( 10 - 12 years after the first 3 to 5 years).

So if you started your career at 21 and if you are above average, your salary will grow from 25 to 25 / 37 or even 40. After that, ageism will play a role, so also newer tech that companies would prefer to hire the younger version of you rather than pay you your high salary.

Given that, if you already settle for a low salary and remain content at 21, you'll very quickly get priced out of your neighborhood in Boston (I own a rental unit there in Fenway and know the going rents for 1 BR, 2 BRs), and if you do end up getting married and having kids, your current lifestyle and saving will not be sustainable.

As a programmer/analyst/manager/architect of 34 years experience (goddamn it), that's not true unless you stay in a "grunt developer" role for your whole career.

The greatest acceleration of your salary occurs early in your career, but that applies to most careers. The sustained level of your income is dependent on how you progress.

Personally, I think the movement to project management is a Bad Idea for programmers, because we make lousy project managers and they get paid like crap, because PM-ing is considered a "generic" skill that is not IT specific.

Product Management and Architecture roles are paid better because they need the hind/foresight to actually lead the development of a product/service. That skill is pretty much only developed by experience.

So like any industry, your career development will lead to potential income changes. How that reflects your needs as an individual (eg family etc) is up to you.

Thanks I'll take this into consideration but, as a note, I live near Central Square, Cambridge and $900 is a pretty average rent for a mid sized room. I don't know what "you'll very quickly get priced out of your neighborhood in Boston" means. If suddenly housing market inflates and my rent increases, it's not like I won't be able to afford it? I've already been working for a while (I graduated early from uni) so I already have an emergency fund that's enough for me to live off of about 5 months without income.

Amazing saving, at that rate just 10 years away from 'retiring' or living on the same money you give yourself today, forever... http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/09/15/a-brief-history-of...

Though if I ever get close to this the plan isn't to retire just to have total choice of the work I do.

I applaud you for finding a way to manage your anxiety, which allows you to live a sustainable and full life. You only get so many years on this earth, so live it however you want!

Best of luck to you.

You are of course free to do this, but you bring up 3 points, let's inspect them. I'm assuming you're being underpaid by $6k or more a year.

1: Fair, but should you worry about getting fired? Even if you are in danger, if save 2/3 of your paycheck for every month of work you can afford a month of unemployment with no adjustment in lifestyle, that's already large, but you could increase this padding by having a market-conforming salary.

2: Is this worth $500+ a month to you? If so, I'd suggest you seek a therapist, because that is a much healthier long-term way to solve this problem.

3: Well yes... You can also try to not worry about it while earning more.

A nice company, normal hours and a good and interesting job is certainly worth an enormous intangible amount!

However, all things being equal I would not recommend you keep being intentionally underpaid.

You're ignoring the fact that most highly paid positions come with a lot of bullshit. Depending on the position and company, that could be overwork, ridiculous politics, or the inability for your work to have any impact. I still make good money by my standards, but it's $65k less than my highest pay (cash, not RSUs). No regrets. I find your advice that somebody not maximizing their earnings "seek a therapist" a bit tone-deaf.

I know I am getting underpaid, but I am okay with it. For me, it is the ratio of money and stress that matters. Lets say I get 20% hike but it comes with 50% more stress. I'd say no thanks and be happy with what I got. Better work is welcome, but more stress isn't.

I made a similar calculation a while ago when I moved from working at small companies to enterprise level tech and cybersecurity positions.

My goal is to maximize the amount of money that can be made without the stress, pressure and demand of the job overtaking the enjoyment of the compensation.

Admittedly, I could be making more money and being more aggressive in my career but ultimately I am satisfied with the balance I have found.

What if it's a 2,000% hike with 100% more stress?

I think there is definitely a stress ceiling after which I wouldn't accept any paycheck to let me do the job. But this is my personal opinion, I would imagine more stress => less demand on the job market => higher paycheck. For me, money isn't the end goal, but a necessary part of the adventure. When you play RPGs you don't try to make crazy money, you make enough to buy things you want in the game. That's kinda sorta how I see my financial situation.

I hear you... Money isn't the end-goal for me either. I'm just hoping I'll be able endure the stress long enough so I can retire early (at age ~50) and enjoy a virtually stress-free retirement but we'll see...

The other element I always consider is the risk. Right now the GP knows the amount of stress the job causes. Changing jobs has risk about his/her ability to estimate the stress caused by the new job.

I have a tendency to ignore things like stress (hard to measure) when selecting a job while overvaluing things that are easy to measure.

I could see being underpaid actually causing you to get fired if it was a perceived signal for how valuable you are.

> working in a nice company that lets me solve hard software problems is the most important thing

A thousand times this. Working for a small company it is expected that they won't be able to pay a highly competitive salary, but I have quite a few benefits.

However the most important part by far is being able to work solving software problems. Sometimes when doing explorative work I actually get to implement and (hopefully) reproduce recent scientific papers results. The highly technical work plus the low-pressure enviroment has been great for my mental health.

I even get to leave early the days I have classes, with no reduced pay.

In my experience, there's very little correlation between salary and longevity. There definitely seems to be a correlation between salary and "demand."

For instance, Kubernetes is really hot right now, and there's a limited supply of people who know it, so people that know it can make upwards of $200K.

OTOH, you could be the world's greatest Windows admin and you'll be lucky to make half that, because there's a million people who know Windows.

TLDR: specialization is more lucrative than sheer hard work and expertise.

Yes, although you always need to be looking toward the future. The market for Y2K consultants, even "world class" ones, wasn't so good in 2002. (Admittedly for a variety of reasons in addition to the obvious one.)

You can get used to any salary in few months. You could be earning 2x as you currently are and feel exactly the same after a couple of months.

make more. eventually, you hit a wall where you have to move to buy overpriced shit, that fits your new "salary".

What do you think a billionaire does with his money? How much shit can you buy before you simply, run out of shit to buy?

You may assume that would happen, but unless you really have a thing to show off, you'll keep a similar lifestyle and just watch your savings account growing. I know very few people who permanently changed their behaviour after a sudden change in their earnings. This is of course just anecdotal evidence.

Clearly you have not seen lotto winners. Or wall street people:) Or the really wealthy. ;)

What your talking about, is upper-middle, lower-high.

Eventually if you make enough cash, you will hit that limit. Sort of the whole "ball-washer" bit by Lewis Black.

But I am clearly not talking about lotto-winners, but someone who gets 2x salary, who may behave weird first couple of months and then becomes "normal". I fully agree about the lotto winners though. I had witnessed it actually as my school friend's parents won. For lack of a better description - they have become like animals with unlimited money, but money ended quickly though.

I spoke to your premise, taken out, ad infinitum.

its not a criticism; merely a remark - there is a point where that observation, hits a limit.

> they have become like animals with unlimited money, but money ended quickly though.

yup. pretty typical. takes a lot of mental discipline, to handle a serious wad of cash.


I do the exact same thing, so you're not alone

I get this same feeling reading the bogleheads.org investment forum. It's mostly comprised of the 1%, and while the investing advice really is wonderful, a lot of the questions asked are to the tune of "Is 3-10 million dollars enough to retire?" and "can I afford a 1 million dollar house making 510K a year?"

The life advice they offer has a different set of (mostly comical) issues. Mostly revolves around various permutations of "I worked 30-40 years at a company and got a pension paying out 10-20x what I contributed. If millennials would just work harder, they too could do that!"

I find them endlessly fascinating as well. My feelings are

1. Stop using the word "earning". We get paid, we don't necessarily earn our pay. Detach your pay from your perception about the work you do, and detach both from the value in the rest of your life. That may help you to take more money as well, if it turns out that that's what you really want.

2. As sibling comment says, it may be worth taking a pay cut in order to do something niche that interests you. I did this a long time ago and haven't regretted or reversed it. It returns the feeling of control to you.

3. Check out the country-wide or global statistics. I don't get paid all that much by HN standards, but I'm still in the top decile for my (rich) country.

4. People are very good at cutting cloth to what is available, and at making accommodations with it, so long as they are happy in other ways. I've had friends who get paid ten times what I do, and they are still living on the edge - one financial shock or employment setback and they're in trouble. My situation is no less secure than theirs.

Related to #1, I'd also suggest stop using the phrase "should be" in respect to "earning" / "paid", at least if the goal is to reduce anxiety or plan on how to accept or change the number. If it's just complaining, though, "should" language is pretty natural and fine...

The amount you get paid is a fact. It's comparable to other facts, but the comparisons themselves are also just facts. Maybe they and other facts will help you make a case for raising it (or to your manager, a case for lowering it), but if those arguments are couched in "should" language they are probably less likely to succeed.

> Stop using the word "earning". We get paid, we don't necessarily earn our pay.

Beautifully put. I kind of want to frame this, because it captures the brutal honesty of compensation.

If you're worried apply for another job and tell the hiring manager on the other end what you're expecting for a salary. Don't be ludicrous, but maybe ask for 20% more than you're making. See what they say.

If they don't blink and want you to come in, you're right: you're not making enough.

I've gotten, "Well, we should probably stop this call soon because my cap is X and you're asking for more than that." It was reassuring.

My advice is be to be ludicrous. Ask for far more than you think you're worth. As most people undervalue themselves you'll often find companies saying yes, or at least negotiating down to more than you'd have asked for if you capped your wage raise to 20%.

If they hire you you'll then be faced with the feeling that you're out of your depth, overpaid, and incapable of doing the job you took, but that's a different set of problems.

> My advice is be to be ludicrous.

For recruiters who contact me from companies that aren’t my usual area of career interest, I do this to see what the upper bound is. It once backfired on me. Shortly after finishing grad school, a recruiter contacted me about a quantitative finance position and asked what range I was looking for. I replied “about $350k”. He responded, “We can work with that.” I think I had to scrape my jaw off the floor. I didn’t go any further with the process because the job seemed to require extensive travel and 80+ hour work weeks (and who knows if I could have even passed their rigorous interview process), but his reply was quite the revelation for someone who had never been in the workforce.

I think quants can get 350k - 700k, extremely high compensation is the main draw of finance and what the positions seem to lead with.

From my reading, it's pretty much the only draw. I guess you could say working in an algorithm heavy environment is the other draw.

If a company has to pay you that much over typical market rate (for software devs), there's a reason.

There are thousands of engineers at Google/Facebook/etc making $350k/year or more while working 40-45 hour weeks. For a position where you're expected to dedicate your entire life to the job, nothing under a million would be "ludicrous".

Meanwhile, over here in London, last time i was looking, i asked a recruiter for 10% more than i was then getting, and they audibly paused before ending the conversation as quick as they could!

That’s most likely the recruiter bring jealous. I had the same experience when I was honest with a Dublin recruiter what it would take for me to uproot my life and move to Dublin.

To add to your anxiety: right now might be the best time to negotiate for life-changing salary in your lifetime.

All the market drivers are in place to make companies compete for senior/principle talent. Your salary is always a symptom of these economic drivers, not your tenure in the field.

Your financial well-being will be defined by negotiating during these goldrushes. Taking a “good” salary during these times could be the biggest mistake of your career.

Sleep on that!

Never evaluate yourself based on an abstracted metric of a population, without considering inescapable underlying correlated factors in the negative direction. (If all you know is reported salaries from anonymous people, then you don't know how much stress this distribution of people are under, and you don't know what tradeoffs they've had to make that you might not be willing to make, such as enough free time to enjoy the world of literature for instance.)

I get the same weird anxiety reading these threads. I was making 50k base as a post-doc, anxious about ex-academic friends making 80k in the "real world". Then I got a corporate job making ~$120k, and felt anxious that I wasn't making the ~$150k some of my bosses and friends were making. Switched jobs, making ~$200k in a small southern city, and I come into threads like this ("$500k comp at FAANG) feeling anxious that I'm not making enough in my mid-thirties and don't have enough saved up for retirement.

The crazy thing is, going from 50k to 200k, I can't honestly pinpoint whether I'm signficantly happier or not. So I try to not get envy about even the more ridiculous salaries. How does one get off the hamster wheel and feel content enough with salary to just live?

~200k in a small southern city if you adjust for cost of living is about equivalent to $500k at a FAANG in SF/NYC. When you know people who brag about how cheap their $2000 a month tiny studio in an old poorly maintained building in midtown Manhattan you'd understand you have it pretty good making a salary like that in a place you actually have the freedom to move around without running into someone and easily afford a really nice house & property.


Recognize that getting more salary is a fun goal to strive for, that might even get you some more options, but that you’ll be fine forever at your current salary regardless.

I guess I’ve made it one of my goals to strive for more, but If I’d end my career at my current salary that would still be a solid endgame.

"Humans are designed not to be happy, but to pursue happiness -- including wealth and status. Unfortunately, such a pursuit partly promotes unhappiness. Discomfort with our current lot gives us the drive for absolute & relative success -- an evolutionarily useful trait." from a footnote in Anti Ilmanen, _Expected Returns_

If you are making enough to live comfortably and save for the future, you're doing better than the majority of the population, don't worry about the comparisons!

Maybe an unpopular opinion but the pay gap is real and getting on the right side of it after years removes so much stress. Go apply.

I'm worried and it's given me cause of action to prepare for interviews at companies that I know pay more for SWEs than my current company.

To me, I see rising trends in terms of cost of healthcare, cost of buying a home, schooling for kids, kids themselves, caring for aging parents, etc. I just think "Damn, even with a salary that is way above median for the country, can I realistically reach all my goals in 'due time'?".

Right now I'm not sure if the answer to that question is yes, but I know that when looking at some of the salaries I see around there that grabbing a job at that salary can definitely ease my anxiety.

Preparing for SWE interviews is definitely a rat race, and I may need to move to a high COL area to earn these types of salaries, but it's a trade-off I'm willing to make to help ensure that I can reach the goals I've set for myself.

As a Canadian, I've learned to just not worry. I can't compare myself to the creme del la silicon valley crop, and that's ok. And as a millennial "work until I die" seems very natural as well.

The answer: talk about how much your making - write the number down and publish it.

The whole cultural bias against talking about how much money one makes has to go away - it serves no one except the people writing checks.

How much do you make? :)

Depends on the month and client and contract.

My friends and family rate has drifted down as low as $75 an hour recently, and I have gone as high as $400 an hour but it is uncommon.

I don't "work" that much and make just shy of 200k a year. I also round out the 40 hour weeks when I'm not billable by doing networking, marketing and tools development.

I'm not worried, I know it.

Don’t sweat these. Every HN salary thread, people come out of the woodwork to note that their sister’s roommate’s brother works at Facebook and makes $300k, therefore all tech workers everywhere in Silicon Valley make that much on average. For some reason, people here love to take outlier employees at outlier companies and hold them up as averages.

Every HN salary thread, you come out of the woodwork with the same rhetoric. See: https://twitter.com/danluu/status/986693536534982659?lang=en

For the lazy: "Median comp package at FB is $240k/yr (this number is skewed low since it's over all employees, not just engineers). Google, Amazon, etc. pay similarly. Combined, these companies employ > 100k programmers in the U.S out of maybe 3M-ish programmers." Directly followed by a screenshot of one of ryandrake's older comments.

FWIW, I don't make $300k, or even $240k (yet) nor work at FAANGM. I also don't live anywhere near the bay area, but that matters less these days (at least if you're in the US). Neither of the numbers are unreasonable targets.

I’m addressing OP’s anxiety. These threads can leave the average tech employee thinking his average salary is hopelessly low, where, in reality they are reading top examples from people at outlier companies. It’s like comparing yourself to the highlight-reel best moments of your social media friends.

EDIT: For what it’s worth, I’d like to point out you’re attacking me personally in your message, and not even addressing what I said, which is that people tend to take a bunch of exaggeration and extrapolate.

It's fine advice to not compare yourself to unreachable heights. My issue with your comment is that you characterize $300k/yr as an "outlier at outliers" number and it just isn't true. The salary numbers at Facebook (which you brought up as an explicit example) suggest it's very close to the median there, which knocks off "outlier at" easily. $300k/yr is entirely reachable without living in the bay area, without being a mythical unicorn who people only report sightings of based on 4th-hand accounts, and without driving a Porsche and having a supermodel SO.

To reiterate: $300k/yr is not an exaggeration. If you continue making the same sort of message in future threads relating to dev salary, I'd encourage you to up the number considerably or change your location frame to somewhere not in the US. You're right I was overly aggressive in my opening remark, I'm sorry for that.

Yeah, this is something I always wonder. Every time salaries come up here the anecdotal numbers batted around as "standard" in Silicon Valley get higher, and every time I neurotically search around the net for corroborating information and find little to none. I don't doubt these high salary figures are real, but I have doubts they represent the median.

Those numbers are probably TC (total compensation) which includes stocks and sometimes bonuses. If you go on Blind you can see people are receiving offers in that ballpark from Facebook and Google, who seem to be in a bidding war of sorts for talent.

All of the valley is in a bidding war for talent right now. I don't think there has ever been a better time to be a software engineer.

There was a while when startups were more attractive for compensation than FAANGs, but the big companies really stepped up their game.

Nowadays you can work at a startup and hope to make a few million dollars in the unlikely event that it IPOs and you got in early enough to have a lot of shares, or you can work at a FAANG and be guaranteed to make a million dollars every 4-5 years, or even more frequently, and you'll have better benefits too.

^^^^^ This x1000000000

a lot of FAANG-a-likes structure compensation in parts. base salary alone is not the whole picture. RSUs are anywhere from 50% to 100% of salary and vest quarterly or monthly. yearly bonuses are 15% to 25%.

at the low end a person making 130k in base is pushing 200k total comp.

It’s almost like trolling.

“The average penis is 8 inch”

The key is to accept that you'll never "earn as much as you should", let it go, and just live your life, find problems worth solving, and solve them. The rat race pays you one price in your hand while simultaneously taking another one out of your back pocket.

A good sales manager in a busy new car dealership will make 140K a year. A general sales manager is at 165K. A General manager could be over 200K... these folks typically have a HS diploma in their pocket.

This is a stupid use of averages.

PMs come in a little senior to rank and file programmers. That doesn't mean that a PM of ten years experience makes more than a programmer of ten years.

From the article:

"The salary advantage for product managers has only grown, says Hired’s data scientist Jessica Kirkpatrick. 'We see that software engineers have always been paid less than product managers, but that the pay gap has widened over the past year,' she wrote by email. The trend holds after accounting for experience. Software engineers, on average, are paid about 10% less than product managers in their first year as well as after six or more years of experience."

So it's not just a matter of PMs being more experienced.

What is the typical overall experience of a product manager in their first year vs the overall experience of a software engineer in their first year?

No one is getting a product manager title at 21 right out of college. Lots of people are getting SWE titles at 21 right out of college.

Microsoft hires program managers (what other tech firms call product managers) straight out of college. Almost all of the PM-I employees I met at Microsoft were college hires with CS degrees who had taken few or no business or marketing classes.

That's a fair point. I make less as a PM than I did when I was an Engineer, but I had 13 years of engineering experience before I transitioned. All of the new PMs I've worked with have a minimum of 5 years of experience in some other related role and most have a related degree.

I was a PM straight out of college and know many PMs straight out college. Both at the big companies like Google and smaller companies.

I’m not sure that that disproves the parent. The PMs I know started as PMs several years into their careers, while most of the SWEs I know started out of school. So a year 1 PM might have 1 year of PM experience, but several more years of relevant career experience and salary history that the year 1 SWE doesn’t have.

I wonder how experience is corrected for. Someone who comes in here as a PM usually has previous job experience and an MBA. So someone who has been a PM for a year != SDE for one year.

Yeah, I wondered about that. The PMs with whom I work all have 15+ years experience in the business. And for most of them, "the business" is our specific domain area, not just "software".

I would expect their salaries to be in the same ballpark as a senior engineer or line manager.

Also, the senior PMs all straddle the line between sales, consulting/services, and R&D. They tend to spend a lot of time in the company booth at conferences, dealing with client C-levels one-on-one, and working with our sales to team to ensure R&D is building stuff that will generate revenue. Their day-to-day interaction is with VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE mores than with us plebes.

There shouldn't be any surprise that these are highly compensated positions.

Well, it's the challenge of finding one person who can talk sales/marketing language to executives as easily as they can talk with their technical teams all while being highly organized and capable of managing a team.

They don't need to be masters at any one of those things (aside from organization and management), but they need to be well above average at all of them, which is rare nexus of talents to find.

Also, experience and skills like that are usually earned through entry-level work in other fields. Most of the good PMs I work with came up through other career paths (like non-profits, academia, print or tv production, paralegals, etc.) that are typically not so well compensated. They make lateral moves into product management for financial reasons, and they top out quickly. The highest paid PMs I know were mostly just former engineers themselves.

Also worth mentioning that product managers make great startup founders (particularly with a a great engineer co-founder).

Sales, product development, customer and market research, internal management, marketing - these are all critical skills for startups. People leaving to start their own businesses would shrink the pool, and put upwards pressure on wages.

I've also seen a lot of PM job ads asking for people with startup experience.

If anything, I'm surprised the salaries aren't higher than what's reported in the article.

$133,000 is baller money anyplace but SV and the other high-cost cities. Also, the article is discussing salaries - I can't say for sure, but I'd bet PMs frequently have significant bonus eligibility, so that $133k could easily be $150k+ in actual annual income.

And the numbers in the article appear to be national, not limited to SV (despite the headline)...

"...31,146 interview requests from 1,848 companies made through Hired’s platform..."

"...Analyses of H1B work visas and Glassdoor data from Google, Facebook..."

I saw my spouse go through this a few years back. She was a product manager with 13 years of industry experience in a deep but narrow domain (international e-commerce) when she got laid off. The job hunt was kind of arduous, because we live in the midwest and don't want to relocate, and there just aren't that many jobs in her specialty in our area. Eventually she found one, but it took months.

There were plenty of generic product manager jobs in other industries, but they were all wondering why she's worth so much if she doesn't have experience in their industry. Shifting industries, even with the same generic skill set, would have resulted in a 10-20% salary cut.

OT (and pretty random, apologies in advance!) but my company is distributed and might be a good fit for your spouse (we're an international e-commerce marketplace) if interested at all or if she'd like to chat, feel free to hit me up (email in profile!), thanks!

I'll ask her about it. Thanks!


Compounded by the fact that most companies don't hire PMs until they're more mature (aka more able to pay higher compensations), the methodology is pretty broken.

Agree, I'm a PM at a top software/internet company and engineers with half of my experience make greater package... Amazon is a mixed bag but FB, Linkedin (prior to acuisition), Google, Netflix all skew towards SWEs making higher packages when experience & performance are comparable

One thing I've noticed is that companies generally have fewer PMs than software engineers.

A company might have a whole team of engineers but only one PM, and the PM typically has a title like "Director of Product Management". So it gives the impression that product manager is a director-level position. But eventually as the company grows, they'll eventually hire more PMs who report to the Director of Product Management the same way the software engineers report to the Director of Software Engineering.

I think this has some merit. I’ve seen ratios from 3:1 to 10:1 engineers to PMs at companies I’ve been at. I could imagine the ratio going even higher.

Edit: this does raise the question, though: where do product managers come from? What does the career path of a PM look like, including what happens before they become PMs?

(was a product manager, now a project manager but could move back to my old role pretty easily)

I came over to the dark side from software development. Was tired of implementing other people’s bad ideas and convinced product leadership at my company that I could be an idea guy myself (along with all the other footwork and juggling you need to do as a PM). So it was an internal transfer. I think the good PMs have strong hands-on “actual development” backgrounds. I realize this is a self-serving opinion, too.

What made you then decide to switch to project management?

An opportunity came up and I thought I’d try it. The jury is still out but I think the role fits me better—project management seems to be more execution oriented than creative idea-generating. I’m also a big believer of being a generalist, so any opportunity to wear a new hat is welcome!

1) Straight from Business Schools - Folks who go into technology tend to become PMs after their MBAs

2) Internal transfers - Software Engineers switch to PM

3) Management/Technology Consultant -> PM: Folks switch from consulting (where they are implementing products designed by vendors) to becoming PMs in the vendor companies.

The internal transfers is much broader than just SWE to PM, as well. UX designers, technical writers, QA testers, etc. Anyone working on a dev team might start picking up PM responsibilities and make that transition at some point.

It totally depends on what problems you’re trying to solve. Engineering managers often end up performing many duties of a PM, and in smaller companies the only PMs you may need are the founders/executives

Most PMs I know are former software engineers (or if hired as PMs out of school, studied computer science) with good people skills and high level knowledge of what they help coordinate. I would hate to work with an MBA-type PM who couldn’t appreciate technical problems and solutions

Hence, you look at distributions - not averages.

Exactly. An engineer with 10 years experience, will usually be an EM who probably earns more or equal to a PM

it doesn't mean it, but there is evidence to it being true.

According to sallaries on glass door, in sanfrancisco with 10-14 years exp: Product Manager: 145k$ Web Developer: 110k$ Software Engineer: 135k$

135k is almost what many new grad software engineers make now, before considering stock. those numbers look very wrong

Glass door is slippery. Job titles can be really specific. But obviously it is not the case that a software engineer with 10+ years of experience, in San Francisco, makes $135k.

Indeed PMs are actually generally undercompensated relative to their importance to a company.

In my view, they can have it. I was a project manager (granted, a slightly different title and role) for a couple years. I went back to the bench. Fortunately I took a pay hike in both directions.

Those middle management jobs seem to be super high stress, long hours, and low reward. Literally everybody I've known who went into one of those jobs did so upon the birth of their first kid, when they felt the financial pressure. Myself included.

Now that's my impression. If you like the job, of course I admire that, and welcome you to collect your reward!

It is a job where your goal is to try disappoint people most slowly. You are pretty much rigged to disappoint everyone. Gotta spread that around though. Marketing, sales, and the business end all have expectation of perfect execution, on-time delivery, bug free, and the development, testing, support teams all just want realistic requirements and timelines. Somewhere in the middle is the island of slight disappointment that makes everyone only slightly sad. I enjoy the challenge, but it is not for everyone.

This was very well put. And one of the hardest topics to navigate in an interview process: "how would you handle a case when peron X is failing to meet requirement Y or delivery date Z?

I freaking hate this question as there is no magic answer aside from "whatever it takes to minimize the overall negative impact of the outcome for the company/project/product"

That's a lot like asking "how would you turn water into wine?" Manage expectations and deal with angry people (aside from, in your example, mitigating those failures in the future).

That’s the joke

Its also basically impossible to avoid office politics as a PM. Suddenly you're in a role where you have to make decisions that come down to opinions. And you know what they say about opinions. You can justify and be as transparent about the process as you possibly can be, but you'll still have people in other parts of the business that have their own assumptions and disagree...and suddenly there's stress and friction in the job.

Middle management -- this hits home hard.

Switched to People Manager / Product Manager / Many Other Hats role around the birth of my child.

I find it quite rewarding, but yes, endless hours and high stress. It's also an adjustment from programmer life when you had very short feedback loops, but now as a manager no one ever tells you "Hey, you're doing a good/bad job here!" and instead, you have to just read every situation better and generally don't see results of initiatives or work you've done until months (or years) later

When people grow and you find opportunities for them, it's incredibly rewarding and amazing. That's one thing I could never have as a programmer on my own.

Turning "off" is hard but I manage my hours so that I get home early enough to make dinner and spend the evening with my son before he's in bed by 8pm. I usually work (or think about work) after that unless I have a planned event.

I'm just spewing now -- I think most of us product managers need therapy sessions to just talk to people. There's just so much .. :)

I'm honestly confused why you work that much. Are you getting a lot of company stock? Whatever your % increase in salary was cannot be realistically worth the extra time and mental effort you are spending.

My single comment doesn't pain a whole picture. I work a lot but not to the point of burnout.

I don't know. I love the product we've built and I find challenge through iterating on the big ideas. Sometimes I like to go back in the code and improve non critical things. Maybe I'm just a workaholic?

I'm just impressed you got your son in bed by 8pm...

Haha! He's still a toddler so maybe that's why ;) We've been lucky with his routine since early on.

Middle management here. Can confirm. These are thankless jobs...especially if the product is rocky. Since product is as much art as science everyone thinks they can do it.

Project manager and product manager are not the same thing.

Which they acknowledged

They are more than "slightly" different. A product manger is a creative professional. A project manager is an administrative professional.

Creative writing, maybe? Outside of founder-level product managers, of which I have worked with several who are actually creative, I remain unconvinced there is much real difference.

Product Managers - identify problems to be solved, decide/play a role into what features goes into MVP or a release, talks to customers, comes up with/designs the solutions (functional solutions) to the problems (aka features and how they interconnect), do UI designs (major UI designs can go to the UX team, smaller UI designs stay with product manager), etc

If your company is using the sprint model, the Product manager is not doing much of project management.

At the end of the day, what a PM does depends on the company and how they use PMs

So you say. However, I've been at companies where PMs are running the daily sprint / scrum meetings.

As a product manager (technically "program manager" at Microsoft, but it's roughly the same as product managers across the industry), project management is one of the many things I do, in addition to the list above. But I am explicitly not a project manager in that I'm supposed to minimize time spent on that and share some responsibilities in that space with my engineering counterparts.

I don't think I've ever worked someplace where the product manager role is fundamentally creative. It's their job to j understand stakeholder concerns and coordinate the team around solutions. But designers are typically doing the creative UX work.

Not really. When I had a "product manager" title, I had to do plenty of "project management".

I've found there's some status thing with 'product manager' (particularly at Google) and product managers will make sure you know the difference.

In practice I'm not sure how different they actually are. Typically when someone is desperate to say how much better/harder their title difference is it's because it's not really obvious otherwise.

At my workplace, the product managers are part of the marketing department, and interface with the sales force. Most of them have MBA's.

The project managers are in the engineering department and interface with the engineers, suppliers, operations, etc. Most have engineering degrees.

They work out most of the project documentation together, such as the specifications, budget, schedule, etc.

It’s almost as if the roles are a little bit different at each different company! I’ve worked places with a single person doing these roles, and places where they were separate people. Also worked places without someone doing them, and that situation is consistently awful.

Exactly my situation. I need the pay bump to get us to mortgage free in the next three years or so, at which point I hand in my resignation and seek a programmer job again.

Make sure to keep coding in your spare time. I'm trying to get back to dev work now after 5 years in management land, and I'm finding it difficult to get back to my prior level of productivity. Coding skills age pretty quickly.

I have refused to go into management precisely to avoid what you are experiencing. My wages have somewhat stagnated because of this, and most of my working acquaintances have moved up, but they are miserable in comparison.

Yes, they make more, in some cases much more, but after being in IT for over 20 years, I desire my "8-4 M-F no work nights/no work weekends" life more than I do a little extra coin. I go home and do zero work save things for the wife and kids, which are more akin to fun projects. I have told my boss more than once that I have a union mentality towards work. I work only during working hours. I demand a life/work balance and would happily leave should this become otherwise. I tell young IT people all the time to not allow themselves to be burned out. Work your day job and go home to your girlfriend/wife and enjoy your down time. When I'm home, I don't do any IT work other than tinker with Raspberry Pis or projects with my kids.

You cannot hit the rewind button if you have a family. Your family will not remember you for your long work schedule (hell, they may not even remember you), rather you will be remembered for the quality time. I have told myself that I want my kids to remember our time together as one big, fun on-going series of projects where we learn things together and have fun doing it.

To each is own, for sure. I have the exact opposite philosophy. I would rather my kids see me as someone who is trying to achieve something big. After a while, they have their own interests and don’t want to do projects with you anyway.

How old are your kids? A word of advice: your kids will never be impressed by what you do, to them you could be POTUS and it would just be the normal set point for them. What they will remember is whether you cared more about your work than you did them.

Completely disagree. Kids need attention from their parents but a lot less that you might think. Best way to raise them is by example. Sure, if you never spend time with them that’s bad, but you don’t need to spend 5 hours every night with them either.

You're putting words in my mouth, I was talking about showing interest, you're talking about "5 hours a night". I repeat the question: how old are your kids?

Fair comment. By projects, that is not limited to strictly IT. My kids may not choose IT as a career, but they will certainly understand how to do basic coding, build a computer, understand the inner working, etc., for if nothing else, they understand cause and effect and that they are capable of being makers should they choose.

I take my kids fishing and hunting, for example, things they thoroughly enjoy. We go to the cinema, bookstore to get hands on reading time, they have learned how to budget for groceries, gas, fun money, etc. I could do none of this were I chained to my desk at work pounding out code in Visual Studio.

You are only as safe as your boss permits you. Tomorrow he may leave/get fired/die; the person replacing him may not be as tolerant of your actions.

Be that as may be, I have a right to a life/work balance. My own father worked himself into an early grave at 60. I lived with his being chained to his job. I swore I would never do it.

I'm not disagreeing with you. I'm warning you of some of the possible weaknesses in your argument that you're in a protected, safe place. And I do this only because I've made the same assumptions a couple of times and paid the price for not figuring it out sooner.

Ha, have a newborn and have just recently considered making the move into product.

I'm from Levels.fyi - we have a couple hundred entries for PM salaries here as well. From just a glance, it appears that Software Engineers still have higher pay though we admittingly have limited data currently: https://www.levels.fyi/comp.html?track=Product%20Manager

Thank you for levels.fyi! It's been a handy tool as a hiring manager here trying to translate to our HR department why we should bring people in at level X vs. level Y.

(For those of you reading this who haven't ever been a hiring manager at a bigco, there's a whole negotiation dance we tend to have to do with our internal HR department that you as a candidate don't see. This is why giving us hard data on what your other offers might look like, for example, helps us knock sense into the bean counters. Whee!)

That makes sense, my FAANG offer wouldn't budge an inch until I sent them a screenshot of my competing offer. Immediately got another 20% after that.

Boy, do I hate PMs. It’s as if almost every PM I’ve had to deal with isn’t particularly proficient in business, programming, or design management but knows exactly enough of all 3 silos to be dangerous at once to the other two. More often than not, I’ve found a PM will try to steer a project with some compromise to dev and design and bias toward business — in my selfish opinion as a single-silo employee, it’s mostly frustrating. PMs always come across like they believe they are miniature CEOs.

But, all that said... I could never do what they do. Oftentimes PMs are the last guys to leave, working weekends, scrambling for last minute keynotes and honestly pushing out ideas faster than anyone — good or bad. So even though I don’t always like working under a PM, I definitely respect the position and think in general the good ones really deserved the $$$.

Speaking as a PM with 5 years of engineering across the stack at decently big companies, I would say that it’s my job to push towards a bias for business value and the TL + engineering members job to push back when it’s time to prioritize the tech debt.

Trust me, I’d love to dig into the code (and most of the engineering team doesn’t realize I read their PRs + code every day still so I’m well aware when they’re sane-bagging) but the goal of a well run team is push/pull.

I can weigh the benefits of a product feature from the business and engineering tech debt, retention, etc angles and I do from time to time when the team doesn’t step up but I’m going to be biased towards shipping business value because I’m the umbrella that catches all the praise and the shit-storm when things go wrong.

You need a ton more victories to survive in PM world then you do in Eng world. It’s easier to be mediocre in Engineering then product b/c you’re gone after the 2nd or third bad launch.

A good PM, almost by definition is kind of a mini-CEO. Their job is to push the product forward in a way that serves the company’s business interest. Product management is not engineering, design, sales, or marketing, but takes all of those into account.

Maybe you’ve never worked with a good PM?

This is exactly what I've heard for some very senior (L8-10+) folks at Google: if you think of a product development team like a company, the Product Manager (PM) is the CEO, Tech Lead (TL) is CTO. If you have a Program Manager (PgM), they may act as COO.

In fact, when startups are acquired, this is often exactly how their C-suite ends up: CEO -> PM, CTO -> TL, COO -> PgM.

As others have mentioned, this is because unlike developers few companies hire PMs straight out of college. As a current PM, I'm actually fairly bearish about the sustainability of this role as far as a long-term career outlook goes. It's an extremely nebulous role, hard to prove your value, wildly differs from company to company, and most of your time will probably not look anything like what is considered textbook "product management."

The "wildly differs from company to company" hits home hard. It's like organizational schizophrenia and existential crisis had a child that got named "Product Management".

I'm exactly in the same boat. I love the job when I actually get to do what the ideal product manager job should be. It's very stressful, not very rewarding and it's very unstable work because EVERY fuckup down the chain will just be absorbed by the PM. We're always the first in line to be fired if someone else decided not to do their job (can be Eng, marketing, sales... doesn't matter).

Yea one of the major up/downsides of being the PM is the buck usually stops at you. Priduct couldn’t deliver on its promises? PM is accountable. Product couldn’t sell? PM. Product getting bad press? PM. Product succeeds wildly? PM.

I would add "engineering lying to my face about the status of a highly visible product and then telling me we have 3 months worth of work left one week before launch". It really happened.

I'm sorry to hear that, but something is wrong if the PM is that unaware of the state of the product.

Did I mention "lying" was a part of it?

How did he make such a convincing mockup that you couldn't tell he was lying about it being the project he was showing you?

Why do you assume the feature had a UI?

Yeah...I'm looking into sales engineering

This seems to be the most common outcome amongst product people looking for an out.

Sales Engineering has that "talk about the business," "talk about the tech," "talk about the people" flavor but with directly measurable outcomes, high transferability across jobs, and depending on commission structure and company - 2x-3x pay.

Exactly true. You have no idea what a great PM looks like until you work with one.

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