Rotational programs, Associate Product Manager programs, internship programs…there are so many different ways to get into product management that if one doesn’t take you to product management you can try the other. What is it like being an APM at a big company like Twitter and how can one get there? An APM at Twitter shared her insights with us.
Terri C. Burns
Terri Burns is an associate product manager at Twitter and international speaker. As a product manager, she works on live video team and how it impacts the consumer experience. As a speaker, Terri explores how technology impacts various communities. Also a freelance writer, Terri regularly writes about technology, diversity, and inclusion, and has been featured in publications like Forbes, Scientific American, and Teen Vogue. Terri received her degree in computer science from NYU. Check out tcburning.com.
- Can you tell us more about how you broke into product management?
- What are some of the biggest challenges you face day to day?
- What are some points/metrics that lead you to decide whether to kill or continue a new/existing product?
- Do you have any advice for those applying to APM programs? How do you stand out in the crowd of candidates?
- They say that a Product Manager is like a mini-CEO, what has been your experience?
- What mental models do you work through to tackle your day-to-day & strategic tasks?
- Besides your work environment, what resources do you use to learn and improve your skills?
- How do you keep your product team motivated? What do you do if you feel the motivation is going down?
- What is your approach to picking the right goal to focus on the revenue followed by growth?
- How do you keep yourself refreshed for work and balance your life considering how demanding a Product Manager job can be?
- As engineering resources and time are limited, how do you decide which features to allocate resource to?
- If you’ve found that there was a mistake that was done by your superior, how would you approach the situation?
- What level of tech skills do product managers need? What’s the best way to break into product with a business background?
- How do you determine whether the feature was successful after launch? What metrics do you use to measure this?
- When you have multiple features of same priority what are some techniques that you used to pick one?
- What do you do in instances where there is no data readily available to guide a product or feature decision?
- How do you deal with task delegation, especially if you’re used to doing things yourself?
- What are some qualities, characteristics, or skills that are common among the Product Managers that you admire?
Can you tell us more about how you broke into product management?
For sure. I studied computer science at NYU. When I was in school, I wanted to go into either software development or product management. It can be a little difficult to get into product management as a new grad, but I was lucky enough that Twitter was starting an associate product management (APM) program the year after I graduated. So I applied and ended up getting in. Now, I’m an APM at Twitter.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face day to day?
Context-switching is a huge challenge. As a product manager, you’re often working with different teams on a variety of projects at a given time. One second, I’ll be having a brainstorming session with a designer for a new feature, and the next I’ll be going through experimentation guidelines with a machine learning engineer, and the next second I’ll be talking to the marketing team about our rollout plan.
It’s challenging to wear a bunch of different hats while still staying super organized, but it’s also really fun!
What are some points/metrics that lead you to decide whether to kill or continue a new/existing product?
We use both quantitative and qualitative feedback. We run experiments to help us understand how a product is performing and also we have a fantastic user research team that helps us better understand people’s Twitter experience.
Do you have any advice for those applying to APM programs? How do you stand out in the crowd of candidates?
Applying to APM programs is similar to applying to regular Product Manager positions. Read up on product interview questions online, learn as much as you can about the company and product you are applying for, and be sure to ask lots of relevant, interesting questions. It proves that you care and really want the job! You also have a great community here that can help you out.
They say that a Product Manager is like a mini-CEO, what has been your experience?
I prefer the “conductor of a train” analogy, which suggests that you’re headed in a certain direction, and as product manager, it’s your job to make sure that everything is working properly and staying on track. Project management, design, and being a strong team player and a leader are all important skill sets. Having a technical background often helps, but can depend on how technical your product is.
What mental models do you work through to tackle your day-to-day & strategic tasks?
For me, thinking about the people that use what we’re building is the most important consideration and helps drive my decisions. Considering the problem that someone might have, the job that needs to get done, the barriers to entry and what success looks like to that person, is super interesting and helps me think through product decisions.
Besides your work environment, what resources do you use to learn and improve your skills?
I’m a big fan of Ken Norton and Ellen Chisa‘s blogs. They have a lot of interesting and useful insight into product management. I’m constantly using new products. I work at a consumer technology company and love consumer tech, so I’m always downloading new apps so I can understand how the technology landscape is evolving. And I’m always a fan of a good morning and work playlist to help me stay focused during the day.
How do you keep your product team motivated? What do you do if you feel the motivation is going down?
That’s an awesome question. I think people often overlook just how important it is to make sure that your team is happy. Create an open and honest environment where people feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and opinions. If people do have concerns, creating that type of environment puts you in a better position to address it proactively.
My team organizes group events to celebrate one another and our work, and everyone is a team player which keeps motivation high.
What is your approach to picking the right goal to focus on the revenue followed by growth?
Good question! I rely a lot on our strong product leadership team. At Twitter, our leaders help us focus on the broader company priorities. Personally, my goal is to help create the best possible experience for everyone who uses Periscope.
How do you keep yourself refreshed for work and balance your life considering how demanding a Product Manager job can be?
I try to be very organized about my calendar and how I allocate my time. For example, I never schedule any work meetings (Twitter-related or freelance-wise) on weekends. I try really hard to get to bed before midnight. I eat vegetables! I basically work really hard to hold myself accountable and listen to how I’m feeling so that I can always be my best self. I don’t always get it right, but I’m always trying.
As engineering resources and time are limited, how do you decide which features to allocate resource to?
Ah, the eternal Product Management question! As a Product Manager, you need to get really good at prioritizing all of the possible initiatives you work on. This involves some collaboration with the engineering team, because engineering effort factors into overall prioritization as well. Once you have a prioritized list, you start at the top and allocate your engineering resources from there.
If you’ve found that there was a mistake that was done by your superior, how would you approach the situation?
I’m very lucky to be able to work very collaboratively with my managers. If I ever have a differing opinion, we talk through it together. It’s an awesome learning lesson for both parties.
What level of tech skills do product managers need? What’s the best way to break into product with a business background?
Not all Product Manager positions require a technical background. While many Product Manager roles do require technical experience, I know a lot of Product Managers that don’t have a technical background. The amount of experience you need really depends on your product.
If you’re building an API-oriented product for developers, having technical can experience help. If you’re building something more consumer-oriented, technical experience can be less important.
How do you determine whether the feature was successful after launch? What metrics do you use to measure this?
It really depends on the feature. For each launch, I work very closely with data scientists and engineers to determine what exactly success will look like in the metrics. It might be retention, it might be clicks, it might be downloads, etc.
Part of coming up with these metrics involve thinking through how someone will ideally use the product, but also quantitatively understanding how those actions will look like numbers. There’s a lot of collaboration that goes into the process. Here’s a great blog post that talks about this, with some examples.
When you have multiple features of same priority what are some techniques that you used to pick one?
How much engineering effort each will take, and how big of a change each will ultimately be is useful deciding factors.
What do you do in instances where there is no data readily available to guide a product or feature decision?
Good question! I talk to users. I’ve been known to randomly Tweet at people with questions about the product, or talk to friends or family. If there’s no data, there are always people who use your product, and they’re a plethora of information.
How do you deal with task delegation, especially if you’re used to doing things yourself?
Task delegation becomes imperative when you have as many things on your plate as I do. I know I can work a lot faster if I have help. I can’t always do everything myself, so I lean on my team a lot when needed. Often, it’s just a matter of directly asking someone on my team to take care of something.
What are some qualities, characteristics, or skills that are common among the Product Managers that you admire?
All of the Product Managers I admire are incredibly gracious. They think long-term, are fantastic to work with and are amazing executors. They are respectful of their team’s time, defend their team’s work, and know how to learn from mistakes and celebrate successes.
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