Finding the Right Blend in Product Management

By: Heidi Lim
When I was in college, a lot of the talented, bright people I knew wanted to work on the "business side" of technology (I certainly did).

When I was in college, a lot of the talented, bright people I knew wanted to work on the "business side" of technology (I certainly did). But, what did that mean and how would any of us get there? It was difficult for me to answer those questions. I studied Environmental Engineering because I wanted to understand and influence technology, and I spent time outside of school in business and leadership organizations to build business skills. When it came to summer internships, I found that most tech "business" internships were strictly Marketing or Sales, a little too narrow for my taste, as I wanted to explore. I also didn't want to strictly be an engineer. Now I know that what I'd been searching for can be found in one role: Product Management (PM).

At its core, PM is a role in which you have to understand the market and predict trends, work cross-functionally to make product and business decisions, collaborate with Engineering to build and design the best solutions, and take products to success with Sales and Marketing. As my Director once put it, it's often the only role besides the CEO that interfaces with every part of the business. Here's why PM at Delphix has been such a valuable experience early in my career.

Constant (and Fast) Growth

I'm almost two years out of college, and by now I've seen a surprisingly large number of my friends switch companies or become dissatisfied with their once promising jobs, both in and out of tech. I've noticed a couple of common threads with their dissatisfaction. I found that they all, like me, want to a) make a real impact within their organization and on the world and b) continually learn and be challenged. Unfortunately, my friends did not find these elements in their first jobs. I've been fortunate to find both as an Associate Product Manager at Delphix, where I've driven tangible product and strategy decisions, working at the same level as my senior colleagues.

Every day is a new learning experience. The only constant to my days is that I start with a cup of tea and Belvita biscuits, and that's only if I'm not offsite visiting customers or at a conference. As an APM, I've learned to minimize what I like to refer to as "switch time", the time it takes to get my head to switch focus from one topic or perspective to another. At any given moment, I could be talking through a new feature with engineers, designing product release materials with Marketing, or discussing roadmap with my VP. In between those meetings, there's a mental costume change, and it needs to be fast.

One of our executives once told me that if Iam not getting at least 2 years of experience each year, than itas not worth it. The work in PM is challenging, every day is packed, and that means Iam constantly growing.

People, People, People

You'll hear and again and again that the people around you really do make the difference between a good and an excellent workplace. When you're surrounded by smart people who can pick apart problems, you tend to sharpen each other. No matter who I'm working with at Delphix, I've found myself sharpened. I've also been fortunate to work on a strong, tight-knit team that I can always reach out to when I need advice or another brain to bounce around ideas. The mutual energy among the team is inexplicable, yet so valuable.

Mentorship and sponsorship have also been a huge part of my experience. I get mentorship from people within my team, as well as outside -- there's always something to learn from others. Sponsorship is something I hadn't appreciated before working in the "real" world. It seems small, but it's really helpful to have someone vouch for you when you're not in the room, to tell others that you have the ability to succeed and tackle big problems. Sponsorship is someone introducing you to a client and saying they're in good hands, or pushing you a little further than you thought you could go. These are the things that matter for a young PM.

I've learned the importance of knowing coworkers on a personal level -- it's more fun, and it's also valuable for connecting at work. I've learned to put down the laptop and go to happy hour (though I don't need much convincing). It pays dividends in the future. Having fun at work is just icing on the cake.

Immense Opportunity

Because it's our job to drive product direction, PMs natually get to influence business strategy. We work across the company, from Engineering, to Marketing, to Sales, and outside of the company with customers, partners, prospects. We regularly advise our executive leadership and are expected to be experts within our company. That's quite a tall order, which is what pushes me harder everyday. The more I do and learn now, the greater the future opportunity. As someone early in her career, being able to influence strategy and drive revenue in a fast-growing company is really exciting. The opportunities to learn are immense, and I feel my breadth and depth increasing every day.