From Software Engineer to Product Manager to Founder of SVPG - Interview with Marty Cagan

Marty Cagan has worked for several leading Hi Tech companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Netscape Communications, America Online, and eBay. During his career he has performed most of the roles that are key to any technology company: product management, software development, product marketing, user interface design, usability engineering, technical writing, software testing, engineering management, and general management. Marty is a founder of the Silicon Valley Product Group a company that provides services that span the full product life cycle. He also authors a news letter that both informs and inspires. In this interview Marty shares his thoughts on Product Management.

1. What’s your academic background/training?
My education is in Computer Science, and I also did the Stanford Executive Business program. But my real education came from having the opportunity to work for and with from some of the best product minds in our industry.

2. What did you do before you where a product manager?
I was a software engineer at HP Labs.

3. Where did you work before you set up Silicon Valley Product Group?
I was previously SVP Product Management and Design for eBay.

4. What inspired you to become a product manager?
I learned the hard way that it doesn’t matter how great your engineering team is if the product manager doesn’t give them something useful to build.

5. How did you make the move from being a developer to becoming a Product Manager.
I found someone that I thought did this job really well, and he pointed me in the right direction.
6. What do you like best about the Product Management job?
Creating products and services that are used and loved by millions of users and customers.

7. What do you least like about the Product Management job?
So many people out there have no idea what product management really is. They think it’s marketing. Little wonder the vast majority of products and services are such dismal failures.

8. How do you keep up with the latest technologies?
If you love technology like I do you can’t help but want to follow developments closely. Also, many of my friends and colleagues are leading engineers and architects and I constantly learn from them.

9. Describe the Product Managers job in one sentence.
This is the person responsible for discovering and defining a product that is useful, usable and feasible.

10. What’s your dream product to manage?
Been there and done that (and extremely grateful for it). Now I love to help others create their dream products.

13. What would be the top three attributes you need to do the Product Management job?

#1. Willingness and ability to engage deeply with engineers on technology – to understand what’s just now possible.

#2. Willingness and empathy to engage deeply and directly with end users and customers to understand their needs. Especially to try out your ideas on them and not let your ego get in the way of learning, adjusting and identifying the right product.

#3. Willingness to do whatever it takes to get that product shipped.

14. Product Managers come from different backgrounds: what advice would you give someone who wanted to break into Product Management who had an engineering background. How would that advice differ if they did not have a strong technical background?
(That’s a great question and one that I want to think more about and then probably write an article on for my newsletter, as many software developers talk to me about switching to product management. For the second part of that question, for people that aren’t technical, I happened to write about that in my last newsletter: http://www.svpg.com/blog/files/are-you-tech-enough.html)

15. Looking back, as a former Product Manager, what’s the one product (or product range) that has brought you the most satisfaction?
My favorite job ever was at Netscape as the Internet was just emerging. New technologies were being invented almost constantly, combined with daily interactions with developers and customers from startups and established companies all racing to learn how they could use the Internet to help solve long-standing problems. A great time to be a product manager.


  1. Hi all!

    So I'm dying to know, has Marty thought of an answer for the 1st part of question #14? How does one with a computer science background break into product management?


  2. Hi,

    I'm not sure if Marty has written a paper/email newsletter to answer the 1st part of Q14 - however a few product managers have come from engineering/computer science backgrounds - you can read how they moved into product management - by clicking on How others have moved into Product Management and reading the interviews of those with technical backgrounds.

  3. Thanks Derek,

    Great stuff by the way -- kudos for these interviews. I LOVE THEM!!


  4. I loved the interview,as even I aspire to be a Product Manger from the current role.

  5. In response to the first comment-Marty has now answered the 1st part of #Q14 – you can read it by clicking Moving From Engineering To Product Management


  6. Hi Derek,

    Thanks a ton! These interviews provide excellent perspective for someone who is trying to get into product management. (A small correction to point out: For Q.14 - the link to Marty's site, is appended with a bracket which causes a 404)


  7. This interview is just great and it provides lot of things to learn. Questions and answers having brilliant material for a business entrepreneur. Many people find this interview very helpful.

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