This post, How to be a program manager by Joel Spolsky is a spot-on description of what I have been doing for the past 10 years. My job title has changed many times from project manager (with a mix of information architect) to product manager but I'm essentially a program manager. My first job out of business school was web programming for Bank One. I knew nothing about HTML, CSS, SQL or any other languages. Fortunately, neither did Bank One. They just knew they had to start somewhere. This gave me an opportunity to learn every aspect of the web development from writing HTML (in notepad) to setting up database servers. I had some help, but it was still new to everyone so I mainly had to rely on myself and experimentation.
"It helps, as a program manager, to be pretty good at coding yourself. This is unfair. Program managers aren’t supposed to write code. But programmers tend to respect programmers a lot more than non-programmers, no matter how smart they are. It is possible to be an effective program manager without being a coder, but the burden of earning the respect of the programming team will be higher."
Having that hands-on experience, no matter how far back, gives me a big leg up where others (marketing, business executives and even web designers) stand on shaky ground. The understanding still needs to be demonstrated, but it so much easier when you share the same language and thought process.