What is the ideal Product Manager? Obsessed with the customer, a convincing communicator and capable of making decisions based on data. These are all crucial qualities, but on top of them, a Product Manager has to trust their engineering team 100%.
Product Manager at Reddit shared key qualities and major responsibilities you’ll need in a product position.
Before joining Reddit as a Product Manager, Nick Caldwell held various positions in engineering leadership at Microsoft across a 15-year career, culminating in a role as General Manager for the Power BI product suite. Nick holds a degree in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from MIT and an MBA from UC Berkeley. He’s a native of P.G. County Maryland but is happy to call San Francisco home.
Does Reddit have any unpaid Product Manager internships to gain experience in product management?
Reddit is still in its growing phase and only recently announced an internship program. The first batch of interns will arrive in May/June of 2018 and are all software developers. We will likely move into Product Managers and other disciplines in the next round of interns.
When hiring, do you look more for generalists or specialists?
Generalists. The ability to drop into an area, understand and synthesize insights from customers, develop a strategy, and create a roadmap are general purpose skills no matter what the underlying product is. With 15 years of experience, you are probably looking at overseeing multiple projects as well. To scale up that way you’ve got to be general and learn to hire people that can specialize in particular areas.
How does Reddit prioritize competing features being requested by different business partners?
Reddit is fortunate to have a very vocal community when it comes to providing feedback about the service. We tap into that energy primarily by using subreddits dedicated to interacting with our users. In the largest subreddit, we can get feedback from more than 250k people!
We also do surveys and do studies in our UX lab to help understand the most urgent needs. The biggest challenge in all this is that Reddit has been around for a long time, so we have to be extra careful to balance the needs of our dedicated hardcore users with the needs of newbies to the platform.
What are key qualities of a great Product Manager for team’s success?
The best Product Managers I’ve worked with/managed have been ones who
We’re absolutely obsessed with the needs of our users AND the competitive landscape.
Were able to craft a clear and fast roadmap that went straight a delivering value to users without distraction.
Knew how to trust the engineering team and get out of the kitchen.
Is MBA necessary or is it a great advantage if one wants to transition from engineering to Product Management?
Although I have an MBA and it triggered my transition from pure engineering to general management, it isn’t necessary. I view MBA’s as more of a forcing function to accelerate change. And MBA will get you out of your comfort zone fast and demand you learn new skills. But I have seen plenty of folks transition to Product Management simply by investing their time in the most important thing: understanding customers.
What are the biggest stumbling blocks for someone transitioning from software engineering to product?
The toughest thing for me to learn was how to empathize with users and understand that they probably don’t care so much about how great our architecture is.
Do you use sprints or Kanban on Reddit? Do you optimize your current products or look to build new verticals?
At the line-level, there isn’t a standard/proscribed development methodology although most teams are using kanban boards with two-week sprint check-ins. In my experience, the right methodology to use is highly dependent on the makeup of the team, the product you are trying to build, expected quality levels, deployment infrastructure, and other factors.
My general advice is to grow the right methodology to suit your team’s needs and not get bogged down in dogma.
How important is a computer science/technical degree?
Having a CS degree will help you to improve your understanding of what’s possible out of the engineering team. Your estimates will get better, and your relationship with the team will be better. Most of the Product Managers I’ve worked with have had CS degrees and done some coding and various points in their lives. That said, it isn’t a requirement.
Have you seen people with sales/BD experience successfully transition into product management roles?
I have seen several BD people transition to product and it’s a great entry point because it forces you to understand relationships, give/gets, and timelines. The challenge I see most people from BD face is that customers are not the same as partners, and the reality of a marketplace is often very different from models that BD produces.
You indicate that product needs to stay out of the engineering kitchen. Have you encountered the opposite issue?
Yeah, all the time. I generally approach this by making sure everyone understands roles and responsibilities clearly. Engineers often aren’t exposed to all the stakeholders that Product Managers need to touch on a daily basis so they won’t grasp the nuances of communication. But you can prep your engineer by telling them why you are bringing them into the conversation and when to defer to you in advance.
Is the Product Manager responsible for just the customer experience or also the financial performance of the product?
This depends on what level you are at in the organization your overall company structure. Product Managers are always responsible for customer experience, but some Product Managers aren’t asked to take on revenue responsibility at all. They can get measured on some other metric.
But generally speaking, if there’s any revenue associated with your product, then you should try to understand it. Willingness to pay is a great proxy for “is my product good.”
How do teams at Reddit encourage their communities, and what do you think will happen to the online mass conversation in the future?
Super complex question. Reddit works because of great communities, and we often talk about ourselves as a platform for community. From a product perspective, most of our teams have OKR’s associated with some form of community growth. Creating new communities, growing existing ones, getting people to spend more time in them, etc. would summarize 70% of what our product team is doing.
WRT to the mass conversation, I think the future is in authenticity and real conversation. I think people are looking for a place where they can have a real conversation without feeling like they are being shouted soundbites at. We’re trying to make Reddit that place of course.
Any final advice you can share with aspiring product managers?
The best advice I can give a Product Manager is to obsess over the problems that your users/customers face. Every decision you make ultimately should be answerable to delivering value to some set of users.
The other thing I’d say is that your customer insights should come from both quantitative and qualitative sources. You need both to get a deep insight into users: what they say they want vs. what the data says they want. Finally, get on Reddit!
They say that a product manager has to be good at communicating, storytelling, prioritizing, executing and obsessing over the user. On top of all this, a technical background is a plus but not a “must.” According to Omaze Product Manager, the thing that is more important is to be a builder.
Keep on reading to find out what she means by it, and read her answers to other Product Management related questions.
Ariel is a Product Manager at Omaze, a fundraising platform that uses storytelling and technology to disrupt charitable giving. Prior to joining Omaze, she was the product owner of ZEFR’s BrandID suite, a dynamic media planning tool. Ariel is a graduate of Media Studies program, which gives her a user-focused lens on building entertainment technology. Ariel is also a published author, produced playwright, and proud mentor with Young Storytellers Foundation.
Can you share some of the primary skills that have helped you on your journey into product management?
Well, I consider myself a “middle brained” person in that I am equally creative and analytical, which I think is pretty standard across product people. Aside from having a passion for great products and the ability to unpack them into concrete features, I think one of the biggest skills that have led to my success is that I’m very comfortable digging into high-risk problems and having difficult conversations. There is a certain amount of bravery necessary to succeed in product.
What made you want to become a Product Manager? What were some of the paths you took early on?
I tell this story a lot, but this is how I got into product: early in my career, I was in an account optimization role and working on an internal tool. I felt like the tool was inefficient, and I desperately wanted someone from engineering to make changes to it. I didn’t know anything about product, but after asking around, someone suggested that I talk to the Product Manager.
He sat patiently with me while I walked him through my flowchart, and at the end, he said he couldn’t prioritize a fix for the tool, but that I should consider product management. After that, I moved briefly into a product marketing role and eventually found an opportunity to become a product manager at that same company.
What would be the basic skills to acquire coming from a non-technical degree?
You have to have an architectural mind. Although Product Managers spend a lot of their time communicating value, you also have to be able to unpack a problem into features and functions. Product Managers don’t have to be technical, but they have to be builders. Beyond that, you have to be able to communicate with engineers with enough proficiency to be credible. Small tech teams are a good environment to increase your technical literacy.
What steps would you propose one take to switch fields to product management?
I think just getting exposure to how product managers talk and evaluate problems. There are a lot of great networks and blogs out there. To be honest, since there’s no formal path to product, the best step I think you can take is just to make the switch. Starting applying for APM positions, or meeting up with Product Managers in the area. For me, I saw an opportunity and made sure I was prepared to shoot my shot.
How does analytics factor into your product strategy at Omaze?
I have accepted a Product Manager position. Any tips on skills I should brush up on for the role?
This isn’t specific to Product, but one of my tips for starting any new position is to make sure you’re mentally ready for a new team and new challenges. A lot of people carry assumptions or fears with them from their past role or past situation.
As far as once you start, I believe it’s critically important for Product Managers to understand how their organization functions (every company has its own vibe!), so make sure you take time to get to know co-workers on teams with whom you may not directly interact.
How does storytelling fit into your role as a Product Manager?
I do consider myself first and foremost to be a storyteller, and my educational background is in media production. Storytellers have to be clear, persuasive, and visual, and they have to be able to compel audiences to come on a journey into an entirely new world they’ve created. Product managers have to do the same thing!
Product managers also have to be strong influencers who present data and explain things a lot, so being able to craft a strong narrative will take you so, so far in product. As far as tips go, check out some books on screenwriting structure. (“Save the Cat” is my favorite.) Feature screenplays have a very strict structure, and you’ll be able to extrapolate all the key elements of a great narrative from that.
I am having trouble transitioning into Product from a web dev/project coordinator background. Any advice?
Not sure if this is helpful, but rather than focusing on building products, maybe try ‘un-building’ products. As you go through your day, start looking at every tool you use (software or physical) as a product, and challenge yourself to unpack it. How exactly does it solve your problem? How do you feel about it as a user? Can you pick out features that seem innovative, or features that seem useless?
Being able to talk about products might be helpful. And stay tuned into product communities like this one.
How do you get entry-level experience or a job without having any prior product experience?
Honestly, my best advice is to stay ready. I got lucky because an opportunity opened up at the company where I worked, and by all of my prior product marketing experience, I was already the best person for the job. There are lots of great communities, and some product teams offer internships — although, since product teams tend to be small, flat organizations, product internships are less common than internships in other areas.
If you’re more market-y, see if you can swing a product marketing gig. If you’re more analytical, try a business analyst or data science role. Moving to product can be easier as a lateral move.
From a technical role, i.e. Software engineer or data scientist, what skills are required in product?
In my experience, it seems easy for engineers-turned-Product Managers to get bogged down in the minutiae, and to fall more into a project management role, where execution is everything, and there’s no clear long-term vision. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is “don’t let your strengths become your blind spots”. If you’ve already got the technical chops, see what you can do to boost your customer and business-driven mindset.
Is a computer science/IT background necessary?
Nope! I find it helpful for me to be out of my technical depth sometimes. It keeps me honest and solid in my role. Product Managers tend to be very driven, by-all-means-necessary people, and if I had any confidence in my code, I’d probably be tempted to solve the problem myself from time to time, and that’s not a good habit to get into.
I will say, it can help to be familiar with software architecture from a high level, and it’s good to know SQL so that you can run analytics queries yourself if you have to.
I’m a Business Analyst trying to transition into a Product Manager role. Any tips?
Business analyst to Product Manager seems very sensical to me. If you have a good product resource at your current organization, use it. Ask if you can work on more product-focused initiatives, and see where you can go above and beyond with product recommendations based on your analyses.
What are some of the most challenging parts of being a Product Manager?
For me, it was decision exhaustion. Whether it’s your first time in product management or just your first day at a new company, you have to start making critical decisions on day one. A lot of them. I struggled with days where I just wanted someone else to tell me what the right answer was, especially because I was also leaping from basically no product experience into the owner of a high-profile product suite.
So to that point, it’s important for first-time Product Managers to have a solid boss: someone in product, whom you see every day, who can help you work through problems when you’re stuck.
How can I transition from a client services/success, or account management role into Product?
Well, that was my path to product, so it’s doable. My best advice here is to leverage your current organization (or potentially, your clients’ organization, if you have that kind of relationship with them.) Pattern recognition is key in product management, so see if you can find common problem patterns across your clients or services, work out a solution, and then pitch it to the powers that be.
If your developers are slow or your content writers aren’t producing the needed pieces how do you motivate them?
Oh man… this is a problem close to my heart! The very first thing I’d say is that you should put on your magic PM supervision goggles and try to figure out where the problem is. Do the developers have a tedious process of committing code, or the wrong project management tool? Do they not understand the customer, or are requirements changing too much? Is your content team understaffed? Are either team lacking in strong, consistent leadership? Are they unclear on what your relationship is to them?
I’m an optimist, so I feel like it’s rare that groups of people just straight up don’t care. Take an empathetic view and see if you can find where there’s a gap.
How can a Product Manager with skills in user empathy but that lacks vision in the financial scope of the product, improve their work?
Do you lack vision in financial scope because it’s not made transparent to you, or because you feel like you’re at a loss for what the financial scope is? If it’s the former, have a frank conversation about why it’s important that you know the long-term financial scope of your product. If it’s the latter, brush up on market analyses skills. I was pretty intimidated by the finance of product, but in the end, forecasting is still “guess work.” It’s just “guess work” with specific algorithms.
What was the preparation that you decided to make to become a product manager?
In my case, it was to deeply understand the customers and product at the organization where I worked and wanted to become a Product Manager in. But I also did a lot of independent study about product management. Inspired by Marty Cagan is one of my favorite resources.
What are your top 3 Product Management web bookmarks?
I wish I had a more impressive answer to this, but I don’t check product blogs. About once a week I check the homepage of Crunchbase. Other than that, my top three web bookmarks are my work email, my work calendar, and JIRA.
Do I need any course/certification to get to Product? How do I justify I am the right candidate for a job without any experience?
Transitioning to product requires some self-road mapping. In what industries have you worked and what skills can you actively demonstrate? What kind of company or product can serve as a bridge for you? I don’t have any certifications, so I’m not sure about that. But if your background is in development, my first suggestion would be to look at developer tools and see if they have product management opportunities.
How demanding have your Product roles been, i.e., whats your work-life balance like compared to your marketing role?
Marketing is a fire-drill department, and while there are still the occasional ‘fires’ for Product Managers, it’s much more structured. My time is in higher demand, but I also have more autonomy and long-term clarity to structure it. I tend to shy away from the phrase ‘work-life balance.’ Even though I have lots of challenging personal endeavors, in the end, it’s all my life, and all of my time is equally important. I’m comfortable turning off my work notifications
Is there anything that you feel is important that too few Product Managers are doing?
Great Product Managers balance right in the sweet spot between vision and execution. Some Product Managers spend too much time managing execution (solution: push to hire a project or program manager, and spend a workday out of the office to open up creativity), and some Product Managers talk a lot of big ideas but consistently miss critical launch dates (solution: pare down the roadmap, heavily).
As a college student, what is the best way to have Product Manager role as an intern?
I honestly don’t know. I never interned as a Product Manager, and while Omaze does offer some internships, we haven’t offered a Product Manager Internship. If you’re having trouble finding a Product Manager role, see if you can find a role that is ‘close’ to product, which can differ by organization.
Or you could just start emailing companies. When I was much younger, I got a few internships by just cold-calling and being like, “have you thought about hosting an internship?”
Do you have any responsibilities for a Business Analyst role?
I don’t think I do! Omaze has a business analyst. I work with him to gather data on our optimizations, but he does all the analysis.
Sometimes a product manager role can have a pretty wide reach, are there any things to be mindful of not to overstep in your role?
Yes, product management is inherently political. Overstepping – and the friction it can cause – depends heavily on the organizational dynamics. In a culture of collaboration and mutual respect, doing something that is technically someone else’s responsibility will be appreciated, especially if you’re upfront about it and don’t present it as a challenge to their competence.
However, in a culture of psychological insecurity or internal competition, overstepping can make your life miserable, and can have a serious detriment to your credibility. And you’re right; Product Managers do naturally touch everything. At some point, you just have to radically accept boundaries where boundaries exist and try to be as diplomatic as possible about it.
Oh, and be mindful of any implications by your superiors or colleagues that you’re on the hook for someone else’s responsibility. Remind them, “I’m going to let people do their jobs.”
In 2018, Facebook stole the number one spot of Glassdoor’s list of “best places to work.” Its outstanding workplace reputation, vision and values, and of course employee benefits, make Facebook one of the most coveted places to work. It’s no wonder that it is also one of the most competitive places to land a job. Facebook has its eye out for a certain type of person that can fit in with the company culture, share its core values and will be dedicated to “bringing the world closer together.”
So how can you snatch yourself one of these positions in over 60 locations worldwide and become Facebook’s next employee?
Here’s how to get a job at Facebook and stand out from the other candidates in this highly competitive tech industry.
Skills needed at Facebook
Previous experience: You need to be able to demonstrate that you have proven product management experience. Depending on which role you are going for (Product Manager of Advanced Networking planning, Product Manager of Network Insights, to name a few), you may need anywhere from 3 to 5 years of experience in a similar role. For some Product Management roles, they ask for more than 10 years of experience. Being that Facebook is such a large company, there are numerous Product Management roles, each with their specific requirements. Have a look at Facebook’s product management job postings to get a better idea of the different product management roles offered.
Qualifications: Apart from experience, there is a minimum qualification to become Facebook’s next PM, and it varies greatly depending on the position. For some Product Management roles, you need to hold a bachelor’s degree in a technical discipline like Computer Science, Technology, Engineering or Math. However, for other Product Management positions, it isn’t exactly necessary as long as you have the right amount of relevant experience.
Technical Background: Of course holding a bachelor’s degree in a technical discipline helps, but candidates are sometimes asked to have a specific technical background as well. Depending on the Product Management position, you could be asked to have experience in technical architecture of web applications and media products, designing user interfaces, or experience creating examples through wireframes and mockups.
Core Values: Fitting in with company culture and attitude is a big deal for Facebook, and they want to make sure that you have what it takes on a personal level. When selecting candidates, Facebook looks for people who are bold, focused on impact, fast, open and looking to build social value. It’s important to demonstrate that you are ready to make bold decisions quickly for the right reason and motivations. Read more about the Facebook’s core values here.
Additionally, Facebook looks for talented people who are considered to be builders, have diverse backgrounds, and fit into the culture. Business Insider goes into detail here.
The interview process
The number of interviews all depends on the person and the position in which they are applying for. According to an interview with Miranda Kalinowski, Facebook’s global head of recruiting, a candidate typically goes through four to five interviews before being hired, and the whole process can take about three months. All potential Facebook hires go through the same first three interviews. The following interviews depend on the position that you are applying for.
A typical interview process will look something like this:
The first interview is a phone interview with a recruiter whose aim is to determine if the candidate has the appropriate professional experience and drive to work at Facebook.
The second interview is another phone interview, but this time it is more technical. The interview is held by a Facebook employee that currently has the position the candidate is applying for. So, at this stage of a Product Management interview, you will be interviewed by a Product Manager.
The third interview is when the candidate is invited onsite to partake in a series of interviews. While onsite, the interviewee takes a tour of the office and then has multiple interviews with different panels.
Interview questions at Facebook
Facebook has a very extensive interview process, so it’s no surprise that you will be presented with challenging questions. These usually include hypothetical questions and logic questions to gauge how the candidate thinks. The questions will test if you have what it takes to create innovative products (product sense), make critical decisions (execution), and if you have the leadership and drive to thrive at Facebook (leadership).
Some example questions:
As a PM on the Facebook Birthdays team, how would you make it better?
What do you dislike about a Facebook feature of your choice?
How would you improve the Facebook News Feed?
How would you design Facebook Events 2.0?
We’ve outsourced a critical mobile app to a third-party developer. How do we decide when to take that development in-house?
How would you decide between showing more ads on the Facebook News Feed vs. showing a People You May Know recommendation widget?
Tell me a time when you disagreed with an engineer. How did you convince him or her?
What’s your favorite project where you played a leadership role?
You can go through a number of channels to get your application to Facebook:
Machine learning is used so often in tech now that it’s nearly impossible to say where it isn’t used. Google uses it. Amazon uses it. Facebook uses it. Everyone wants a piece of it. So, what exactly does a machine learning product need? What does it require from the Product Manager?
Product Manager at Uber shared what they use machine learning for at Uber, and talked about the landscape of machine learning in consumer products.
Product Manager at Uber
Devdatta Gangal is a computer scientist turned product leader with diverse experience from Yahoo Mail & Messenger. He’s generated hundreds of millions of dollars for Zynga, leading mobile apps and platform for Groupon, and currently leads the charge of scaling sensor inferences at Uber. Their mission is to understand the real time physical state of the world Uber operates in.
His team uses signal processing, machine learning, computer vision on raw location and sensor streams from millions of cars in the world. They then help partner teams understand driving safety, detect fraud, improve pick-ups & deliveries, and build better mapping services.
Machine Learning Products
Devdatta talked about Machine Learning and how it has gone from research and engineering to consumer products. He discussed the role of a Product Manager in building machine learning-powered consumer products, and what those products need. He shared his experiences and explained how there is no playbook for a Machine Learning Product Manager.
Everybody knows how important customer feedback is for a product. It doesn’t matter if the feedback is negative or positive, it’s all needed to improve the product and to make it the best it can be. This is all clear, but how can you put the customer feedback to action and use it to your advantage?
Growth Leader at Zendesk and Director of Partnerships at Trello shared their insights on the matter.
How to Put Customer Feedback to Action by Zendesk Growth Leader - YouTube
Growth Leader at Zendesk
Brianne Kimmel is a growth leader, startup advisor, and Angel Investor. She currently leads growth initiatives at Zendesk including the Zendesk for Startups program. Before Zendesk, Brianne lead performance marketing teams at Orbitz and Expedia where she focused on user acquisition, paid social and international growth. She’s recently visited Sydney, Paris, and Vienna as part of her ongoing “tech world tour” to meet and advise international startups.
Anthony and Brianne discussed about the best practices on how to turn customer feedback into actionable insights. More specifically, they talked about why customer feedback matters and what the best practices for sharing customer feedback with internal teams are. They also gave tips on how to evaluate signal vs. noise.
“Customer feedback is a gift.”
The best thing about being in contact with your customers is that no business plan, product or feature, survives the first contact with them.
Who owns the relationship with customers? If everyone owns it, nobody owns it.
Product, marketing, and support each own a part of the customer feedback experience.
When creating and implementing a new mobile app there are various moving parts that go into development, design, and functionality. How is it different from managing other software products? Former Product Manager at Verizon discusses the process in detail and how applying important data analytics can make or break your app.
What Is Mobile App Product Management by Verizon former PM - YouTube
Senior Product Manager at Paltalk
Shyam Vijayakrishnan is a Sr. Product Manager of the Paltalk(a social messaging app) brand at Snap Interactive Inc. In his role, he drives the design and development of key product features and plans mobile product strategy for both iOS and Android platforms. He partners closely with engineering and leadership stakeholders to collectively achieve strategic business goals of the mobile apps. Shyam also is focused on improving retention of the apps through in-app push messaging, A/B testing, and running engaging marketing campaigns.
Before, Shyam worked at Verizon as a Mobile App Product Managerbringing new innovative apps to the market (Verizon Slideshare, Videocasting, Verizon Caller Name ID to name a few) in addition to managing a few life-cycle products. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce, Accounting and Economics and an MBA majoring in Strategy, Marketing, and Product Management.
What is Mobile App Product Management?
Shyam discussed and explored the big world of mobile apps. He talked about the key concepts when creating and implementing a new app, challenges around scaling a product, and all critical functions that need to perform to sustain and allow the app to thrive.
His main points were around what you should focus on when you put a mobile app out and how to scale it. He gave insight on mobile app revenue, retention, and user engagement, and touched the surface of how to use of analytics/tracking in mobile apps.
What to keep in mind when creating and implementing a new app:
It has to work on both Android and iOS.
The design has to be simple.
Will it work online as well as offline?
Does it have an immediate gratification system, does it provide status, does it unlock rewards, etc.?
Remember to take user feedback by running polls.
Think about the pricing.
When scaling an app, think about:
App optimization: Play Store, SEO, reviews, translation.
How to make your database better by indexing, and analyzing and reading data.
New technologies/hardware, deep linking, and sharing.
IoT products are constantly evolving the way we utilize technology to make our lives easier. But building and managing an IoT product takes a different kind of experience and skill. IoT expert Daniel Elizalde shared his knowledge with our community, including the challenges, how to be successful, the top five important elements and more.
Daniel is IoT Product Leader with over 17 years of experience managing the complete lifecycle of connected products. The founder of TechProductManagement. The creator of the IoT Decision Framework taught at Stanford, Oxford, and Cornell and used by top Silicon Valley IoT companies. Previously, he worked as head of products for Stem, Inc. He’s a frequent speaker at IoT and Product Management events.
What is your background and how did you start in Product Management for the IoT?
I have about 18 years of experience managing connected products. I started as an Engineer and then moved to Product. I’ve managed hardware, firmware, cloud, and apps. I’ve worked as an individual contributor and head of products.
Today, I focus full-time on training companies and product teams on product strategy for the Internet of Things. I teach my IoT Product Manager certificate program online, and I teach at Stanford University and consult with companies.
What’s your most effective daily habit?
Every day I emphasize understanding how the IoT ecosystem (from a Product Management) perspective is changing. Keeping up to date with what companies are doing, what works and what doesn’t is very important. It gives you a window into the industry, but also helps you understand the pains your customers are facing.
How is product management for IoT products different from other hardware products?
IoT is very complex because it combines hardware and software. IoT Product Managers need to understand these relationships and make sure they are conversant across the technology stack. I wrote an article that can help. Check it here.
What are the top 5 things you focus on as a Product Manager for IoT?
I focus on six key areas so you can have a holistic and strategic perspective of how your IoT product impacts your customer and your company. These areas are (in order): user experience, data, business, technology, security, and standards & regulations. Check out this article where I elaborate on these important topics.
What are the current challenges for IoT reaching mass adoption?
I believe the challenge is about providing value and not a technology solution. Many companies think that just by adding sensors and collecting data from the real-world creates a successful product. This is not the case. Just like anything else, you need to understand your customer and provide value. That’s why I feel so strongly that Product Managers will play a huge role in the adoption of IoT. It’s a Product/Business problem, not a technology problem.
Are there currently any challenges that you constantly think about or that you’re trying to get better at addressing?
Absolutely! In Product Management, you are never done. You are always looking for areas to improve. I like to break these challenges into four main categories that I call the four pillars of product leadership. You can read more about it here.
How did you transition from engineering to Product Management?
I started as a software developer and then moved into a role as a Systems Engineer. In this role, I had the opportunity to travel the world designing systems for big companies. I was close to the customer and got to hear their challenges first hand. I was also close to Sales. This exposure to business, sales, and technology, blend very well to a transition into Product Management.
My key advice is to find opportunities to be close to the customers. Listen to their needs. Try to move into the “problem space” (Product Manager role) and away from the “solution space” (engineering role).
Do you ever burn out? How do you keep up your energy and stamina in such an ever-transforming field?
You have to find the right balance. Find a field that you love, and then you’ll be able to put a lot of energy into it, and it doesn’t feel like a chore. In general, I focus on the Product Manager role, which is strategy and adding value to the customer. That field is evergreen. If you focus on chasing the latest tech trend, then you’ll burn out. That’s never-ending and by itself provides no value.
As someone new to a Product Manager role from an engineering role, what are some things I should do in my first month?
The first thing to do is understand how your company works. What is their value proposition? What is the problem they are looking to solve? What are your company’s core competencies? What is their vision, and product strategy? Who are their customers? How does the company make money? Those kinds of things.
That’ll give you a holistic perspective and then you can start figuring out how you can help. Otherwise, you’ll be flying blind.
What Myers Briggs personality type are you?
I forget. I like the DISC model better. In that model, I’m a “DI,” meaning very direct, but people focused. BTW, you bring a great point. I believe all Product Managers should do one of these tests to understand themselves and their stakeholders. Communication is one of the top priorities for any Product Manager. So if you can adapt your communication style to your audience, you’ll get your message across 100 times better.
What’s your favorite IoT product?
I have many favorites. I think the Tesla S car is a great example. It’s just a great car that adds a lot of value to their customers, and they don’t even realize it is an IoT product. In the background, Tesla gets a ton of information about the car’s performance and driving habits, so they can improve their product or launch new products based on what they are learning.
What background and skills do you need to be successful in a Product Manager role?
But in general, I think the most important skill you can have (and often the most overlooked skill) is having great soft skills.Check out this article for my philosophy on this.
What are key challenges you see in the internationalization of IoT hardware products?
Internationalization of hardware has a lot of challenges. From supply chain to distribution, installation, localization, etc. I believe the biggest challenge is around regulations. Understanding the local laws and making sure your product can be very complicated. I strongly advocate working with your legal/policy teams before launching into an international market.
You mention Product Management is “never done.” What’s the next process, or approach change you see coming?
I believe that 5-7 years from now, most products will be “connected products.” It’ll become the new normal, just like today Cloud and Mobile are just the state of the art of how we build products. That opens up great opportunities but big challenges for Product Managers because managing IoT products are way more complex than any “traditional product.”
To stay relevant, Product Managers will need to learn a “systems approach” to managing products including software and hardware. This trend is going on right now, so if we, as a profession, don’t focus on catching up, we are going to be struggling to provide value or even find Product Manager jobs in the future.
Have any advice for a Canadian student with PM/developer experience to find a Product Manager Internship in Silicon Valley?
It’s tough; I’m not going to lie. I moved here from Austin, TX. I was able to get traction by being here and being able to network and talk to people directly. Doing it remotely didn’t work.
To improve User Experience for the users, what techniques do you use?
My favorite technique is to do contextual research. This means going out to see the customer’s in their environment and experience “a day in the life.” You’ll quickly realize that their day doesn’t revolve around your product and you’ll be able to understand better how you fit into the customer’s priority. That way you can provide the best experience that fits them, not you!
I see many companies designing products that aim at being the center of their customer’s world. That’s never going to happen. We have to have empathy towards what your customer wants from you and how you can realistically help them.
I do agree. And I believe it is our responsibility as Product Managers to deliver on the promise of IoT and get past the hype. The hype is usually around a new technology being a silver bullet. A solution to all of our problems. But as Product Managers we know that’s not true.
Let’s not get carried away. I do believe IoT is one of the most important revolutions of our time, but on the other hand, IoT is just a tool. It’s just something we now have available as Product Managers to provide value to our customers and solve their problems on a better, faster, cheaper way. That’s the only way we can break the hype. I wrote an article about that. Read it here.
What do you like and dislike about pursuing product from a more consultative/educational role?
My mission is to help companies capitalize on the IoT revolution. I’ve designed a framework to do so, and now I teach my approach online, at Stanford and companies. I realized that by being head of products, I could only influence my company. I wanted to have a bigger reach and help many companies. My consultative/educational role helps me do just that.
Now I have Product Managers all over the world taking my courses, and I’m able to impact products in many industries and verticals. Very exciting times.
Is it difficult to hire International people for US jobs in the current political climate for the Product Manager position?
I think it is. I grew up in Mexico, and I came to the US through an H1B visa and then became a citizen. I understand what it is like. I think the challenge is there regardless of the political climate. It is always hard to showcase your Product Management skills because Product Manager is still a young profession. I believe getting a Product Manager job is a lot about networking and getting to know people. But that’s hard to do abroad.
Any final words of advice for aspiring product managers?
My advice is to focus on solving customer problems. That is the main focus of a Product Manager. Understand who your customer is, and what are their pains. Lead with the understanding of what they want to achieve and how you can help. Technology, Business models, etc. come later. Customer value first, everything second.
To break into Product Management you need a certain set of skills, experience in the industry and some technical knowledge. Once you get a job you still need to figure out the secrets of doing the job right. What are the Product Management rules that you haven’t heard of yet?
Here is the inside info you need to know, from LinkedIn’s Senior Product Manager.
10 Commandments of Product Management by LinkedIn Product Manager - YouTube
Christian discussed the difference between vertical and horizontal product management and product ownership. He also talked about how his roles changed from owning a vertical slice of a solution to horizontal ownership of an entire market. He shared his insights on what it takes to build great products in a large organization as well as his ten commandments in product management.
People don’t really want products, they want solutions to their problems. This is why it is crucial for a product manager to understand his/her customers’ needs completely and be able to solve their problems by using products.
It sounds pretty complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. In a recent talk, Product Manager at Facebook gave us an example of a real-life process where she solved people’s problems.
How to Solve People's Problems as a Product Manager by Facebook PM - YouTube
Product Manager at Facebook
Aigerim Shorman is a Product Manager at Facebook. Before Product Management, she founded her own company TripTrotting that was later called Wist. Before her own company, she was an Investment Banking Analyst at USB Investment Bank and taught with Teach for America. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Science and speaks four languages.
Try to understand what’s happening and what the customers are doing.
For example, at Facebook, they noticed that people were using a picture that supported a sports team or cause as their profile picture. The Facebook team started to think how they can make this better for the user and help them express themselves more easily.
Step 2: Data.
How big is the idea and is there enough data for it?
The size of the user base doesn’t matter. If you see a pattern in research think about how you can translate it into bigger numbers.
Step 3: Identify pain points.
Identify the points in current experience and brainstorm ideas for them.
Size the already existing profile pictures and think how you can make the process easier for them.
Step 4: MVP
Build an MVP quickly (<2 months) and get feedback for it.
Think about what is the minimum viable product within the one user base or some group where you and test and see quickly if it works or not.
Facebook tested with a couple of partnering logos and sent a call to action. In a couple of days, they had 1M people using the logos. This resulted pointed in the direction that it’s worth doing on a large scale.
Step 5: V1 Of the Product
The purpose is to gain more feedback.
Facebook tried it with the French flag by allowing people show support to the victims of 2015 terrorist attack in Paris. They got 120M in two days to use the feature meaning that it was a success.
Some of the most valuable qualities of a product manager include leadership, adaptability, and a strong product mindset. Taking these qualities to your interview can help you stand out from the rest.
but according to Product Manager at Airbnb, the most important thing is to find a product or company you’re passionate about, in order to go far. She also had far more insights to share with our community. Check out what she had to say in her recent Q&A below.
Helen Sims is a Product Manager at Airbnb, focusing on host acquisition. Airbnb currently has over 4 million listings available across the world – more rooms than the top 5 hotel chains combined! Helen is focused on strategically growing that supply even further. Prior to Airbnb, Helen worked at Zynga for over 5 years as a Director of Product. In her spare time, Helen is an instructor at Product School and enjoys riding around town on her motorcycle.
How do you keep your developers motivated?
I think keeping your team aligned with the mission and motivated is super important regardless of their specific role. In general, I recommend finding out what motivates the individuals on your team. I’ve found there can be pretty high variety here.
Some people are motivated by impact. For these individuals, I recommend consistently showing quantifiable metrics that show the impact of their contributions. Others are motivated by customers. For these individuals, I recommend sharing anecdotes and customer reviews to show the real impact that you are creating for them. Focus on how your products have made their lives better.
Other individuals are motivated by technical challenges or all sorts of other intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. The most important part is having those conversations so that you know what motivates the individuals on your team and you consistently remind them of how everything ties together.
What was your first role in Product Management?
My first role in Product was as a Product Manager at a gaming company Zynga. They had an amazing training program, and I’m very thankful for the vast amount I learned there. It’s also an example of a company that hires Product Managers with limited product experience.
How is product structured internally in Airbnb? Do you collaborate much with product groups?
It’s all relative, but I’m proud of the large product community we have at Airbnb. We’re structured into business units, but there’s a decent amount of overlap between teams and business units. One thing that we’re evaluated on as Product Managers is our ability to communicate with stakeholders around the company and anyone who may be impacted by decisions made on your product. We have a few concrete tactics that help with this:
On 1-pagers/Specs/PRDs we explicitly list out anyone who should be made aware of this upcoming change.
We have a live document called “WOW” (Who Owns What) that we can reference at any time.
I make a concerted effort to eat lunch with a different Product Manager from around the company minimum three days/week to learn about what they’re working on. It ends up being some of my favorite hours of the week!
What advice would you give to people that want to pursue Product Manager role for a career change?
There’s no standard path to becoming a Product Manager, but here are the four most common ones that I see:
Have a technical background (CS undergrad, experience as a software engineer, etc.).
CEO/founder of a small company.
Go to Business School or similar advanced study.
Work at a company you’re passionate about in a role outside of Product, and transfer into Product management.
Depending on your background and time horizon, I might recommend a different approach. Finding a company or product you are incredibly passionate about and becoming an expert is a good strategy no matter what.
For example, one of my favorite anecdotes is about someone who really wanted to work at Twitter. He spent $100 on mechanical turk learning about who the Twitter VIP’s were and wrote a blog post about it. The blog post went viral, and when he interviewed on Twitter, they recognized him as the author. He did ultimately get an offer. This is where going above and beyond and showing your passion can help, even if you don’t necessarily have a technical background or an MBA.
How important is it to be on the same page with your management team and have their support?
This is incredibly important! I do want to clarify that this doesn’t mean you need to blindly agree with management’s first instinct. You should be a big part of shaping the narrative as well, and if you disagree, you should feel empowered to share your point-of-view (backed by data or qualitative research) and influence decisions. However, it’s critical that you and the leadership team are on the same page.
Think about it this way. Try to build a house where the architects aren’t on the same page as the construction company. What happens? Probably nothing good. But also, if the architect draws something that the construction company knows won’t work, they should feel empowered to share that information and adjust together as well.
Can you talk about the career trajectory of a Product Manager?
This can be slightly different from company to company and even specific Product Manager roles within a company, but in general, you see something like this:
Years 0-2: Junior level position, “do work with help.” You may have a mentor or manager who works on projects with you or gives you detailed feedback. Scope of work = <6-month projects
Years 2-4: mid-level position, “do work independently.” You may still have a mentor or manager but they likely are not working with projects directly with you, and instead, you’re the sole owner of larger projects. Scope of work = 6-12 month projects
Years 4-6: the senior level position “empower others to do work.” This is where careers often fork between management and IC roles. (note: you can always change your mind, this decision is never irreversible. I recommend everyone try management at some point). As an IC you’ll own larger projects, and as a manager, you’ll start to influence broader initiatives. The scope of work = 12-18 month projects.
Years 6-10: You’ll start to own much larger scale projects, or may even start managing managers. Scope of work = 18 months +
Years 10+: Up to you! By now you’re a strong leader capable of helping others or owning very large projects end-to-end that can influence an entire company’s trajectory. Maybe you start your own project or take on a high-level leadership position.
How does competition factor into your product roadmap decisions? To what extent do you follow the market when you’re deciding what projects to prioritize?
There’s a principle in Product Management stolen from ice hockey (of all places!): “Skate to where the puck is going.” The idea here is that if you just copy your competitors, you’re skating to where the puck is. By the time you get there, it’s already gone, and all you’ve done is built the same thing as your competitor, but they did it first (and have probably iterated and made it better since then).
It’s important to remain aware of what your competition is doing but more so to see trends and predict where the entire competitive landscape is moving – not just to copy existing landscape.
Would you say noncritical bugs should remain in backlog to further shape the product or is it key to shape a feature to its 100% before moving on?
In general, you should be making decisions about what to prioritize based on impact. While you should always aspire to ship clean code with no bugs, inevitably things always slip through the cracks. When you’re deciding whether or not to fix a bug, you’re primarily looking at the opportunity cost of fixing that bug and anything else you could be working on instead.
When you think about it in this way, you can typically make objective decisions about what’s best for your customers. Sometimes, even if it’s painful, that means a lower-impact bug lives on a bit longer while you build something that will drive more value instead.
What made you shift your career from Zynga to Airbnb?
I went to work at Zynga because I was obsessed with the product and believed wholeheartedly in the mission (“connect the world through games.”). I would run late to meetings because I was waiting for a crop to harvest in FarmVille. I decided I needed to work there before it ruined my life. This ability to deeply understand and empathize with their target customers was very helpful in making me a successful Product Manager.
After six great years at the company, I found Airbnb’s mission resonated more strongly with me (“Belong Anywhere.”). I similarly had become a power-traveler on Airbnb and was staying in Airbnbs almost every weekend and even lived full-time in Airbnbs for four months. The lesson here is that no matter the industry, it will be very helpful if you are deeply passionate about the product and the company’s mission and have a deep understanding of it when you apply.
Regarding the move itself, what you’ll find is that the Product Manager skillset is very easy to adapt to many different situations and industries. Ultimately leadership skills, analytical acumen, impact-driven decision making, and customer empathy will be helpful no matter where you end up working.
When you started your first Product Manager job what did you do during your first month?
A lot of listening. These are typically the goals I have for the first month in a new role:
Meet everyone on the team (and don’t just learn their names but get to know them. What do they enjoy (both inside and outside of work)? What motivates them? What are their short and long-term goals (again, both inside and outside of work?)
Deep understanding of what’s currently working and (more importantly) what’s not working! The best way to learn this is to ask people, but also to observe.
Deep understanding of the current product and the competitive landscape. Do complete deconstructs of competitors and figure out their strategy.
If possible, learn what’s been tried already. Chances are you’ll have a few “I can’t believe no one thought of this yet” moments. And most of the time, with a bit of digging, you’ll find someone who did indeed think of it, and there’s a good reason it hasn’t been done.
Do you think it’s a viable path to jump from UX Research/HCI specialty into Product Management?
Absolutely! There’s no standard path to becoming a Product Manager, but I’ve seen this jump before.Typically Product Managers have a superpower. I’ve found that for Product Managers moving over from research, the superpower is frequently user empathy. I’d emphasize this skill but also working on others that will help round out your Product Manager skillset (analytical skills, project management skills, etc).
What are some critical skills needed for professionals to transition to junior/associate Product Manager roles?
It’s highly dependent on your interest and the role you are looking for. In general, with entry-level Product Managers, hiring managers are looking for whether or not you have raw potential, not whether or not you have refined skills. Here are some things you can do to help demonstrate this potential:
Opportunity sizing – These are those tricky interview questions that ask “how many golf balls would fit on a school bus.” Yes, they are challenging, but no they aren’t impossible! Look for examples of Glassdoor and practice answering them.
Customer empathy/UX – Do you understand what does and doesn’t make a good user experience? Look critically at some of the apps and products you use every day. What’s great about them? What could be made better?
What haven’t we asked about your experience as an Airbnb Product Manager that you believe is important to share?
One thing that often gets overlooked at dual-sided marketplaces is all of the personas. For example, when thinking about Uber products, you should be thinking about not just the rider but how changes will impact the driver too. It’s the same at Airbnb. When we make changes to the product, we have to think about how it impacts both the guest and the host (and sometimes, even more, personas too!). This isn’t unique to Airbnb, but it’s a unique characteristic of marketplace companies.