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A career as product owner can be exciting and rewarding. For people who enjoy technology but aren’t interested in coding all day, the role presents the perfect balance: you help develop a strategy for the product, including its features, and create a tactical plan for building it.

Before we talk about the career path, however, let’s define the role a bit more.

The role of product owner is relatively new. Historically, programmers had little or no contact with the customers, and developed a tendency to lose sight of what those customers actually needed. Even though specifications existed, the programmers would sometimes just build what they thought was best for the application.

The creation of the product owner position aims to correct this drift. Programmers rarely have direct communication with the customers, as that’s typically handled by other people in the organization such as the sales and marketing department, as well as the product managers. The product owner stays in contact with those marketing people and product managers and makes sure the developers stay on task, building what the customers and stakeholders want. The product owners use tools such as Kanban boards to manage the tasks.

The product owner oversees the development of the product, but not in a managerial role. The programmers don’t report to the product owner. Rather, the product owner maintains the product backlog. The product owner essentially represents the stakeholders and customers when interfacing with the development team.

The development team can ask the product owner questions about the direction of the product and what needs to be done next. The product owner also provides updates back to the stakeholders regarding project status, any problems that might be slowing the project, and so on.

As a side note, some organizations have a product manager. This field has a longer history; some organizations use the job titles interchangeably. But there’s a technical difference: a product manager helps decide what features go into a product by meeting with stakeholders and customers, while a product owner makes sure the team delivers exactly what’s needed.

Career Path

Because the product owner works closely with the development team, it helps if the product owner knows a bit about software development and coding. Nothing advanced, but enough to understand how software is built. The product owner must also have strong people skills and be able to have difficult conversations. (For example, reporting a serious problem to the stakeholders isn’t easy: They might not be happy to know the product will be two months late, but they need to know it nevertheless.)

There are different ways to start out as a product owner. There are entry-level positions, but only after you’ve taken training courses and gotten certified in the Scrum process. Another way is to start out in a position such as these:

  • A junior developer.
  • A member of the product quality assurance (QA) team.
  • A member of the sales and marketing team who knows the products well.

From there, you can move into a product owner position. As you advance in your career, you have many directions you can go, but it’s unlikely that you will move from product owner into coding and programming. If your goal is to become a developer, you’ll probably want to start out as a junior developer as soon as possible and not go into a product owner role at all. In other words, don’t view the product owner as a stepping stone into development.

From a junior product owner position, you can step into a midlevel to senior trajectory. Some organizations are large enough that they have up to three levels of product owners; and in such an organization, this is a direct path upward, including a salary increase as well as additional responsibilities, such as overseeing the junior product owners or juggling multiple products at a time.

A product owner can also move into other key roles:

Product Manager: Some people want to move from product owner to product manager. The product manager helps determine the features in a product and isn’t involved as much in the day-to-day development of the product.

Director of Marketing, or Chief Marketing Officer: Many companies don’t have a chief marketing officer position; instead, they opt for a VP or director-level marketing person who oversees marketing. Such people need to have intimate knowledge of the products. How do they gain such knowledge? Working as a product owner for a few years is one way.

Chief Product Officer: Depending on how Scrum theory evolves in the decades to come, we might see more organizations with this title. Many blogs and articles mention it, but presently you won’t see many such positions open. However, don’t lose hope. The industry continues to evolve, and we might see this position becoming more common later on (and certainly product owner would be a starting point when aiming for this role).

Chief Technical Officer: This role is found in most larger corporations as well as many small and medium-sized businesses. Small businesses, particularly startups, are especially looking for chief technical officers to help guide them in the creation of their products. Experience as a product owner is ideal, as well as a bit of product manager experience, such as knowing how to determine which features to include in an app or service.


Ultimately, there’s still a huge amount of confusion among organizations and teams on what exactly a product owner is, especially compared to other roles such as product manager and even project manager (a role which also has a lot of overlap with product owner). Some companies disagree on the roles and use these names interchangeably. So be careful as you’re looking at job opportunities; read the details to see what the role really is (and if it’s the role you’re looking for).

Also, remember that smaller companies will have fewer options for “moving up.” With such companies, your career could ultimately just be staying in that role and growing with the company. Or you might move out to another, bigger company, and climb the ladder. But the most important thing is to follow what you want to do.


Related Product Owner Jobs Resources:

How To Become a Product Owner

Product Owner Salary