Software Product Manager Careers: Job Description & Salary

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Learn about a software product manager's job description, salary and education requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a software product manager career.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Software Product Manager

Software product managers oversee the design, development, production and, in many cases, the product support of software. Learn more about the pros and cons of becoming a software product manager to make an informed decision about your career.

Pros of Being a Software Product Manager
Favorable job growth in the field of software development (22% predicted from 2012-2022)*
Relatively high salary (the majority earned between $58,000 and $125,000, as of July 2015)**
Can work in multiple industries (computer manufacturing, information technology services, software publishing, etc.)*
Minimal outsourcing expected for these positions*

Cons of Being a Software Product Manager
Long hours may be required*
Must continue education or training to keep up-to-date with new technology*
Strong technical and interpersonal skills are usually required*
Pressure to meet deadlines satisfactorily*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

A software product manager oversees the development, production and distribution of software applications or software systems. Responsibilities include collaborating on the design of software, providing documentation and records throughout the production process and overseeing customer support services offered to clients. These managers must be able to provide personnel reports, communicate plans for development and mentor teams involved in the process.

In many cases, software product managers are intermediaries between information technology (IT) or software development departments, customers and other departments in an organization. This entails creating quality standard goals, developing initiatives for product requirements and setting objectives for distribution. A software product manager must also work with software development teams to keep pace with the product development timeline, suggest last minute adaptations and sometimes conduct research on the ideal products to market.

Job Prospects and Salary

Payscale.com reported that software product managers with earnings in the 10th-90th percentile made annual salaries ranging from about $58,000-$125,000, as of July 2015. While the BLS doesn't provide job outlook information specifically for software product managers, jobs for software developers were expected to increase 22% over the 2012-2022 decade. The favorable employment growth is largely attributed to keen interest in new software products for mobile devices, electronics and computer systems.

What Are the Requirements?

Different employers bring differing expectations to the table when hiring software product managers, but job posting indicate that a bachelor's degree is typically required. Most employers look for applicants with a strong background in IT, in which case a degree in computer science or a related field would be appropriate. Some employers also hire business or engineering majors.

Because of the managerial nature of this job, you can expect employers to request several years of work experience. One way you can earn work experience is by starting out as a software developer and then working your way up the corporate ladder.

Useful Skills for Software Product Managers

To succeed as a software product manager, leadership and organizational abilities are often essential. Other attributes that you may need include the ability to:

  • Utilize analytical skills
  • Work in a high-pressure environment
  • Communicate effectively (both in writing and speaking)
  • Work as part of a team
  • Develop strong technical and computer skills
  • Anticipate customer needs and issues
  • Multitask
  • Understand business and marketing concepts

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers typically outlined the specific leadership tasks for product managers and work requirements in job postings. The most common requirements were years of experience, familiarity with software development, communication skills and leadership qualities. The following job postings found on Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com in April 2012 can provide an idea of the qualifications employers often seek:

  • An online vendor based in Washington needed a software development manager with at least five years of experience in software development and two years of experience managing software developers who could work within an Agile/Scrum environment. Both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in computer science or a similar area were required. Applicants needed to be experienced in hiring, training and managing a development team.
  • A learning company in Massachusetts looked for a software manager with at least eight years of experience in implementing web applications. Applicants needed knowledge of SQL Server, HTML and ASP.NET, as well as other Web development languages and technology. A bachelor's degree in computer science was required, but the company preferred a master's degree holder.
  • A financial technology solutions provider in Texas searched for a software development manager who could hire effective workers, manage crises and research and plan developmental projects. The applicant needed to understand Agile software and various servers. The employer preferred applicants with at least five years of experience.
  • A research and consulting company in Washington D.C. was hiring a software product manager who could lead user experience, engineering and quality assurance teams. Requirements included a bachelor's degree and at least five years of experience working in software development. The ideal candidate would also have three years of experience in an Agile software development environment and demonstrable communication, management and analytical skills.

How Can I Stand Out?

Most software product managers are required to have years of experience and a bachelor's degree. However, job postings indicated that some employers prefer to hire master's degree holders. A master's in computer science is usually the requested degree, though a Master of Business Administration (MBA) could also qualify you for some positions. Many colleges and universities offer master's degree programs in computer science, and they generally take two years to complete.

Though a strong computer background is necessary for the job, you may benefit from taking business or management classes. These classes can help you understand basic business principles, which can be beneficial when managing teams of employees or interacting with customers.

Alternative Career Paths

Software Developer

If you're interested in a career in software development but don't want to manage other employees, you might consider becoming a software developer. These positions can also help you obtain the requisite experience to become a product manager. Software developers design and develop computer programs from the ground up, often in conjunction with computer programmers. A bachelor's degree in computer science or a related area is often sufficient to become a software developer, though some employers may prefer to hire individuals who possess a master's degree.

From 2010-2020, the BLS projected that software developers who design applications would see employment growth of 28%, while jobs for software developers who design systems would increase 32%. In May 2011, the BLS also indicated that applications and systems software developers earned median annual salaries of about $89,000 and $97,000, respectively.

Computer Programmer

If you're interested in developing software but the education and experience requirements of a software product manager aren't for you, you might be interested in a career as a computer programmer. These professionals write code for computer applications and software programs. Some computer programmers can find employment with only an associate's degree, but most employers prefer to hire individuals who hold a bachelor's degree.

The BLS predicted that employment for computer programmers would increase 12% from 2010-2020. However, growth in this field is often tempered by outsourcing. As of May 2011, these workers earned a median annual salary of about $73,000, according to the BLS.

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