Learning Tech Basics for Non-Technical PMs

As a product manager without a technical background, I’ve faced challenges in getting a deep enough understanding of the tech used at my company to be able to effectively understand the conversations that I’m a part of.

In my past career as a UX director, I worked a great deal with various eCommerce systems (Websphere and Hybris) as well as CMSes (mostly Adobe Experience Manager). But now that I work at a B2B SaaS company, the technologies are considerably different. And since we’re 100% remote, it’s not possible to overhear developer chatter and pick up on context.

While obviously I can (and do!) ask the developers directly to explain key concepts, I’ve found some great resources online that have helped a great deal.

Every time that I hear a new technical term that I’m not familiar with during a meeting, I write it in a doc. When I have a free moment, I look it up and add a definition to the doc, creating a great resource for myself that grows over time.

In this article, I’ve listed out a variety of free and paid resources that might be helpful for others in a similar position.

Book

Picture of a book cover, "How to Speak Tech"

How to Speak Tech, by Vinay Trivedi

“[T]hrough the narrative of setting up a fictitious startup, it introduces you to essential tech concepts.”

I found this book did a really good job of explaining a great deal of technical concepts. It walks the fine line between making sure you’re familiar with popular terms, while not overloading you with too many details.

Free Resources

One of my favorite sites for explanations is Geeks for Geeks. Despite the name, I find it generally has straightforward explanations.

Technically offers short articles on different technical topics explained in a very straightforward manner. There’s a newsletter as well, which is available once a month for free subscribers, or twice a month for $8/month.

Technology Skills for Non Technical Product Managers explains the basics of 5 technical concepts product managers should know:

  1. Client side vs. server side
  2. Client side technologies – HTML, CSS, JS
  3. Programming languages
  4. APIs
  5. Databases

5 Things Every Product Manager Should Know About Software Development is very high level, but covers some basic definitions around:

  1. How the internet works (including concepts like server-side vs client-side, backend vs fronted)
  2. Open Source Libraries vs Custom Code
  3. Technical Debt
  4. Automated Testing

Here are several good articles about APIs:

Team TreeHouse

“Expert-led video courses for beginners and other skill levels…Our courses have quizzes and code challenges to keep you engaged—because the best way to learn is by practicing.”

You can get a 7 day free trial, and then it’s $25 / month. I’ve had a subscription for years, and go back to it periodically to learn more. The videos are engaging and short, and their “workspaces” are great for getting to actively experiment with what you’re learning about.

When it comes to general tech skills, here are some courses that I’ve found useful:

Title: Commits
The visual shows versioning of files; for example, a.txt becomes b.txt becomes c.txt becomes d.txt, but the other versions are still available.
From “Introduction to Git”
  • Introduction to Git
    • Learn how Git, a version control system commonly used by developers, works and try it out yourself
  • HTTP Basics
    • Learn how “modern web browsers automate the sending of HTTP requests and the receiving of HTTP responses.” You’ll get to run GET and POST commands using a tool called Telnet.
  • Introduction to REST API
    • “Many of the APIs you’ll encounter on the Web use an underlying design idea known as REST, which stands for Representational State Transfer. Understanding what and how a REST API provides will help you build better and stronger APIs for your users.”
    • Related: MailChimp API
  • Understanding MVC
    • “Learn the concepts behind the MVC — Model, View, Controller — programming pattern and how it can help you build web applications more efficiently and reliably.”
  • AWS with S3 (Cloud Computing)
    • “Whether you’re building a major web site, backing up vacation photos, or sharing large files with friends, Amazon’s Simple Storage Service, S3, will come in handy. In this course, you’ll learn the basics of setting up S3, creating buckets, and controlling file permissions.”
  • Machine Learning Basics
    • “[M]achine learning is giving a computer the ability to write its own rules and learn about new things, on its own. In this course, we’ll explore some of the big ideas, and toward the end, we’ll even write a little bit of code in Python that can make some intelligent predictions.”

I’ve also found other useful courses under the Development Tools topic.

Also, there are some basic SQL courses. Many product management jobs may expect you to be able to write your own SQL (Structured Query Language) queries to mine data for insights.

LinkedIn Learning

Available to anyone with LinkedIn Premium, there are a lot of great resources available here. Here are a few courses that I’ve found useful:

  • Technology for Product Managers
    • If you don’t know where to start, start here. The course covers a broad range of topics, and while it may not be in-depth enough for you in some areas, it will get you a good base on key terms and maybe some ideas of what to research next. 
  • Programming Foundations: APIs and Microservices
    • “[The instructor explains] what web services are and the benefits they provide. She then offers a comparison of several popular web service technologies—REST, SOAP, and GraphQL—describing each technology’s messaging formats in detail, along with examples of coding in several languages using a variety of server- and client-based implementations.”
  • Continuous Integration Tools
    • “Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) practices enable developers to reliably produce applications at a faster rate—and enhance team collaboration in the process. As CI/CD grew to become a key DevOps practice area, new CI/CD tools began proliferating throughout the industry.”
    • This course talks about the pros/cons of a variety of CI/CD software. I mostly found this course useful for looking up the specific technologies that my company uses.
  • Introduction to AWS for non-Engineers
  • Breaking a Monolith into Microservices
    • “Daniel Khan covers effective approaches for adopting microservices, taking a high-level look at the fundamentals without getting into programming languages, container runtimes, Kubernetes, or other technical minutiae. Instead, he takes a holistic approach to give you a general understanding of the technical and organizational challenges you need to address in order to successfully re-architect your existing platforms to microservices.”

Other

Web Technologies for Managers (online course)

While I haven’t taken this course, it looks like it might be really helpful. It covers:

  • Web fundamentals
  • Understand servers and clients
  • Front end coding languages
  • Backend coding languages
  • Databases
  • APIs
  • System architecture
  • Git hub and version control


If you have other resources that you’ve found useful, I’d love to hear about them!

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