4 Trailblazing Product Managers to Watch

By BrainStation September 24, 2019

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, and virtual reality these are some of the trends Product Managers expect will have an impact on their field in the next decade according to BrainStation’s 2019 Digital Skills Survey.

Simply put, Product Managers turn ideas into reality. They’re responsible for leading the team that creates, distributes, delivers, and solves problems as a product comes to life. As we’ve written about, Product Managers are “the unsung heroes of the tech world.

That’s why we’re profiling four Product Managers who are leading the way in the growing fields of robotics, machine learning, virtual reality, and blockchain. Here’s what they’re working on and how they’re paving the way for new technology.

Erin Teague – YouTube 

Erin Teague wants you to get up close and personal with a band of gorillas, or experience a live concert without leaving your living room. That’s because Teague is YouTube’s Head of Product for Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). 

According to the Digital Skills Survey, just over 10 percent of product management professionals have experience in VR and AR, which makes Teague a leader in a small but growing field of product management.

“At the time this (VR and AR) was this crazy thing. Our team was just starting, it was  not even clear what this meant,” said Teague at the 2018 Product Leader Summit hosted by Spero Ventures.

Teague joined YouTube in 2016, and the company launched YouTube’s VR app that same year. Since then, she has continued to lead development on a product that demands constant change, as VR tools and technology are developed.

“The technology is going to continue to evolve, what mattered a year ago probably won’t be true today,” said Teague. “VR is still very early, but we believe the future is bright.”  

Donna Romer – IBM Watson AI

Donna Romer, IBM Watson AI
Donna Romer, IBM Watson AI

When asked which trends will change product development over the next five-to-ten years, more than 80 percent of respondents said artificial intelligence (AI) will have an impact.

Donna Romer, Vice President of Product for IBM Watson AI, is sure to agree. As the leader of the team that delivers Watson’s AI, Romer is part of a small but growing group of AI Product Managers, and she recently wrote about what that means on Medium.

“As (Product Managers) we like to start with drawing out the UX, but really, don’t start with wireframes. Instead, AI (Product Managers) first create/collect a data set that represents the problem space. Only then do they ask an Engineer to iterate on the problem to deliver 90 percent accuracy for the problem to be solved,” wrote Romer.

Romer goes on to list questions AI Product Managers should be asking when starting a project, and it should come as no surprise that each question mentions data: Did you collect data first? Is your data different? Are you always looking for new data?

Ajit Kulkarni – Chronicled

Ajit Kulkarni, Chronicled
Ajit Kulkarni, Chronicled

Ajit Kulkarni leads product at Chronicled, a tech company using blockchain and IoT to power supply chain solutions. He believes that product management in this space is not unlike other products.

“You have to understand the landscape and know how every team working on the product interacts with each other. This principle is helpful for managing any product, especially a product that uses new technologies such as the blockchain where the speed of change is tremendous,” says Kulkarni.

In addition to understanding the technology behind blockchain (he says it’s essential to understand full-stack solutions), Kulkarni emphasizes the importance of interpersonal skills to be able to communicate effectively with Engineers, Executives, and customers. He also stresses that Product Managers working in blockchain need to be consistently learning.

“You’ll always have more to do and more to learn. That’s just a fact. But it’s where most of the excitement lies for a Product Manager in the blockchain field,” says Kulkarni.

Danielle Thé – Wattpad

Danielle Thé thinks machine learning will become part of every business in the future. She’s the Product Manager for Machine Learning at Wattpad, the social storytelling platform that’s using “Story DNA” to identify trends and predict bestsellers or the next blockbuster.

“I believe that we’ll see a movement towards Data Science that is similar to what happened with the Internet. In the early days, only some businesses believed they needed to be online  —  now every business is online in one way or another,” wrote Thé in a recent blog post about her experience learning Python as a Product Manager.

Thé is also passionate about making the digital world easy to understand. More than 9,000 people are subscribed to her YouTube channel featuring videos about topics like SQL, web cookies, and of course, machine learning.

“I believe companies who don’t leverage their data will fall behind those who do. With Data Science, its practices and principles will soon become so foundational to almost any role in business, marketing, product, or government,” says Thé.

Find out more about BrainStation’s Product Management certificate courses