Where are you working currently and what is it that you do there?
I work at Shopify as the Senior Product Manager of Payment Products.
What does a typical day look like for you as a Senior Product Manager?
My typical day consists mostly of stakeholder meetings on roadmap projects. These are long-term projects that we're working through, getting alignment on, and getting the right people engaged in, in order to execute on them or determine the scope. It's kind of just corralling everybody and making sure people are doing what they have to do.
Why did you choose to study at BrainStation?
I had earned the title of Product Manager at a previous job of mine, and they introduced me to Agile while I was on a project there. We were working with an outside agency and they worked using product management methodologies. I remember attending a workshop led by another company and they just had all these best practices, principles, and ways in which software could be used for product management, that we were definitely not using at the time.
I was really inspired after having gone through that workshop, knowing there was a better way to do product management than we were currently doing. As soon as I started opening up books, looking online, or talking to people in the industry, I started to realize that most tech companies were light years ahead of us. They were doing the same job, just doing it in a completely different way. I stumbled across BrainStation while I was researching product management and realized that this is exactly what I want to do so I took the course.
What would you say was the highlight of your learning experience?
I’d say the connection with the Instructor. There are two pieces of the course that matter the most, first is the content, second is the Instructor. You’ve to make sure that the right content is there, and you could consume all that content yourself if you seek it out, but the connection to somebody who can actually talk you through it all and make it feel real – that’s the real magic of the course.
When I took the course, you had to pretend you already had the job or the role of a Product Manager and you would speak to the Instructor as if they were your boss or your peer. My favorite part was going back and forth and getting feedback.
What would you say was the most challenging aspect of your learning experience?
If you're doing the course right, you're going to be spending a lot of time on it. You're doing that in-class portion, but you're also working on your project. By far the most impactful part of the course for me, when it came to transitioning into a career in tech, was using that project to build my portfolio. Really spending the time to make that count, doing the exercises, going through all the motions and doing all the steps. That project was the most challenging part because you have to be self-motivated. It's not your job – it's really just school without a grade.
If you're doing the course right, you're going to be spending a lot of time on it. You're doing that in-class portion, but you're also working on your project. By far the most impactful part of the course for me, when it came to transitioning into a career in tech, was using that project to build my portfolio.
How would you say that that course impacted the role that you had at the time? Did it have a real impact on your day-to-day?
To be honest, it just inspired me to get out of that role. I was working at a company that wasn't going to move as fast as I wanted to into that Agile direction. Doing something as simple as user interviews wasn't even a part of our process. Once I saw the impact of the course, I knew that I wanted to find something different.
What would you say were the most valuable skills that you learned in the course?
It gave me confidence that this isn't insurmountable. It's on me, I can do this. The Instructor was a huge part of it. They made us feel like you can do this. They would trust you to take on a project with them. That was when I decided, maybe I'll go to a meetup, maybe I'll apply to a job and go to talk to people that are in this industry, and not think about why they would even want to talk to me.
How did you become a BrainStation Instructor and what did you think of that experience?
After working in the field for several years they asked me to interview for the role and it just seemed like it was a cool gig and a great way to spend some time. When I started doing it, I loved it. When you're working in tech, you’re usually working in one problem area. As an Instructor, it's just fun to watch 20 to 30 people try out core principles and the foundations of product management in different ways. It’s a really interesting thought process experiment. But the reason I kept doing it was that the more and more I participated in the instruction of product management, the more it stuck in me, and the more I was able to learn.
I learn better from teaching or being a part of the teaching process than I do from consuming. So it was almost just as self-serving.
Do you feel like teaching the course made you a better Product Manager?
Definitely. There's no recipe for being a good Product Manager, just like most jobs. A lot of it is soft skills and working through problems and being collaborative. The course really reminded you of principles that you can always use and to remember frameworks that can be leveraged to actually help your decision making process. It really kept that at the forefront so that I could go in and remember what a really good way to explain this problem is, or knowing that my solution is this particular model. It wasn’t necessarily ground breaking, but the course made that more fun for me.
What advice would you give to someone to really get the most out of the learning experience as a student?
The project is the most important part of the course. Use the project, because what you get in that environment is some number of people that you're not competing with, going through the problem space together. There's no competition, there's no grades. You're just trying to get the most out of it for yourself. You also have to give to others in order for there to be reciprocity.
Use the Instructors to bounce ideas off of, that’s where I feel that there is a pretty common theme, that the Instructors tend to be everyone's favorite part. They might be people’s favorite part, but the most important part of your output is your project. That's what you can take with you into an interview in tech. Product management interviews especially, they usually involve talking about a problem to solve. The only way you're going to be able to have an honest story to tell a potential employer is through presenting your final project.
What advice would you give to professionals who are considering a BrainStation course?
Dedicate the time. In any education, and this is something that I have to constantly remind myself of, you have to dedicate the time and space for it. I set up my home office to have a whiteboard, I have my lean canvas up on the board. I had sticky notes everywhere talking about the MVP of my product and that was in my space. It wasn't just something I came in and did. Be prepared for that.
Also come to the course with something you're interested in. People usually show up to the course with something they’re interested in. That means a problem to solve, or you're coming to the course because you have a product that you're building. Spend some time, think about what the problem is you're solving before you bring that in, before you use that as your project. At the end of the day, it's all about the problem and not the solution.
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