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What you need to know about being a product engineer

Last updated

22 June 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Sophia Emifoniye

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According to Zippia, there are over 172,000 product engineers in the United States. But what is product engineering? How much do product engineers make? What education and experience are required for the job? 

Here's everything you need to know about this exciting new job opportunity that meshes coding, mathematics, design, and project management.

What is a product engineer?

While very similar to a software engineer, a product engineer writes code to create a user-friendly product. They work toward providing solutions to problems and take into consideration usage data and user feedback. They can make design decisions, prioritize the roadmap of product changes, improve products, improvise new features, and can build the product or fix it when it has bugs.

Characteristics of a product engineer

Most product engineers have four distinct characteristics: an obsession with customers, skills in usage data analysis diving, a fondness for prototyping and experimenting, and reliance on automation and CI/CD systems.

Customer obsession

Product engineers are very people-friendly. They want to provide solutions to their problems and have products that are well done and organized for that solution. They're in good communication with their customers and figure out ways to provide them with a product that reduces their pain points. There’s also a focus on shipping speed and features so that the end-user experience is great.

Analysts of usage data and competitive landscape

As product owners, they also have a product roadmap from their data and the analysis of that data. By using that data with feedback from customers, they can reformulate and restructure a design to work better for their end-users. They have great consumer insight into their wants and needs and use that to provide solutions. It’s part of the pre-prototyping and experimenting process.

Prototyping and experimenting

Product engineers are constantly working to improve their products and make them great. This work will involve presentations, briefs, mockups, prototypes, and endless experimenting to tweak and mold their products into ever-evolving items.  

Another aspect of this is doing A/B testing to see what customers prefer and to implement their feedback into the final designs.

Automation and CI/CD systems reliant

Product engineers want their items shipped super quickly and to have a lot of communication with the customers who will receive those products. With the time that both of these take, they rely on automation to keep them on top of things.

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Product engineer responsibilities

Duties that are part of the day-to-day routine of a product engineer include:

  • Creating products with CAD software (computer-aided design)

  • Formulating unique ideas for products based on user feedback and industry knowledge

  • Experimenting and prototyping of products and designs

  • Evaluating design flaws and coming up with solutions

  • Finalizing product ideas through the coordination of the development team

  • Coming up with cost-effective shipping and manufacturing procedures for the final product

While these are certainly not all the skills needed for a product engineer, they highlight some of the job’s main responsibilities.

Skills of a product engineer

While there’s a wide range of product engineering aspects, there are five main skills that all product engineers should have: teamwork, creative thinking, interpersonal communication, mathematics, and prototype software proficiency.

Teamwork

A product engineer needs to be a people person and a real team player in order to succeed. They work around groups and collaborate with development teams to create, design, and brainstorm products on a daily basis. They’re also critical parts of the customer experience and should know how to blend well within a team atmosphere.

Creative thinking

Another skill that product engineers have to have is the ability to think creatively. They need to come up with solutions to unique problems as well as be able to prototype product designs. This means they need to know what materials to use, how to use them, and how to construct it all cost-effectively, which requires creative thinking.

Interpersonal communication

Communication is one of the key skills for a product engineer. They’re collaborating with many different people and teams and need to be able to communicate the wants and needs from all levels. Interpersonal communication can help reduce miscommunications and problems from assumptions.

Mathematics

Being skilled in mathematics is another key skill that’s needed. Product engineers use a lot of statistics, linear algebra, and calculus in their development of prototypes and the end product. People interested in working in product engineering who don't have the necessary mathematical background will struggle.

Prototype software proficiency

Being comfortable with prototype software and other technical aspects of the job means they can design the images and blueprints that will be needed to construct the product. CAD, or computer-aided software, can help a product engineer have detailed parts for their prototype.

Product engineer average salary

According to Zippia, the average salary for a product engineer is roughly $89,000. ZipRecruiter reports a low of $45,500 to a high of $205,500 per year. Salary ranges are typically dependent on experience levels, as well as the demographic location of the job.

Becoming a product engineer

There are four key steps in becoming a product engineer: getting your degree, getting good experience, getting certifications, and then applying to job postings.

Bachelor's degree

Product engineers need to have a four-year degree from an accredited institution, preferably in a related field of study such as general engineering, mechanical engineering, or product design engineering. Having a bachelor's degree in a related field as well as a minor in an adjacent field is also good for job prospects. 

Discussing your plans with an admissions advisor or even talking to potential employment prospects about what degree they typically require can also help you decide on which avenue to proceed.

Product engineer seekers like to look for related work experience on the resume such as quality control specialist or entry-level product engineer. Any prior job experience that shows you have leadership skills and technical experience can be helpful when you're building your product engineer resume.

Industry certifications

While optional, certifications can help show that, as well as having some experience and expertise, you also have a commitment to the job. 

Some of these certifications to be on the lookout for include Six Sigma certifications, Engineer in Training Certification, Certification in Quality Engineering, and being Certified in Product and Inventory Management. Other smaller certifications in specialized subsections like project management's Agile or Waterfall can also be a boost.

Apply as a product engineer

After you have your bachelor's degree and some certifications, you can revamp your resume to really highlight your product engineering education/experience. Applying for positions means you need a specialized resume and cover letter that’s tweaked for that job.

Throughout your application, you’ll want to mirror your skills and candidate traits with the job description so that these keywords can be easily picked up if the recruiter or employer is using an ATS, or applicant tracking system, which is a software designed to highlight keywords and choose applications based on those keywords.

You can reconfigure your resume and application for each job by ensuring that each job description's keywords for skills and such are put into your cover letter, application, and resume.

FAQs

Do product engineers code?

Product engineers do code, but they also work with usage data, customer service and development, and competitor research. They create solutions to problems but need coding and mathematics background to create a user-friendly end product that incorporates feedback and user data.

What is the difference between a product developer and a product engineer?

A product developer works on each step of the product’s creation process, from beginning to end. A product engineer steps in after the marketing research has been finalized.

Are product engineers and product managers the same?

A product manager works to find a business, customer, or technical problem. They look at why the problem should be solved and how it will affect the business. A product engineer will be the source of delivering the problem's solution.

What is the difference between product engineering and growth engineering?

The difference between product engineering and growth engineering is that product engineers will focus and experiment on improving a singular product, while growth engineers will focus on the product's revenue bringing, signups, or subscriptions.

Are engineering certifications worth it?

Certifications for any type of engineering are worth it because they show at a glance the commitment of the person to that job as well as serve as a validation of their knowledge. They show job recruiters that you’re willing to advance in that field and have the skills for that position. 

Some certifications serve as proof of industry advancement and continuing education in the field. For product engineering, they can be a great way to gain that first job in the field, plus they can help define and set you apart from other applicants that may not have those certifications.

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