My summer as an APM intern @ Google

This summer, I worked at Google as an Associate Product Manager intern. Over the course of my internship, I learned a lot, got to know a group of incredible people, and explored one of the largest and most diverse tech companies of our time. Below are some of the highlights from my summer, including my internship program, the projects I worked on, and the people I met.

All opinions below are my own and not a reflection of Google’s POV.

The Program

For this internship, I was a part of the Associate Product Manager program. The program is an initiative that Google has had since its early days to take new hires and make them into fully fledged product managers. While it is typically made up of recent college grads, anyone with up to 3 years of full-time work experience (2 years if it’s product management experience), is eligible.

Originally led by Marissa Mayer, it consists of two one year rotations (and a possible internship the summer before graduation) where associate product managers, or APMs for short, work in different parts of the company and get exposure to a wide range of skills and challenges. Over the course of the three rotations, each cohort, which usually consists of 40–50 new hires, has the opportunity to work on exciting projects, learn from industry leaders, and (hopefully) befriend one another.

PMing at Google

At this point you might be thinking: Maayan, don’t you go to design school? Why are you interning as a product manager in the first place? To answer this question, it might be helpful to first address what exactly a PM does.

In the tech industry, a product manager’s role is somewhat less defined than that of an engineer or a designer. Even within a single company, the job can vary from team to team. Although this is definitely the case at Google, a PM’s job can generally be summed up as ensuring that the product progresses from its current state to where it should be. Within a product cycle, this typically means having a vision for a product, convincing others that this goal is worth working toward, collaborating with the rest of the team to determine how best to reach it, and then doing whatever it takes to make sure that the product actually gets made.

From design school to product management

Since this is such a strange and often unpredictable role, it’s hard to learn the skills necessary in a traditional academic setting. Part of the reason that Google started the program in the first place was because its product team found inherent value in teaching new PMs on the job.

Luckily for me, CMU Design’s curriculum is anything but traditional. Professors’ tendency to teach through loose guidance helped me trust my own judgement and independently drive projects. The collaborative studio environment made me comfortable sharing ideas with others and taking constructive criticism. Finally, the unusual nature of projects made me, well, scrappy. All of these skills played an essential role in my ability to PM and I’m eternally grateful for it.

The Project

While hearing about product management in an abstract sense is great, now would probably be the time to talk about what I actually worked on. I was on the Hotels Search team, which powers Google Hotels. Most of my work involved improving the hotels module that appears on Google Search to help users find what they’re looking for faster.

Although I can’t talk too much about the specifics of what I made during my internship, I can say a lot about what I learned. Here are some of the major takeaways from working as a PM on the team.

Asking for help, or how to avoid being the Mr. Krabs meme

While I really enjoyed working on hotels and was able to achieve a lot while I was there, the first month pretty much felt like this. I was given a lot of (well, a few) responsibilities yet had no idea what I was doing.

While I soon discovered just how real imposter syndrome could feel, I also learned a lot about understanding when I needed help and how to ask for it. Luckily, I had an extraordinarily supportive team. They were always eager to answer my questions and let me know how I was doing.

In addition, I was fortunate enough to have been put on a team with not one, but two APM interns. Although I was nervous about this at first, having another intern to work alongside helped me more than I ever could have imagined. In addition to learning from one another’s strengths, working with her taught me how much there is to gain from collaborating with peers as opposed to competing with them.

Influencing without authority

One of the biggest challenges I faced during my internship was motivating the people around me to work on my projects. This was difficult for two reasons.

The first of which was that I myself wasn’t sure why anyone should listen to me. I had never used Google Hotels and had no experience in the travel industry. I hadn’t even booked a hotel room before in my life. In short, I had no idea what I was talking about.

This brings me to my first lesson, which is to know what you’re talking about. With the help of team members, internal documents, and a lot of data, I caught up. I learned how the travel industry is structured, who the key players are, how the money is made, and, most importantly, what the users want. Sure enough, it worked. It turns out that when you’re informed, people will recognize it and listen to what you have to say.

The second, and perhaps less easily solve-able issue, was that I had less than three months to build and launch a feature. While this is difficult in and of itself, the bigger problem was that everyone that I was relying upon to do so would be there for much longer. They had little incentive to operate on my timeline other than the fact that it was, well, my timeline. I soon learned that this was a weak argument at best and people had other priorities.

Here is where I learned my second lesson; not to be selfish. Everyone has their own needs and concerns. Talking about yours to try to convince others will only get you so far. A better strategy that I found was to look beyond my own concerns and towards the team’s goals as a whole. Once I managed to align my objectives with that of the team, I was both able to get more done for my own projects and be more helpful to others.

The People

Over the course of this internship, I was fortunate enough to have gotten to know extraordinary people within both the hotels team and the APM program.

The APM community

As the first day of my internship approached, I felt a combination of nervousness and eagerness to meet my fellow APM interns. In addition to being among some of the most ambitious new grads in the industry, many of my peers would have come from top notch schools and have multiple software engineering internships behind them. With all of us together in a room, I was both unsure of what to expect and anxious to find out.

Of course, this manifested itself in the best of ways. The members of my cohort are a wonderful combination of eager to learn, supportive of one another, and incredibly fun to spend time with. Although our backgrounds are similar in some ways, they’re vastly different in others. In addition to learning from one another, I’ve made a great group of friends that I will cherish for years to come.

The hotels team

While putting down preferences for this internship’s team placement, I was purposefully ambiguous about what I wanted. I knew that a large part of my experience would be based on the internal dynamics of team I was placed on. As an external hire, I’d have no way of knowing this until I got to Google.

Fortunately, I was given an extraordinarily welcoming and supportive group. The design, engineering, and PM orgs have been both incredible to work with and genuinely fun to be around. Regardless of where I end up after I graduate, I feel very lucky to have started out with the people on hotels.

At the time that I was applying for this internship, I honestly didn’t think I would get it. I didn’t have the typical background of an APM and thought I was a long shot at best. When I got the offer, I promised myself that no matter what, I wouldn’t take it for granted.

I’m glad to think that I’ve made the most of my summer. I look forward to carrying the lessons I’ve learned and the friendships I’ve made into the coming school year and beyond.