Spawning a New Character
Pitching my role into existence
Back in October, I shared my story of how I pitched a First Product Manager role with my now-former employer on Twitter.
After creating that thread, I thought to myself, “Why not delve into more detail?”
If you’re looking for a tl;dr of what is to follow, check out the original Twitter thread.
If my story resonates with you or a friend, consider sharing this post with your network.
My introduction to product management
For my undergraduate program, I attended engineering school, which came with mandatory internships scheduled into the almost five-year long program.
Despite the mandatory internships, we students were still responsible for securing these jobs on our own.
Naturally, jobs in the tech industry flooded our school’s internal job board.
I knew software engineering roles weren’t a good fit for me. I loved solving problems, writing pseudo-code, thinking of edge cases, and thinking from the perspective of the user. But as soon as I had to write out the syntax, my brain shut down.
On the other hand, product management sounded neat and deeply resonated with my generalist tendencies and preferences.
For my fourth internship, I applied to a Product Manager Intern role with Informatica after deciding I wanted to pivot away from my previous back-to-back internship stints in technical writing. To my pleasant surprise, I was invited to interview with Informatica and later received an offer from them.
Simultaneously, I had applied to a process engineering position, which was completely aligned with my actual field of study.
Up until this internship, I had worked in tech, despite studying a non-traditional “technical” program in chemical/process engineering.
I felt like I owed it to myself and my program to give a job in my field of study a shot, so I took the process engineering internship over the product management internship.
Entering the workforce full-time
It was March 2020, and I was still looking for my first full-time job out of my nearly 5-year long Bachelor of Applied Science degree in chemical/process engineering.
I had a couple of interviews and had just gotten rejected from a Program Manager role at a fleet tracking and management company, despite having an internal referral. This felt soul-crushing at the time.
I went back to the drawing board and applied to a Project Coordinator role on my university’s internal full-time job board.
I made it through the interview loop and started working in early May 2020, reporting to the CTO at a B2B supply chain startup.
I had done a lot of project management work in my previous internships and was accustomed to working with Development teams, so I felt right at home.
However, I asked a lot of questions because it didn’t sit right with me that we were building our product based on custom requirements from specific customers.
So I kept asking questions to get to the heart of the requests. I worked with Development and our Business Analyst to standardize the solutions that we provided as much as we could and handle the more customized parts of requests outside of the standard product.
After about a year in this role, I was promoted to Project Manager.
Product on my mind
I realized that a lot of what I was doing was product management work.
I brushed up on what product managers are “supposed” to do in the eyes of the tech industry in principles-based strokes.
I managed to connect with a Product Manager at Google via the Women in the Product group on Facebook. We chatted, and she recommended I write up a job description for the role I thought I deserved.
Writing the job description
I conducted an inventory of my work calendar to extract what I was doing day-to-day into a list.
I added the activities I wanted to start doing or be involved in to this list.
I conducted research into publicly available career ladders for Product Managers and used common categories to group inter-related activities.
Next to each activity, I tagged one of the following statuses to evaluate where I was in learning the skill:
Pitching the role
I asked for 30 minutes with my CTO and skip-level manager (COO), sharing an agenda with them ahead of the meeting, with the draft job description attached to the meeting invite.
To be honest, I don’t even remember if I created a formal slide deck. I don’t believe so.
I spoke to the following:
My business case, or why I saw value in introducing the function of product management and the role of a Product Manager in the context of achieving business goals and facilitating success for our customers;
Where there was alignment in my competencies against those an effective Product Manager needed; and
Areas that I would need to grow into
After taking them through these thoughts, I asked them if they had any questions, concerns, or other thoughts.
To my recollection (read: goldfish memory), they must not have had any major concerns because there were no immediate hard disagreements.
As for the new job title, I opted for “Product Operations Coordinator” after having listened to Melissa Perri’s podcast episode with Denise Tiles about the topic of product operations. Yes, I did try to position for the title of “Product Manager,” but that is a tale for another time.
Doing the work: the first 6 months
I now had four “direct reports”:
Business Analyst & Delivery Lead
Product Marketing Manager
Excluding myself, only one of us had firsthand experience working in a product team—and my experience was from an Agile Coach’s perspective, so not quite 100% applicable either.
My Executive Leadership Team also shared a company strategy slide deck with us, so I had some high-level idea of where we were trying to steer the company.
That’s only the beginning of the journey. Now, the rubber hit the road, and it was time to get to execution. To put my own spin on Peter Drucker’s quote:
Culture[, and consequently execution,] eats strategy for breakfast.
🤔 Lessons learned
Instead of going into the grueling details of what I did sub-optimally (read: inwardly cringe whenever I reflect on that period of my professional life), I’ll dive into the details behind the lessons I learned and shared in my original Twitter thread.
🧘🏻♀️ Be clear on your intentions or reasons for making any decision in life, especially the “big” ones.
Whether we’re aware or not, we exercise criteria when we’re presented with different options. Whether the criteria that you use is self-defined or comes from external sources (for example: peers, parents, friends, colleagues, society at large), that decision is ultimately yours.
❓ Ask questions, even if they seem like they’re basic questions, to come to answers with collective knowledge, experience, and wisdom.
You literally will never have all the information readily available that you need to come a best-informed decision.
That’s why it’s important to cultivate solid relationships with your cross-functional peers, teammates, and stakeholders.
Don’t understand why a solution was packaged up a certain way? I asked my Solutions Engineer.
Don’t understand the difference between label A vs. label B in data tables, even though there is only a one-word difference between the two labels? I asked my Business Analyst.
Wasn’t sure if our ideal customer profile represented the minimum number of traits that might make a prospect a successful customer or the “perfect fit” customer? I asked my Product Marketing Manager.
Don’t understand why certain technical limitations within our architecture exist? I asked my Tech Lead, Architect, or CTO.
Tap into your curiosity and be courageous to ask questions, even if they seem like they’re basic questions.
❤️ Product development and go-to-market are a team sport.
If you’re looking for feedback on a specific deliverable or a sense check on work-in-progress, tap into others’ areas of expertise to help your business and your customers succeed.
Stay hungry for seeking the truth because it is the continual pursuit for truth that will bring success to the product and company.
Invite others to join the table. The more diverse perspectives you have around the table, the higher the probability that you would have thought through the nuances in needs, pain points, and preferences that different individual customers or users inevitably have.
🗣️ Ask for feedback from teammates, partners, and stakeholders often.
If you’re like me and are prone to projecting your self-perceptions onto others, asking others for feedback about how you’re doing and how you’re collaborating is crucial to ground your self-perception more closely to objective reality.
Everyone has experienced life differently, so you might receive critical feedback that you don’t necessarily agree with. Learn how to take this critical feedback with grace. Remember that you don’t need to take action on all the feedback that you receive either.
🦚 The ego can make or break you in the Product Manager role.
Learn to create distance from any unkind words you may hear or from situations where things that don’t go your way. It’s about business, nothing personal.
If you realize you’ve made a mistake or misspoke, own up to that. I know we’re taught it’s a sign of weakness, but I believe there is a balance between having confidence in our abilities and being vulnerable that each of us can find while still feeling safe.
We’re only human, which means we’re imperfect by definition.
💜 Seek external mentorship or join communities for personal and professional support.
I’m fortunate to have met and befriended incredible folks from all around the world who are passionate about the craft and are—most importantly—kind people.
I’ve also found communities that help me hone my skills and continuously remind me to strive to be a better human. They are as follows, in alphabetical order:
💼 If you’re trying to enter the tech industry or become a Product Manager, any and all experience is valid and valuable.
It comes down to owning your story and journey.
Show the recruiter through your resume and describe in your interviews how all your past experiences have shaped you into who you are today and what impact you have delivered and will continue to bring to the organizations you work for.
Focus on showcasing the fundamental skills. Express your hunger and curiosity to grow as a person and hone your skills.
You don't have to be an expert on all the tools used day-to-day to be a great ____.
🦸🏻♀️ Advocate for both what's best for your customers or your users and the business.
These can appear at odds sometimes, such as the time before the product has product-market fit. But keep the dialogue open and constructive. Make tradeoff decisions intentionally. Challenge the current paradigm. Understanding and empathizing with people (users, customers, stakeholders, and who you work with) is key.
🗻 Focus on making progress, not achieving perfection.
There is no objectively perfect way to do your job, especially a job as diverse and nuanced as product management is. Use frameworks, don’t use frameworks, be inspired from frameworks—do whatever works for you, your team, and your organization that lets your customers and the business succeed.
Which of the lessons I learned resonates with you most powerfully? Share your thoughts below. 👇
Let me know what you think about this chapter of my life!
As for December’s post, I’m planning on wrapping up the end of 2022 with shorter daily posts.
I enjoyed seeing my friend Mirza’s 30-day PM writing challenge, so I’d like to give it a try.