What happens when you burst your bubble, even if only for a few weeks
This blog post speaks for itself as it’s my first (and hopefully not the last) written self-evaluation assessment I’ve ever done in my life. I recently experienced a pivotal moment in my career during a stretch program I participated in at Hootsuite.
Hootsuite provides a stretch program that allows employees to try out a different role full time for a couple of weeks to expose them to different roles and responsibilities in the company. I’m pretty sure it’s not my mid-life crisis, but this program really heightened my sense of awareness and re-evaluated all of my being at this point in life.
I’m currently a software developer at Hootsuite working on developer productivity, juggling many technologies on a daily basis. My background was actually in QA automation, from which I’ve slowly transitioned a few years back. After years of coding, reviewing and deciding technical aspects of my day to day tasks, I realised I should stretch my wings and have a glimpse of what other roles may affect me and in what way. Hootsuite’s stretch program was a perfect opportunity to go outside my current role.
Being in QA for a decade or so, it was natural for me to also focus on the client side of things, processes, and the decision making of product features. Naturally, I was curious as to how product management functioned. It was uncharted territory to me, although I did interact with minor product decisions and also people from design and product teams, but I didn’t know the whole process, how those decisions were made, and what effort was involved.
When I accepted the challenge from Valentina, one of the Product Managers for the Measure portfolio, to become a full time PM for a couple of weeks, it really rocked me to the core. I never imagined that all my brain cells would be utilised to accomplish rather simple tasks for any product loving person. Luckily, Valentina was kind enough to have patience and guide me through my journey. I’m not a person that gives up, even when things get tough in my life, so I sailed ahead even though each small task made me doubt if I really did the right thing picking this side of the business, even for a short while. Don’t get me wrong, I practically live for the thrills that a new challenge brings, but this time I was overwhelmed by the massive effort needed to set a vision, put it into words, visually design it, execute, measure, and test it.
This doesn’t sound like much (especially when you go through your day to day in the same routine), but believe me it’s something that haunts you, if you do care about the impact it has on people. It is the idea of a generalist vs a specialist. Developers are mainly specialists, who try to become even better specialists, but product managers are all generalists. Even if you’re working only on a small piece of the puzzle (portfolio), you still need to get a bird’s eye view of where you should fit that piece into the overall puzzle.
You do actually need to see the whole picture to really make sense for the end users, whether that’s a business or a single non-paying individual. Even the latter will still bring you free marketing and paying clients will happily pick your solution over the competitors, maybe join your business as an affiliate or even become an angel investor if that’s the case.
To set the proper vision, you need to conduct market research in order to understand for whom it is and what problem you are trying to solve. What’s the business case? Can you really generate revenue from it? What are the possible solutions? Or even far stretched ones, such as could my single solution fit even more use cases? To get to that stage you really have to be a great generalist and use all your strengths to make it so. As a developer you have all sorts of technical challenges, but having done it for a long time I can do some tasks on auto-pilot mode thus making it less energy intensive at times, no matter how difficult or complex the tasks may be, leaving my neurones to focus on the new stuff.
During the stretch program, I was in uncharted territory every time and didn’t have any tasks automated. That’s probably why it was overwhelming to me that my brain remained constantly active even when it shouldn’t (like while sleeping). Valentina said to me, you will grow into doing it, but she did not mention how long it will take and if you’re ever going to be good at it. I think it all comes down to if you actually possess the capabilities and have the desire for this role.
You cannot force your way into product management and you’re not born with the skills either. Even if you have a very high IQ, a low EQ will not meet the requirement of doing face to face interviews and pitching your ideas. For this role you really have to be in a really balanced state of mind.
So, was it all worth it? Hell, yes! I became a better version of myself on a personal level, check this out:
Short term (during and a few weeks after the stretch)
- got me out of my daily developer routine
- Eat/drink healthier, more physical exercises and slept better since my brain was on overdose and needed more vitamins/minerals and oxygen
- improved my communication skills and morale overall
Long term (set in stone for me)
- there’s always more than one solution to your problem #nosingletonsinlife
- do not ever underestimate easy tasks that seems trivial to others #neverunderestimate
- do not just blindly make important decisions, instead brainstorm and ask around before committing to something that way you won’t feel miserable of not doing absolutely everything in your power at that time if your solution goes south #noregrets
- You probably heard this by now, but take it from a nonbeliever: the little things do matter in the long run #thelittlethings
Lessons learned that gave me a better perspective for my daily tasks:
- your brain cannot multitask, instead it is much better suited to do a single task efficiently — I realised this when as a developer you can actually code while listening to background music and probably hum some tunes at the same time, but as a product manager I needed absolutely no distractions. I needed all my attention to zoom in and out of product specs.
- no matter how good you are on executing, that will not automatically mean you’ll be any good at directing — the ladder needs time or built in from early stages of life, it’s really hard to shift the boat 180 degrees by snapping your fingers.