Technical skill set for product managers

We’ve been working on hiring a product manager here at Veracode, and it’s gotten me thinking about technical literacy.

The one thing you don’t want in a product manager is someone who thinks he can write the code better than his/her developers. That sets up a major problem with boundaries–you want the product manager to worry about user experience and whether the customer’s business need is being fulfilled, not whether the developers are implementing the feature the way that he would.

But you also don’t want a product manager who’s technically illiterate. That way lies unrealistic feature requests and their cousin, unrealistic customer commitments; communication breakdowns; and overreliance on engineering for decision support.

I think there’s a middle ground: a set of technical skills that the product manager will use to do his own job, and that will help him communicate better with his engineers, without getting into their business.

In my client-server days, the skill set might have included (in addition to normal technical literacy, e.g. ability to run Office apps):

  1. SQL
  2. Excel pivot charts
  3. Windows batch scripting

These days in the SaaS world, it seems like the skill set might be:

  1. Basic statistics
  2. XSLT
  3. Excel pivot charts
  4. CSS
  5. SQL (it never goes away!)

What’s your favorite technical skill that you use all the time as a product manager?