You know what people that oversee the development of your favorite apps, software, and many other technology products are called right?
Nope, I am not referring to Software Engineers.
These cool peeps work hand in hand with Software Engineers and other key stakeholders involved in creating technology products.
Yep, Product Managers.
We got talking to Khadijah Abu — one of the coolest Product Managers in Fintech.
Have you met her yet?
Hey Khadijah, mind introducing yourself?
My name is Khadijah. I’ve spent over a decade working in the Financial Technology and Payments space and I currently lead the Product team at Paystack.
Over the course of my career, I’ve worked in various roles; from Customer Support to Operations, Software Testing, Technical Sales, and most recently, Product Management.
I love seeing new concepts come to life and witnessing users enjoy working with products that I was fortunate enough to work on.
I love to travel and for some reason, I also think of myself as an aspiring food photographer (don’t ask).
Well done, Khadijah! I learned you serve in a number of other Non Profit capacities, do you mind sharing?
Thank you! Yes, sure.
I serve as the organizer of ProductTank Lagos, a community of Product Managers in Lagos geared towards bringing PMs together so we can collectively hone our craft. We spend time learning from and sharing with each other through quarterly meetups.
I also volunteer with the Open Banking Nigeria Foundation; it’s an advocacy group focused on increased collaboration amongst financial institutions in Nigeria, and I host the Decode Fintech podcast, an initiative from Paystack that helps uncover exciting stories in the African Fintech space. You can find it on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts.
Awesome!!! How did you get into a STEM field initially
I’m afraid it’s nothing exciting.
Oh no! Still, we wanna hear it
Well, when I was in Secondary School, you were expected to choose between the Sciences and the Arts when you got to your senior year. I had good grades in Maths, so the powers-that-be decided I would make a great science student.
Now as a Science student, there was an unspoken rule that said once you got to the University, you had to choose between becoming a Doctor or becoming an Engineer.
I definitely didn’t want to be a Doctor because I detested chemistry (what are all those hexagons we used to draw?!?), I think it was just too abstract for me to comprehend at the time.
Lol…Do you mean those carbon rings?
… Exactly! Hydrocarbons lol!
… I also didn’t fancy staring at blood every day, and medical students seemed to spend an extraordinary amount of time in school. I wanted to get in and get out quickly so I could start making money.
Okay, what did you eventually study at the university?
Once I settled on the idea of being an engineer, Electrical/Electronics Engineering seemed like the most relatable option and I decided to go for it. As you know Engineering is an integral part of the STEM movement and I wanted to be a part of something that could potentially impact the world.
I was taken aback when I realized that we were only 11 female students in a class of ~150, but regardless, today, I have a B.Eng. Electrical Electronics Engineering degree from the University of Benin, in Edo State, Nigeria.
When I graduated, I was told that I had to wait almost a whole year before I got called for my NYSC. I didn’t like the idea of sitting at home being idle, so I started looking for ways to occupy my time. I got a job at Interswitch a few months later, and that’s how my journey in the Fintech world began.
How did you transition into Product management when it wasn’t a thing in Nigeria
While I was working in Operations at Interswitch, I was called into a meeting with my boss where they explained that there was a new function within the organization that they wanted to set up, and they felt I would be a good fit. I accepted the role and next thing I knew, I was branded as a Product Manager responsible for one of our B2B solutions.
Now, you have to understand that up until that point, I had never heard about Product Management before and it seemed like everyone within the organization had a different interpretation of what the role should be. I wasn’t even sure what formal training options existed for me to learn more about the role. Overnight, I found myself moving from a strong Operations lead to a rookie PM with no idea how to do my job.
In the middle of struggling with a deep sense of confusion and wondering what I had got myself into, I spent the next few months googling ‘What Does a Product Manager Do?’, stalking PMs on LinkedIn and Twitter, and devouring every medium article that had been written about Product Management.
At some point, I started making small bets by using some of what I had learned online and I got more confident in the role. The rest, as they say, is history.
Cool. So what’s your typical day at work like?
My routine is something like this…
I typically start out by grabbing a cup of coffee, then I check the internet for relevant updates on what’s happening in the world (I subscribe to what feels like a hundred Fintech-related blogs).
Next, I check my messages (Slack, email, WhatsApp, Skype) and attend to the urgent ones immediately. A good day is one where there’s no crisis to deal with.
Then I touch base with my teams (and external partners), we’re almost always in the middle of implementing an update to the product, so we go over our plans and talk through any blockers or issues that have come up. Sometimes this results in an impromptu brainstorming session, and other times, I simply lend my perspective to a problem we’re trying to solve.
The rest of my day is dedicated to focused work and meetings; some of the meetings are internal, while others are with our partners from all over the world.
The best part of my day is when we launch a new product/feature and we spend time monitoring adoption and tracking metrics associated with how our customers are using it.
Nice! What were you doing the last time you looked at the clock and realized you had lost all track of time?
Playing sudoku last night, from 11:30 pm till 2 am!
Really? that brings me to my next question…
How do you strike a work-life balance or alleviate stress?
As a PM, there’s always a lot to do and the work never really stops. One way I manage work/life balance is to schedule everything; this helps me consciously make room for non-work related things that I could easily have overlooked.
My calendar includes not just work stuff, but self-care sessions at the spa, movie dates and especially catch up sessions with my family and friends.
I read some fiction to take my mind off things; singing and listening to music are my go-to's for alleviating stress. I kill in the workplace and at karaoke.
I’m also big on balancing the mind and the body; I’m not a health nut, but I try to eat well and generally take good care of myself. I have an excellent support system as well; my family and friends are always there to remind me of what’s most important and I take time off to rest when I need to.
What are your favorite work tools?
My Calendar for scheduling everything, good old pen and paper for scribbling random thoughts, Excel/Google sheets are a lifesaver for analyzing data and Notion for articulating my thoughts.
Your Philosophy/Motivation to work?
I believe that being diligent with whatever you have been entrusted with goes a long way towards self-motivation. I get an intense sense of fulfilment from putting in good work and seeing that result in achieving the desired outcomes.
Have you faced any difficulties so far? Or ever felt like you were not treated as equal?
I have been fortunate enough to not have had to deal with this firsthand.
Regardless, there are a lot of women who struggle with being treated fairly in the workplace and have missed out on opportunities because of their gender. There’s a bigger conversation to be had around women missing out on opportunities because they take time off to have children.
Some people in positions of authority at many organizations still struggle to see women in positions of leadership. This mindset sets us back as a community and prevents new, diverse ideas from coming in.
What are some things people and organizations could do to get more women in STEM?
I think a targeted focus on educating young women is the best way to get more women into STEM. Platforms like CAWSTEM help and organizations can always do more to ensure that there is no bias against women when it comes to opportunities in the workplace.
Your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
It’s more of a life lesson that a direct quote:
“You cannot control what other people do, the only thing you can control is how you react to life events”.
I like this quote because it reinforces the mindset that you have the power to influence your life choices. Whether it’s a reaction to somebody that has hurt you deeply or the instinct to respond angrily to that annoying email, you own the power and nobody can take that away from you.
It’s very easy to let your past define you, but knowing this helps to drive the consciousness that you can change the trajectory of your life regardless of where you are coming from or what you have been through.
CAWSTEM is a community of African women in STEM. We are a female-led crew, on a mission to rewrite the narrative about having few women in STEM and, especially in leadership positions. We share interesting insights, news, and resources to empower women in their STEM careers. You can join the community here
Every Tuesday, we publish stories here about African women’s journey in STEM. We know every STEM woman’s story is unique…so we tell these stories to inspire our community. If you would like to share your story with us, send an email to email@example.com, we can’t wait to read from you!