An MBA from IIT Delhi and M.S. in Computer Science and Engineering from University of Texas, Nitesh carries nearly two decades of experience in Enterprise and SaaS environments leading globally distributed cross functional technology teams building software products for international markets. He is always keen to apply technology to find innovative solutions to complex problems. At times that requires gaining insights into new technologies. Nitesh Maan learned ML/AI from IIIT Bangalore when he wanted to leverage computer vision to solve the problem of identification of nitrogen deficiency in crops through a technology-enabled solution applied at scale.
Did you know about 80% of smartphone users check their phones within 15 minutes of waking up? This is according to IDC research that surveyed 7000 people between the age of 18 and 44 who own either iPhone or Android smartphones. The apps used to fall into several categories including social networking, news, email, etc. Clearly, software products dominate day-to-day lives in the 21st century.
Declining costs of storage, computing, and data as well as increasing teledensity and broadband penetration year on year has accelerated the usage of software products not only within enterprises but also in consumer space.
The result is the increasing demand for product engineers and hence, a good career option for aspirants in the field.
Product Engineers– who they are, what they do?
Software Product Engineers are involved in all stages of the product development lifecycle from ideation, prototyping, architecting to development, quality assurance, and launch. In short, they are full-stack engineers with experience across all stages who have good communication skills to engage with a diverse set of stakeholders including technical and non-technical. They also possess a deep understanding of the business domain and the customers who are expected to use their products. This puts them in a strong position to ensure not only are they building the right product they are also building the product right.
Pathway to becoming a Product Engineer
So how can one become a product engineer? A degree in computer science and engineering is highly recommended to learn the building blocks of software development, however, it is not a prerequisite. Follow industry trends to understand ways in which different businesses are leveraging technology to gain a competitive edge to stay ahead of the curve. India has a thriving start-up landscape ranking third globally just after China and the United States. Collectively, they have pioneered a range of business models powered by innovative ideas across several sectors such as education, finance, logistics, and eCommerce to name a few. While many of these are examples in the Business to Consumer (B2C) space there is no dearth of technology-enabled innovations championed across the Business to Business (B2B) space. Open positions in your domain of interest provide a fair insight into technologies you should start learning as you prepare yourself for a role with your preferred employer.
As a product engineer, it is highly recommended to have strong technical skills including software development skills, best practices, and processes along with soft skills. On the job, learn technologies useful across both front and back-end layers of the product and volunteer for tasks that help you develop hands-on experience implementing them on the products being developed by your team. A robust architecture is like glue which ensures that different components of the product integrate seamlessly to meet customer needs effectively and reliably.
Hone your software architecture skills as an extension to your full-stack expertise. Prototyping is useful to test initial hypotheses across technology choices, market segments, and product fitment. This makes Agile techniques a must-have for product engineers. It allows you to break down execution into iterative deliverables reducing the feedback cycles from internal stakeholders and most importantly your customers making it less costly to go about course correction in terms of reprioritising what’s more valuable to them. It is also a great opportunity to get an understanding of your customers’ psychology which is another quintessential soft skill for a product engineer.
What does the future hold?
Change is the only constant that holds as true (if not more!) in technology as is in any other domain. New opportunities are emerging as use cases grow for Artificial Intelligence, Augmented/Virtual Reality, Blockchain, and Metaverse to name a few. There are also new mediums to consume software products beyond desktops and web browsers. Smartphones are already a popular medium to log online and at times first for many users, especially in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.
At the end of Q2, 2022 there were more than 5 million mobile apps across Android and iOS app stores and a user base of more than 3 billion worldwide. Wearables are seeing rapid adoption and are frequently used in tandem with smartphones. ‘Things’ are getting smarter with sensors and connectivity options. Product engineers must follow these developments closely to conceive use cases for their own products and/or create new use cases that delight the customers with a reimagined user experience achievable through these emerging technologies. This will require a good understanding of how these technologies work and integrate with existing technologies and platforms.
There are a host of online platforms with coursework covering these topics. In addition, the Learning & Development programme offered by your employer is often an excellent source of premium content.
In summary, Product engineers are E-shaped professionals i.e., they have expertise in several technologies that cut across the software application layers. They have strong work experience in a related domain and get involved in all stages of product development which makes good communication skills a vital asset in addition to problem-solving and customer psychology understanding. This full-stack mindset gives them an edge over others to grasp emerging technologies which ultimately translates into more career opportunities and growth. Demand is high and product engineering remains a coveted career option given the opportunities that exist today and those continuing to emerge and are expected to become available in times ahead.