Hacking the PM Interview with fmr Amazon Sr PM

This week Product School hosted Erik Huckle, former Sr Product Manager at Amazon for an #AskMeAnything session. Erik discussed product discovery, collaborating with UX/UI designers and transitioning to Product Management from unconventional backgrounds.

Meet Erik Huckle

Erik is a former Marine Infantry Officer who transitioned to Tech through business school after a little over 6 years in active duty. While at the University of Texas-Austin for business school, he worked with AECOM’s Innovation team to commercialize one of their emerging technologies, co-founded a robotics company (WS Robots) with a classmate and spent a summer at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Feynman Center for Innovation working with scientists on commercializing tech like quantum dots and nuclear space engines. 

He landed at Amazon after the MBA, while his cofounder continued the robotics business, where he worked in a secret startup which created and launched a hardware product internally. Now he is at a venture studio in Austin where he is the Head of Product building a contractor management platform utilizing a distributed ledger.

Do you have any advice on product discovery, prioritizing features and creating a roadmap?

I was in a Facebook interview last year when I was moving out from Amazon and had a tough question on prioritization. Having a good prioritization framework will help you select the features that have the highest amount of value with the least amount of work. I recommend the book “Product Roadmaps Relaunched” to get you started and exposed to a couple of different ways of thinking about it.

What are some good blogs or online resources to follow for an aspiring Product Manager transitioning from Engineering?

Having a strong technical background like yours will position you well to be a Product Manager. I would first think through why you want to be a PM. Do you want more responsibility or more input on the direction of the Product? If you want more responsibility there are tracks to move up as a software development manager (which I believe pays more at most companies).

If you want to get more involved with the product I would ask the product team where you currently work to involve you in some of their planning sessions, usability with customers, marketing (etc.). This should give you an idea of whether the position is something you want to do.

I read a lot of newsletters to stay up on what is going on in the broader tech landscape. I have found ones that spoke to me by subscribing to a bunch (usually on recommendations) then whittling it down from there. If you think about incrementally improving and educating yourself along the way you will get to where you need to be.

Here are my recommendations:

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How can we hack the PM interview without any experience in the field? (With 15 years of software development experience)

I transitioned to a PM role from the military so you definitely have a leg up on me having a technical background. I would refer to the previous question with regards to understanding your own motivations. I wouldn’t think of “hacking” the interview at a specific company. I would reframe it and understand how you can build up the knowledge needed to be successful in any Product Manager interview.

Reading basic PM books like the Startup Owners Manual is a good start. For the interview, I think reading a lot of technical strategies makes you flexible and this interview book, Cracking the PM Interview, helped prepare for the specific questions companies will throw at you.

Do you have a favorite tool to manage your discovery “product content”: client requests, outcomes based roadmap, KPIs, etc.

It’s important to figure out what works for you and the team. Amazon is huge on writing, as a PM I would spend hours/days/weeks putting together business requirements documents. I have used Trello in the past with mixed results. You don’t want the technology getting in between you and the technical team. Whatever facilitates quick and easy decision making while clearly communicating the state of things to all your stakeholders is what I would go with.

Could you please share a little bit of your experience with Amazon in how they identify their PM/PMM candidates for interviews?

I would take a look at the specific job postings and understand where your gaps are at. A lot of the Amazon PM roles look for prior experience. I came in through an MBA program so they were able to be a little more flexible with my background and teach me what I needed to know to be a good PM.

When you get an Amazon interview, see if you can come up with experiences you have had that hit their Leadership Principles.

How do you collaborate with UX designers and User Researchers? What kind of user research do you think is essential and should be prioritized when a new product is being designed?

When working with a designer to turn your idea into reality I like to share some concise writings on the idea as well as wireframes using Figma (this is a phenomenal tool!). There will still be a lot of back and forth but this will get you on the same page on what you are building.

My team at Amazon built a hardware product from nothing. We started with the idea, maybe some very rough prototypes of the hardware, put together some screens the customer could interact with then got it in front of customers and did extensive usability studies. The results from my first big usability study went to Jeff Bezos as part of my team’s recommendation on what direction to take the product. Customer focus and input is huge.

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In prep for interviews: If you were interviewing a candidate, what would your thoughts be on an interviewee who doesn’t have recent PM experience?

Should I create a product prototype (even if its in PPT) but walk through the “work” I’ve done (i.e. user research, a few iterations)…is that a good idea, or a waste of time?

I do some version of that in interviews when I can or follow up after the interview with something more thought out as you described. I have also coded out my own website using Python and deployed it from Digital Ocean (which is great to talk about). I think the more you can bring the interviewer in, and show them how you are unique and a value add to their company beyond just a resume, the better.

What are the things you would look for in an intern or entry level PM? If you were to start all over again, is there something you would do different to succeed? 

Beginner’s mindset and an unlimited capacity to learn and grow. Try and sit down with everyone on the team for a 1:1 when you get there. Schedule it when they have the time but demonstrate a true interest in what they are doing to build trust. I probably would have done more networking in Seattle outside of Amazon if I were to do it all over but as an intern just focuses on doing a great job for this small period of time.

Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

Find something that interests you and try to build your job around that. I love building new things and I love strategy (I was an avid chess player growing up). Being a Product Manager shouldn’t be your ultimate goal, finding a position at a great company where you can work on something you are excited about might be a better goal.

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

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