Crafting Your PM Career with Amazon Sr PM

Last week, Product School hosted Murtaza Chowdhury, a Senior Product Manager at Amazon Web Services for an exclusive #AskMeAnything session. Murtaza lent his expertise in building products and growing them while leading high performing teams. He also provided advice on developing PM skills, Product Strategies, and landing a role in Product Management.

Meet Murtaza Chowdhury

Murtaza is a Senior Product Manager at Amazon Web Services, leading the new initiatives such as AWS License Manager. He began his professional work as a Software Engineer at Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions, where he was mainly responsible for leading building configuration management software for Bosch Security Systems. During his lucrative career, Murtaza has worn various hats, as a Software Engineer, Development Specialist, and Program Manager. 

Typically software engineers are not exposed directly to clients and users. How did you become more user-facing and what was the most difficult part about that?

If you start as a software engineer, you always have the opportunity to think broadly about the product you are working on. Think about the entire user journey through your product, and see how you can provide 10x better experiences.

What’s your favorite approach for customer validation when developing completely new products/services in enterprise SaaS?

There is no shortcut to customer validation. My favorite approach is to be first very crisp about who the target user of the product is. And then talking to the target user base from customer organizations. This is science and art at the same time, and it has to be a combination of understanding the customer’s next best alternative, validating your hypothesis, and talking to the user base. You could also run limited betas to gather more insights.

How do you or how does AWS determine which types of SaaS apps/services to develop and offer enterprises?

At AWS we take our leadership principles very seriously. 90 to 95% of our product roadmaps are based on what customers have asked us for.

How do you get up to speed quickly on a project that is outside of your expertise/knowledge? Any tips for when you feel a bit overwhelmed by the tech side of things? 

To manage a product or build one, you need to start from who the customers are and who the user is. How technical you need to be depends on what the users of your product expect. You should be able to get started fairly well, once you are able to understand the customer journey and the goals users intend to achieve. Being technical helps in having more meaningful conversations with engineers during the execution phase.

What are some ways to make yourself more unique if you are trying to transition into a non-technical PM role?

While an engineering or UX background is helpful in managing tech products, you need to understand the big picture and the market that your product is targeting. For the transition, it is important to quickly get a grip on the business side of product management and understand the overall landscape.

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What are some ways we can develop our sense of Product Strategy?

You could study existing products in the market and track the direction companies are taking with them to start with. Best way is to take up a Product Management role and get the experience.

What is your best advice for non-tech PMs to land a job at Amazon?

I have myself been in tech-focused businesses, where tech background helps. But there are many non-tech products that you could lead without much of a tech background. Depending on the product you are leading, you may not get into the details of how each feature is implemented, but it helps in understanding and being able to describe how a product works.

Is there a difference between a Product Manager and Project Manager at AWS?

At AWS, there is a Product Manager (PM) role and a Technical Program Manager (TPM) role. These roles are quite different in terms of day to day work, and expectations from the business. While the PM role is more business and strategy focussed, the TPM role is more execution-focused. Both are great roles with each having its own set of challenges and learning. 

You may also be interested in: What is Technical Product Management Anyway?

Can you point to some good resources/reading to understand how cloud platforms (AWS/GCP) work for a PM to understand? Also any material on Cloud marketplaces?

There is a lot of material on the web. I would encourage you to understand the overall market and how it has evolved over time. How the leaders in the space are investing, and what industry trends affect the way customers consume these cloud services.

What kind of KPIs are important for a PM and is performance one of them?

Anything that impacts the customer experience is a good KPI to have, including non-functional ones such as performance.

Do you have any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

My final advice is to invest time in understanding your users very well, empathize with them, and look at providing 10x improvements, instead of incremental ones. Make bold bets, don’t be afraid to fail!

Did you miss this event? Check out our events page to sign up for the next #AskMeAnything session!

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