Ala's Career Advice Blog http://alashiban.com/career-advice/ Answers for questions I get on LinkedIn Sun, 21 Jul 2019 07:34:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 What were the main challenges you faced going from a technical role to a Product Management one? https://alashiban.com/career-advice/what-were-the-main-challenges-you-faced-going-from-a-technical-role-to-a-product-management-one/ Sun, 21 Jul 2019 07:20:06 +0000 https://alashiban.com/career-advice/?p=108 Question I know this may be a broad question, but I would be curious what the main challenges you faced going from a more technical role to a more broad program management one. Would you mind I ask? Lucy M. Chief Technology Officer Ala Shiban. Group Product Manager Answer Hey Lucy, I don’t mind at all.  Three challenges come to mind as I made the switch from engineering. Outcomes thinking The first was learning to focus on the goal and the outcomes that solutions would provide. Coming from engineering, I tended to automatically think about implementation – including cost and feasibility. The initial re-framing challenge was figuring out the most impactful thing that we could work on within a business-viable timeframe. Once in product management, the analysis on the right problem to solve became one of the more important value-adds I could provide my team. Good product managers ground their reasoning in data and human psychology. When it comes to program management, there’s a much higher emphasis on execution. This is because very few companies provide the space for new product managers to have the scope to make choices that can have a significant impact. So the work revolves more […]

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Question

I know this may be a broad question, but I would be curious what the main challenges you faced going from a more technical role to a more broad program management one. Would you mind I ask?

Lucy M.
Chief Technology Officer
Ala Shiban.
Group Product Manager

Answer

Hey Lucy, I don’t mind at all. 

Three challenges come to mind as I made the switch from engineering.

Outcomes thinking

The first was learning to focus on the goal and the outcomes that solutions would provide. Coming from engineering, I tended to automatically think about implementation – including cost and feasibility.

The initial re-framing challenge was figuring out the most impactful thing that we could work on within a business-viable timeframe. Once in product management, the analysis on the right problem to solve became one of the more important value-adds I could provide my team. Good product managers ground their reasoning in data and human psychology.

When it comes to program management, there’s a much higher emphasis on execution. This is because very few companies provide the space for new product managers to have the scope to make choices that can have a significant impact. So the work revolves more around tactical rather than strategic thinking.

Recognizing personal value

The second difficulty I encountered was having a clear sense of my personal value to my organization. In engineering or sales, you can see what you have built. Be it code, software, a marketing campaign, an algorithm – you just know when you’ve set the quality bar high, when you’ve succeeded at a job. 

The emotional rewards are very different when you can see something and say: ‘That’s mine – I made that’. In product management, some of that gets lost. As a product or program manager, your influence is all you have. A product leader makes things happen: we focus the organization, the team or the startup on the important changes needed, affecting collaboration through leadership.

We live for those moments where we see the picture coming together, the collective work connecting – that’s what makes us and the team happy. The difference is that that pleasure fades quickly. It takes an effort to start celebrating smaller, day-to-day moments as we build up towards larger milestones.

The importance of alliances

The third challenge was the time that it took me to recognize the importance of people, relationships, and alliances. To build something that affects millions of lives, you have to find your strategic partners, be it inside or outside the company. You have to have a track record, be able to connect on a human level, and find ways to interweave your own goals with those of your partners, even if they don’t completely align. 

In engineering, it is easier to just demonstrate something in code, and then shop it around. In product management, I mostly had to rely on key people to produce that initial form of proof, before I could shop it around. That level of dependency can feel limiting, and every time you change roles, it can be challenging to rebuild that network of trust and mutual benefit.

I hope that helps and I’m happy to dig in deeper if you’re interested. 

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I don’t love software development and I like product, should I switch? https://alashiban.com/career-advice/i-dont-love-software-development-and-i-like-product-should-i-switch/ Mon, 08 Jul 2019 12:14:02 +0000 https://alashiban.com/career-advice/?p=71 Question I was wondering if you think it would be wise for me to pursue an Associate Product Management role immediately, or join a company as a software engineer then make a switch? Max D. Software Engineer Context Hey Ala! Thanks again for taking the time to help me out. For a little context about me and my current state, right now I work as a software developer at a small boutique consulting firm where I develop software for the movie studios. I am currently considering a job transition because my ultimate end goal in the next 4 years is to get accepted business school and I don’t feel that I am learning enough new things currently to justify staying here. Additionally, I don’t love software development (I never have), but I know that in order to be a good product manager or run a business (the eventual end goal), it is important to have technical knowledge.  I have always known that I have wanted to do product management, and was simply waiting to have some software experience before I joined a product role. I know that my background is not in product so it may be difficult, but I […]

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Question

I was wondering if you think it would be wise for me to pursue an Associate Product Management role immediately, or join a company as a software engineer then make a switch?

Max D.
Software Engineer

Context

Hey Ala! Thanks again for taking the time to help me out.

For a little context about me and my current state, right now I work as a software developer at a small boutique consulting firm where I develop software for the movie studios.

I am currently considering a job transition because my ultimate end goal in the next 4 years is to get accepted business school and I don’t feel that I am learning enough new things currently to justify staying here.

Additionally, I don’t love software development (I never have), but I know that in order to be a good product manager or run a business (the eventual end goal), it is important to have technical knowledge. 

I have always known that I have wanted to do product management, and was simply waiting to have some software experience before I joined a product role. I know that my background is not in product so it may be difficult, but I think I have enough general knowledge of building products and product management through my past experiences. 

With that being said, I have the following questions that I would love to hear from you regarding!
Ideally, I would love to start in a product role as soon as possible. However, I want to be cautious and make sure that I don’t too quickly jump into a role at a company that will not be helping me in the long term. I think that it makes the most sense to work at a very established, reputable company as my next company as I believe the name and credibility will be very helpful for me in the future (in terms of my application, and steps after that).

Ala Shiban.
Group Product Manager

Answer

You’re already thinking on the right path, so you can take solace in that. There’s no reason for you to wait until you’re “ready” because you might end up waiting too long and miss the boat entirely. That’s why you need to jump in with both feet and learn as much as you can with the big companies of the world.

With that being said, you do need to think about the companies you’re looking to apply to and ask yourself what about your experience puts you at the front of the line compared to other candidates.

Your profile shows that you’re lacking in key areas that would potentially lead hiring managers to feel that you’re not ready to do the job effectively with minimal training. It might be an uphill battle to try and prove yourself without more Product Management experience or demonstratable projects under your belt.

But you understand the key point: Joining a larger company will make your career journey easier for future hiring managers.

By coming on as a software engineer and then working with product managers in those companies, you’ll start to see what success looks like and be able to learn what companies value. At that point, internal discipline switches tend to be easier due to the relationships you’ll build along the way.

I’ll point you towards some learning resources that should also help you close your knowledge gap and to understand the rationale of Product Managers and their behaviors. That way you’ll be able to start speaking the language more consciously versus simply mimicking behaviors.

Happy to dig deeper if you have more questions! Hope this helps

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How can I position myself to get a UX Research summer internship in 2020? https://alashiban.com/career-advice/how-can-i-position-myself-to-get-a-ux-research-summer-internship-in-2020/ Mon, 08 Jul 2019 02:49:39 +0000 https://alashiban.com/career-advice/?p=54 Hi Ala, so sorry for the late response! So, I studied sociology at UCLA, and while I was there, I got interested in UX. I took a few UX courses and determined I was more interested in the research side rather than design. However, not having any formal UX experience, I didn’t feel prepared to apply for jobs.  I started working in nonprofit fundraising, specifically in database management. Still, I had some interest in UX, so I applied to a few UX-related programs. I ended up choosing the Northern Michigan University Master’s in Human Centered Design & Engineering, which I will start in September.  I guess what I’m wondering is how I can position myself to get a UX Research summer internship in 2020. I am planning to work part-time while pursuing my Master’s, but I’m having trouble finding research-related positions, so I’m struggling to balance finances and building my career. I’m planning to take quantitative and qualitative UX research methods courses in my first year, but other than that, how can I make myself a competitive candidate?  Thanks so much! Anna Anna C. Database Coordinator Hey Anna, this is a difficult question, all the more so, because it’s open-ended. […]

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Hi Ala, so sorry for the late response! So, I studied sociology at UCLA, and while I was there, I got interested in UX. I took a few UX courses and determined I was more interested in the research side rather than design. However, not having any formal UX experience, I didn’t feel prepared to apply for jobs. 

I started working in nonprofit fundraising, specifically in database management. Still, I had some interest in UX, so I applied to a few UX-related programs. I ended up choosing the Northern Michigan University Master’s in Human Centered Design & Engineering, which I will start in September. 

I guess what I’m wondering is how I can position myself to get a UX Research summer internship in 2020. I am planning to work part-time while pursuing my Master’s, but I’m having trouble finding research-related positions, so I’m struggling to balance finances and building my career. I’m planning to take quantitative and qualitative UX research methods courses in my first year, but other than that, how can I make myself a competitive candidate? 

Thanks so much!
Anna

Anna C.
Database Coordinator

Hey Anna, this is a difficult question, all the more so, because it’s open-ended. Also, any job search is sensitive to market influences. Over the years I’ve built up a comprehensive, research heavy system for finding your next job or role. Let’s start with tactical, then zoom out:

Where to apply

I suggest you find people on LinkedIn that you want to emulate. Begin with a keyword search for UX, human centered design and human computer interfaces on LinkedIn. In my case, I’d look for Product, picking a leader I respect:

Once you have established a list of key people you’d like to emulate, you can research what companies and career paths they have taken to achieve their goals. This puts you in a position to replicate or, at the very least, learn from their experiences.

Then, develop a list of companies to consider, along with a list of possible roles available in the job market, as well as a list of those individuals that may be willing to answer questions regarding the specific roles in which you have an interest:

What can level you up in the meanwhile

It almost always comes to a combination of people relationships, demonstrated capability and professional experience. You’re making a switch, so your professional experience is lacking and is academically heavy. Let’s start with the first two: 

Demonstrated Capability

There are two aspects to capability: perceived and real. Perception is everything, so take the time to watch Youtube videos of UX researchers – write down the lingo, the ideas they struggle with, and practice talking like them in front of a mirror (yes, really!). By showing up as someone that sounds like they’ve been in the industry, it creates a form of empathy that otherwise may get lost. You already accumulated experience and skills throughout your education and life – the idea here is to frame it in the right language.

Do projects. Pick one or two projects, either by joining startup-weekend crews, a few university buddies that want to try something out or by starting one on your own. Doing a project is critical – do it as if you’re freelancing, take it as seriously as you can because it’ll allow you to speak to it at the interview. Not sure where to start? How would you design a popular product today if you could restart it? What about improvements to an existing one? Mock it up, figure out the research, talk to people about it – do the whole thing.

People relationships

Find people that already work in the field and build relationships with them (don’t “network”). Use meetup.com to find relevant groups – make sure they’re small venues. Your goal is to have good conversations with those attending, and this doesn’t happen in large conferences. I could go on and on about how to build relationships, but the most important bit is to be empathetic and curious – ask questions, care about what others care, it’s a skill.

Another approach is what I call the Coffee-Calls. Your goal is to uncover what the companies value most for research internships – one of the most effective ways to discover that is to invite a few hiring managers or senior managers to coffee to learn more. When I first started I developed this habit and template, I think it’s still effective and tweakable to your case:

Conclusion

The good news is that you only need one opportunity, and when you have that opportunity, you’re golden. What you face now is the most challenging part, but once you get through it, and you will, it tends to get significantly easier.

I plan on creating a course around the system that I’m sharing with you here. Let me know if I should circle back with you when that happens.

Hope this helps!

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Working with managers who think UX is only UI design https://alashiban.com/career-advice/working-with-managers-who-think-ux-is-only-ui-design/ Sun, 07 Jul 2019 22:15:18 +0000 https://alashiban.com/career-advice/?p=27 Question Hey Ala I’m a UX manager that specializes in research. I find it a bit of a struggle to manage ux/ui designers because creating UI deliverables has such a strong emphasis at my company. UI seems to be the measure of “accomplishment”, and not so much the research that goes into it. I’m wondering if you have any tips for creating value around my research strengths? thnx Joe B. UX Design Manager This is quite an interesting problem. I have seen it happen in almost every organization that I have worked in. The reason is simple: it’s hard to see research. The only way to succeed in this situation is to demonstrate the value of your research work.  What this means is that you must be able to show the product managers (or those you want to listen) how your research can and should affect their decision making. Research that is focused on deriving insights may be meaningful, but product managers focus on jotting the journey from where they want to get to, to where they are now – and your research and/or you can’t describe how what you’ve found changes that journey, it means little to them. The […]

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Question

Hey Ala I'm a UX manager that specializes in research. I find it a bit of a struggle to manage ux/ui designers because creating UI deliverables has such a strong emphasis at my company. UI seems to be the measure of "accomplishment", and not so much the research that goes into it. I'm wondering if you have any tips for creating value around my research strengths? thnx
Joe B.
UX Design Manager

This is quite an interesting problem. I have seen it happen in almost every organization that I have worked in. The reason is simple: it’s hard to see research. The only way to succeed in this situation is to demonstrate the value of your research work. 

What this means is that you must be able to show the product managers (or those you want to listen) how your research can and should affect their decision making. Research that is focused on deriving insights may be meaningful, but product managers focus on jotting the journey from where they want to get to, to where they are now – and your research and/or you can’t describe how what you’ve found changes that journey, it means little to them.

The other approach — and this is something that I recommend to many folks that come from academic fields or non-software oriented industries — is to learn how to conduct and frame your research in terms of quick iteration to validate the hypothesis that will affect the decision-making process. 

The way to go about it is to work early on with product to understand what problem they’re trying to solve and for whom, and then help them craft a testable hypothesis that can validate or help them pivot. One you do that, your research should focus on testing them, providing PMs with meaningful results that they can use to get closer to their destination.

I hope this helps!

Ala

It's almost like the solution is to over communicate?
Joe B.
UX Design Manager

I recommend switching up the dynamic and not only over-communicate:

Spend 80% of the time interacting with them on the basis of understanding their problem, not trying to solve it – Separate the listening and the solutioning portions​it makes people feel heard (even if you know how to approach it)

I hope that helps!

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“Wondering if you think it would be wise for me to pursue an Associate Product Management role immediately” https://alashiban.com/career-advice/wondering-if-you-think-it-would-be-wise-for-me-to-pursue-an-associate-product-management-role-immediately/ Sun, 07 Jul 2019 21:56:18 +0000 https://alashiban.com/career-advice/?p=5 My Question I was wondering if you think it would be wise for me to pursue an Associate Product Management role immediately. I know that my background is not in product so it may be difficult, but I think I have enough general knowledge of building products and product management through my past experiences. I can include my resume which will go into more detail about my product experience Yasar K Software Engineer Background Hey Ala! Thanks again for taking the time to help me out. For a little context about me and my current state, right now I work as a software developer at a small boutique consulting firm where I develop software for the movie studios. I am currently considering a job transition because my ultimate end goal in the next 4 years is to get accepted business school and I don’t feel that I am learning enough new things currently to justify staying here. Additionally, I don’t love software development (I never have), but I know that in order to be a good product manager or run a business (the eventual end goal), it is important to have technical knowledge. I have always known that I have […]

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My Question

I was wondering if you think it would be wise for me to pursue an Associate Product Management role immediately. I know that my background is not in product so it may be difficult, but I think I have enough general knowledge of building products and product management through my past experiences. I can include my resume which will go into more detail about my product experience
Yasar K
Software Engineer

Background

Hey Ala! Thanks again for taking the time to help me out. For a little context about me and my current state, right now I work as a software developer at a small boutique consulting firm where I develop software for the movie studios.
I am currently considering a job transition because my ultimate end goal in the next 4 years is to get accepted business school and I don't feel that I am learning enough new things currently to justify staying here. Additionally, I don't love software development (I never have), but I know that in order to be a good product manager or run a business (the eventual end goal), it is important to have technical knowledge.
I have always known that I have wanted to do product management, and was simply waiting to have some software experience before I joined a product role. With that being said, I have the following questions that I would love to hear from you regarding! Ideally, I would love to start in a product role as soon as possible.
However, I want to be cautious and make sure that I don't too quickly jump into a role at a company that will not be helping me in the long term. I think that it makes the most sense to work at a very established, reputable company as my next company as I believe the name and credibility will be very helpful for me in the future (in terms of my application, and steps after that). I was wondering if you think it would be wise for me to pursue an Associate Product Management role immediately.
I know that my background is not in product so it may be difficult, but I think I have enough general knowledge of building products and product management through my past experiences. I can include my resume which will go into more detail about my product experience

If this is your goal, then the short answer is yes. Start working in product and on product as soon as you can. Thinking and ideating about product as a hobby or as an afterthought is likely less than a 20% investment out of your day, while getting a job in product will all lead you to spend over 80% of your time thinking about product and engaging in what it means to do product management. This is important for two reasons: establishing the right optics and, secondly, developing the skill set.

When you apply to any company, large or small, they look at your resume and ask themselves why they should hire this person versus someone else that already has product management expertise. This is the question you need to answer and there are multiple ways to answer.

In the ideal case, you want to demonstrate that you are a product-oriented person and have been your entire life, it’s what you enjoy, you just haven’t been presented the right opportunity. For that to come across, you need to speak the language, you need to know every trick in the book, and you need to present yourself as someone with relevant experience that is useful in product management.

Depending on the level at which you join the company you must be able to demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. That means understanding what people want, how you prioritize your work, not only with stakeholders, customers, and management but also how you balance the business’s needs to customer needs and your team’s needs, Product 101. How do you determine if a metric is on track? How would you approach the problem and how you structure a solution in a manner that can be communicated to your peers.

Obviously, the more skilled you are, the easier the interview. If you are less skilled, leverage your engineering skills to find a side-project. For example, find a product manager that is looking for a software engineer, but is willing to mentor you while you provide value with your software development skills. This will result in better outcomes in future interviews because of the knowledge and stories you have gained through one or more of these side projects.

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