My answer, originally published on Quora.

Q: How does the work-life balance of product managers compare to that of software engineers?

I am trying to decide between a software engineering and a product manager position at Microsoft, and to me, work life balance is an important factor. How about Amazon? Is the work life balance for product managers just as poor as it is for software engineers?

My Answer

I can't comment on Amazon or Microsoft specifically, but I do know expectations vary quite a bit by team. You'll need to investigate the culture of the specific group you are joining.

One area I suggest you specifically ask about are expectations for travel.

In general, product managers of B2B products typically travel to customer sites/user group meetings/sales calls at least once a month. It could be more. Also, if there is an offshore development team, the product manager often travels there at 2-4 times a year. Product Managers of consumer products usually travel less.

Engineers typically travel less than Product Managers, but when they do it can be last-minute with unknown duration. Experienced engineers sometimes must fly to the site of a customer with a "production down" situation, and they are typically expected to stay there until they fix the issue. It might be days, or it might be weeks. I know one engineer who was shipped to Korea (from California) for a fix that was supposed to take 2 days, but ended up taking 3 weeks over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. He missed his twin babies' first Christmas.

Some companies have "escalation engineers" who specifically handle these issues and the travel, but many companies do not.