Technical Product Managers

By Scott Sehlhorst December 15, 2007

Pragmatic Institute’s 2007 survey of product managers includes questions that identify product managers as having technical backgrounds. Product management involves many responsibilities that require some level of technical acumen. In this article, we look at the survey responses to see if the degree of technical skill has a correlation with compensation.


Identifying the Variables

We looked at three different inputs for comparing the compensation data. We looked at reported level of technical expertise, years of experience, and job title. To determine total compensation, we combined reported salary with reported bonus.

Level of technical acumen
There were four responses available in the survey for determining technical savvy:

  • I am non-technical
  • I am somewhat non-technical
  • I am somewhat technical
  • I am very technical

Years of Experience
We filtered our data analysis to look at people who responded to having any of the following years of experience:

  • 01-02
  • 03-05
  • 06-10
  • 11-15
  • 15+

This removed people who reported 0 years of experience or left the field blank.

Job Title
We considered three responses for job title:

  • PM (Product Manager)
  • PMM (Product Marketing Manager)
  • TPM (Technical Product Manager)

We excluded those people who responded with “other” from this analysis.

Total Compensation
We determined total compensation by adding the reported salary to the reported bonus amount. We did not analyze the bonus mechanism (stock vs. cash, etc).

Product Manager Compensation By Job Title and Years of Experience

First, we looked at the compensation versus years of experience - sorted by job title.

The second column shows the number of responses for each category. It is interesting to note that almost 90% of respondents have more than five years of experience. Here’s another view of the same data that makes comparison a little easier:

Here’s a graph of the same data:

The red line represents number of respondents against the right axis, and the blue bars show average total compensation against the left axis.

Here’s another chart that shows each title as a different curve, demonstrating average total compensation versus years of experience:

Product Manager Compensation by Title and Technical Level

Then we looked at the breakout of compensation by technical level - again, sorted by job title.

Almost 90% of the respondents are either somewhat or very technical. And all of the technical product managers reported some level of technical experience. I guess that would be an obvious expectation. Here’s how it looks visually:

The red line represents the number of responses (against the right axis) and the blue bars show total compensation against the left axis in USD.

Product Manager Compensation by Technical Level, Title, and Years of Experience

When we combine all three elements, we see the following:

 

And the number of respondents in each category:

Conclusion

Technical product managers, at least the more senior ones, are paid less than non-technical product managers - when looking purely at titles. However, product managers with technical skills are generally paid better than product managers without them. One interpretation of the data might be that while technical skills help you earn more in any product management role, the technical product manager role generally earns less - perhaps due to perceived scope of responsibility or impact.

Scott Sehlhorst

Scott Sehlhorst

Scott has been helping companies achieve Software Product Success since 1997, and started Tyner Blain in 2005. Scott is a product management and strategy consultant, and a visiting lecturer for DIT's Product Management program. Scott has managed teams from 5 to 50, and delivered millions of dollars in value to his customers. You can reach Scott at scott@tynerblain.com, or join in the conversation on the Tyner Blain blog.

 

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