Why Google Associate Product Manager?

Originally posted on tokudu.com on 03/22/2010

In July of this year, I will be starting my first real full-time job. It’s no longer gonna be an internship that will eventually end in 4 month. So it’s definitely a bit scary. However, what is even more terrifying is the kind of a job that I will be starting. It’s Google Associate Product Manager. Google describes this position like this:

The Associate Product Manager Program is an elite two-year rotational program, consisting of two one-year rotations, designed for top recent computer science graduates who are interested in exploring product development and leadership opportunities. This select group is given broad responsibilities, generous access to resources, visibility into Google’s executive team and many opportunities to grow . the organization. The program combines on-the-job experience with additional training, mentorship, and support from current associates and the rest of the product team

As an Associate Product Manager, you’ll work with engineers to define new features and grow our products based on your understanding of user needs. You’ll also conduct research on markets and our competitors, focus on strategies that impact the direction of future products and develop leadership experience in a variety of Google’s product areas. Technical, analytical and strategic planning skills are vital to performing successfully in this position.

Another popular way for Google to label this job is “an engineer that doesn’t code”. Let me repeat that for you: DOESN’T CODE. Now you know why it’s terrifying, no? After all, I spent past 5 years of my undergrad at the University of Waterloo and 2 years worth of internships learning how to code stuff, and now I’m gonna throw it all away? It sure does sound like it.

Many of you have asked me, why DID I take this job over many other offers such as graphics developer at Pixar and a game developer at Microsoft? Well, it was definitely a difficult decision. In fact, I sometimes look forward to July 12th and think: “Anton, what the hell are you doing?”. Like, what would I be do for 8 to 10 hours during the day, if I’m not developing things? I love to code, so why am I taking a job that doesn’t involve it?

Well, to answer all of these questions, we have to look back to 6 months ago. Back in September of 2009, I was starting my final internship of my undergrad career at Pixar Animation Studios down in Emeryville. A dream job for some, and maybe for me. At least that’s what I thought back then. At that point I was set on specializing in computer graphics and all I wanted to do is work on CG in movies.

I loved working at Pixar. I’ve met dozens of incredibly talented people, who very extremely passionate about what they do. I’ve made a number of good friends. However, there was obviously no guarantee that I will get a full-time offer from Pixar at the end of my internship. Therefore, to be on a safe side I decided to apply for some other jobs. Since, I was very interested in graphics, I applied to Microsoft Game Studios (MGS). Moreover, since I’ve previously interned at Google, I decided to apply there as well.

Google usually comes to the University of Waterloo campus to hire new grads. However, for some stupid reason I missed the deadline to apply for the on-campus interviews, so I had to apply online. First thing I applied for was the regular Software Engineer position (SE). After I submitted my application, the website asked me, if I wanted to apply for any other “new grad” positions. I looked through them, and figured that it’s not gonna hurt for me to apply for the Associate Product Manager (APM). I selected the job and pressed “Apply”. Just like that, I might have changed my life by one click of a mouse.

Two weeks later, I got a response from the Google hiring team. I was asked to have a phone interview. Interestingly enough, it was for the APM position and not the SE. Even though, at that point I was more interested in the SE position, I wasn’t gonna turn them down, so I went for it.

I’m not gonna describe the long-ass process I had to go through until I got the APM offer, since many people online have done it before. It was tedious, but quite life-changing. After all, I even interviewed with Marissa Mayer (Google VP of Products & User Experience). Meanwhile, I also interviewed at MGS for a job as graphics developer for the Forza Motosport team, which was very cool. In the end, I was offered the SE and APM position at Google, and the Pixar and Microsoft jobs. It was the point in my life, when I had to make a really hard choice. Should I abandon my passion in computer graphics, and take a hip job at Google that I know nothing about?

So, what eventually made up my mind was the advice that Marissa Mayer once gave to Jessica Lee, who eventually became a PM of one of the most successful Google products — Google Maps. Jess writes about it on her blog, but I’m gonna quote it here:

In my interview with Marissa, I confessed that I already had an offer as a software engineer with Intuit and wasn’t sure if being a product manager was what I wanted to do. She gave me some advice based on her own experiences. She told me to take the job that I thought would be more challenging and that would push my comfort level the most. Reflecting back on her own life, she said that all the best decisions she’d ever made were ones where she had chosen the harder, more personally challenging path.

I compared my 2 options — engineer at Intuit or product manager at Google. Engineering definitely felt more comfortable and familiar to me. […] Product management felt unfamiliar and uncomfortable and there seemed to be a high possibility I would suck at it. I wasn’t sure I had enough leadership skills to lead a team. […] Could I really hold my own in a press interview when I was terrified to do any public speaking or presenting at all? The answer to all of these questions seemed more likely to be no than yes.

I felt like I was in the same position as Jessica back 4 years ago. Therefore, Marissa’s advice definitely applied. So with the fear in my heart, I accepted the APM offer.

This fear is not gone yet. It probably won’t be until I start in July, or maybe until even later. However, certain thing do make me feel better about my decision. For instance, check out this article on News Week about the APMs. Meanwhile, I all I can do is wait for July is hope that my experience will be as great as Jessica’s.

Originally published at tokudu.com.