What happens when you put together three female Product Managers from three top companies in tech? A great panel discussion. PM’s from Google, Peek, and Facebook shared their thoughts on product management, their experiences in getting into product and lessons they’ve learnt along the way.
They talked about what worked for them, what they’d do differently, and how to succeed in Product roles. Deepika Yerragunta, PM at Amazon’s Alexa team and one of the co-founders of a non-profit organization Aspiring Women in Product. She led the panel by presenting questions for the women to answer and discuss.
What is AWIP?
Aspiring Women in Product is an organization for women in different roles in product management. It was founded with the thought of creating a community where women could find growth opportunities, find a job and grow in the job. It also offers peer support.
The amazing women in Product
Head of Product Management at Amazon and the Senior Product Manager of the Alexa Voice Service. She previously worked at Intel, Marketron and AT&T Foundry and she was the CEO and co-founder at Hautely. She’s also co-founder of Aspiring Women in Product.
VP of Product at Peek where she is responsible for scaling the marketplace known as the “OpenTable for the $100 billion activities market.” Before Peek, she has worked at big companies such as Uber, StyleSeat, Disney Interactive, and Goldman & Sachs.
Favorite product: Slack and pregnancy apps because she’s six months pregnant at the time.
Group Product Manager at Google Maps where she drives the overall user experience for the Android, iOS and web apps. Before Maps, she worked in the Ads org at Google.
Favorite product: Headspace because Amanda thinks it’s easy to adapt to your day-to-day life and it’s very accessible.
Product Manager at Facebook on the Business Platform team. Before this, she was a Monetization Product Marketing Manager at Facebook on the Direct Response & Commerce team. She’s also worked in strategy teams at Coach.
Favorite product: Of course Facebook. She also likes Strava because it brings fitness people together.
How they got into product
The women all joined product from different backgrounds. Navya went to work on Wall Street as an engineer straight after school, Sally started at Facebook’s Aid Product Marketing team whereas Amanda took the so-called “traditional way” to Product and started with an engineering internship at Microsoft.
To Amanda, it seemed clear early on that she wanted to work as a Product Manager in the future, but for Navya and Sally, it took longer. After working at Goldman & Sachs Navya realized that she didn’t want to continue working only in engineering and decided to change to product. The transition happened naturally for her, and she enjoys being able to do a lot of the same things as she did before.
Sally, on the other hand, after business school, worked at retail and business management until she realized that she wanted to do product management. But even though she knew what she wanted now, she found it hard to prove that she could do it without any experience. She got a job at Facebook’s Aid Product Marketing Team and worked her way up from there. What helped her get further was a piece of advice from her boss: “the best way to prove that you can do well in your future role is to do really well in your current one.”
The best mentors and the worst mistakes
When asked about whether the women have had any mentors along the way they all agree that the peer group of other women in product and their bosses have helped them the most. These people have been there to help the women grow and to find great opportunities. Amanda says that she’s also happy to have been able to help some of her friends in product and that she should sometimes listen to her own advice that she gives to others.
The next question that Deepika asks is about common mistakes that the new Product Managers make. Navya’s advice is to “put personal growth before the product’s growth.” She wants to remind people that they need to get something out of a job too. Amanda advises not to wait for permission to do something but just to go and do it yourself. Otherwise, you might miss out on some great opportunities.
Sally takes a different angle to this. She says that people shouldn’t become PMs just because they want to be the CEO of a product. The reality of the job isn’t always glamorous. The PM needs to be willing to get things done even if it’s by doing them themselves. If someone can’t do something, you got to go and do it yourself. They also need to be capable of working together with the team and be ready to fight for their vision or direction to convince the team and management.
What is a good Product Manager like?
A PM needs to have a strong vision. “You need to be able to admit that you were wrong and not be afraid to change direction, even if it was just changed recently. There needs to be something in the way the person leads that makes people want to follow him or her, and the person needs to possess good influencing skills”, Sally says.
“Also to be capable of looking at the broader picture and to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the team to work together is crucial,” Amanda adds. Navya concludes that “adaptability and ability as well as willingness to fill in the holes is important.”
Problems faced along the way
All three say that they faced problems getting into product and also being there hasn’t been all that easy either. Navya admits that it was hard to prove to people that she can do product management and that she has enough engineering knowledge. Sally says that not having an enough technical background she found it hard to figure out what she could bring to the team.
Her boss, one of her mentors, advised her to look at the situation from a different angle. Instead of thinking what you don’t have, concentrate on what unique thing you have that you can bring to the team for it to succeed.
Advice to aspiring PM’s
“The more you study about the company and the product the better. Do your homework and ask questions in return. That will help you in a job interview“, Navya says. Excitement and enthusiasm toward the job are positive signs in an interview situation that all the women agree on because showing your interest will make you more attractive. “Coming up with different ideas for the product is also desirable,” Amanda says.
“By evaluating what is a good PM and asking that question from different people in product will build your knowledge and help you gain experience without having the title,” Sally adds.
Diversity at work
When asked about diversity in the women’s workplaces Amanda says that at her job at Google they have a strong female lead. Navya continues that there are a lot of women, engineers, and marketers, at Peek and that the CEO is also a woman. “The more diversity, the better,” she adds.
She doesn’t mean only diversity regarding gender but also background and experience. Having a team from different countries, for example, does good things for the diversity. “Every company is different, and it also has a different culture. By evaluating the companies by what suits your needs and desires the best helps you find the right job,” Sally concludes.
Questions from the audience
How do you bypass the recruiter to talk to the hiring manager?
Navya: In bigger companies, it’s probably different, but I’m totally okay with people reaching out to me directly. People do that all the time, for example, on LinkedIn. If you have a non-conventional background its normal for the recruiter to cut you off but if you have a strong passion for the product, show that passion to the hiring manager.
Sally: Leverage the network you have. If you have a friend, who knows the hiring manager reach out to that friend and ask if they can make an intro. An intro helps a lot, and it goes a long way. People are much more receptive to chatting to you if they know a friend that you know or if you have something in common with them.
How do you convince people in a team that is more senior than you?
Amanda: This is easier to say than do but don’t think about it. I think one of the great things about tech is that it’s really about the ideas and about what you bring to the team. It’s not usually about your seniority. It’s more about thinking “why is this the direction we should go in” and “what research do I have.”
Also, I find the way to influence in any situation is to find the key people that you can get on the same page with you. Then you can grow it into more and more people. You can use different tactics, but for me, it’s all about trying to set the vision about where we’re going and get them on board.
Sally: If anyone has heard of a thing called “imposter syndrome” it sounds like that is what you have felt. You’re thinking of the people and that they have years of experience and that they are much smarter than you, but you are the Product Manager. You have thought about it for hours and much more deeply than they anybody else in the room regardless of how many years of experience they have. The product is your baby, and you’re doing whatever you can to make sure that the baby grows up.
I still struggle with that too. I was recently in a situation that seemed like I was asking for permission. Don’t go into the room asking for permission. If you feel like you should build something, go and build it. Lead your team. That situation reminded me that I don’t need to get the permission to do something and that I can move forward without someone smarter giving me the go ahead.
What are the gaps you might need to fill as a Product Manager?
Navya: You might have heard people say that a PM is a janitor and that you’re doing all the dirty work. It’s actually true. On a day-to-day life, you don’t really care about your title. You just want to care about if the job gets done it’s a success.
Here’s an example of the gaps. I’m doing partner outreach at the moment. I’m calling our customers because we don’t have a user research person at Peek, so I’m doing that myself. I also do my own requirements, and at times we do Q&As ourselves.
Hopefully, you’re not writing code but staying technical enough and working with the engineers. I’ve had PMs who have done paid marketing themselves. It’s about not saying “no” every time there’s a need. If you don’t have the right skillset then obviously get someone else to do it because teaching yourself to do it will only burn money and time.
Amanda: At Google, I have a fairly well-staffed team at this point, but over time it’s exactly the same as what Navya said. For example, I’ve run my own usability studies, I’ve worked on all the blog posts and PR, I’ve done all the milestone and spread sheeting.
Today I was trying to find a time for six executives to meet because two admins were out and I needed the meeting to happen. It’s about just trying to get the team unblocked by getting a decision made and thinking about “what is the next roadblock on the team and how do I remove it.
1:00 Deepika introduces the panelists and they talk about what they do, what they’ve done previously and how they got into product.
10:45 The panelists talk about their mentors that helped shape their decisions and that gave them opportunities in Product. Sally talks about how to turn your thinking around from “how can I do it without the abilities” to “what abilities do I already have?” Amanda says that she had great bosses that helped her along the way.
16:00 They discuss what have been, in their opinion, common mistakes that new Product Managers do when getting into product and also in a job. Navya talks about personal growth being the most important thing in a job. They also mention good qualities that a PM should have.
23:50 The women give advice for a person going into an interview now. They talk about what specific resources should the candidates look at, how they should prepare and for how long. They discuss the interview process and what the women themselves are looking for in a candidate.
34:05 The ladies discuss the diversity situation in their companies and product teams and what their favorite products are.
39:17 Q&A session
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