Product Developers - Draft Definition

From a software developer, to a full-stack developer, and now to a product developer, I changed my views on any professional roles I take and maintain at work. The last one, product developer, has no link because I don’t seem to find any definition that satisfies my understanding and vision for the concept.


This post is an attempt to put together a first draft of a working definition of Product Developer concept, and is based on a lightning talk I gave once at work ( slide deck ) in February 2019.

What is a Product?

Here are some examples of Product definitions out there.

In language [ oxford dictionaries ]:

  1. An article or substance that is manufactured or refined for sale.

  2. A thing or person that is the result of an action or process.

In business [ businessdictionary ]:

A good, idea, method, information, object or service created as a result of a process and serves a need or satisfies a want.

It has a combination of tangible and intangible attributes (benefits, features, functions, uses) that a seller offers a buyer for purchase.

What is a Developer?

And here are some examples of Developer definitions.

In language [ oxford dictionaries ]:

A person or thing that develops something.

Hmm, then what does it mean to develop something? [ oxford dictionaries ]

Grow or cause to grow and become more mature, advanced, or elaborate.

Start to exist, experience, or possess.

Okay, let’s look at how the term Developer has been used in the software world where it is extensively used.

Wikipedia says a Software Developer is:

a person concerned with facets of the software development process, including the research, design, programming, and testing of computer software. Other job titles which are often used with similar meanings are programmer, software analyst, and software engineer.

And Techopedia describes Developer as:

[..] well versed in at least one programming language and proficient in the art of structuring and developing software code for software or a program. Depending on job role and type of software developed, a developer may be classified as a software developer, application developer, mobile developer, Web developer, etc.

Although the primary job role is writing code, a developer also may gather requirements for software, design or overall software architecture, software documentation and other related software development processes.

Now to the point. What is a Product Developer?

My dream idealistic definition of such concept might be something like:

An autonomous system concerned with creating, maintaining and growing a good, a service or a community that serves a need people have.

But I leave that for dreams. Next is my best description as for the moment of how I think about the concept, based on my own experience with the aforementioned transformation.

Product Developer [Draft Working Definition]

A person who contributes with expertise, as well as with soft skills, to the process of developing tech-enabled solutions to validated problems.

Working definition explained

.. contributing with experties, as well as soft skills, ..

product developers engage in a T-shaped manner*:

  • Vertical line in T. They contribute mainly and deeply to areas of their expertise within the product.
  • Horizontal line in T. They engage and take ownership, collectively and collaboratively, in the overall process and the final product.

.. solutions to validated problems.

We have the tendency to immediately jump into finding solutions, thinking that we do understand the problem when we actually do not yet, falling for attribute substitution.

product developers have to:

  • validate the problem first. can we express the problem as a user story or as a job to be done? do we have enough data or feedback to suggest it exists? what is the cheapest to-the-point prototype we can build to gather missing data/feedback?

  • understand the problem size and impact. is it big? is it frequent? where is it in priority compared to other problems we identified?

.. building tech-enabled solutions ..

We know no better method than the scientific method to build on when it comes to creating something useful, sustainable and scalable. We take that method and all the knowledge we have in different fields, and develop solutions to complicated problems that make those problems disappear underneath a much simpler form of interaction or experience. That is Technology (engineering buried underneath).

Good solutions to validated problems are much more likely to be the ones built following that method again and again using all what today’s technology offers us as a starting point.

* Usually, it is said that person A is T-shaped and person B is I-shaped. I think that it is a naive way to look at people, often brought to us by naive managers or business men. People are often too complex to describe them in shapes, and one person can certainly engage in T-shaped, I-shaped or whatever-shaped manner in different environments or under different circumstances. Therefore, I talk here about a manner of engagement rather than the “person’s type”.